Red Hat rains on Xen parade

Most of the computing industry may be rallying behind Xen virtualisation, but Red Hat believes the technology is nowhere near enterprise-ready

A senior Red Hat executive on Monday maintained the open source Xen virtualisation environment was not yet ready for enterprise use, despite "unbelievable" customer demand and the fact rival Novell has already started shipping the software.

Xen, whose development is led by US-based startup XenSource, allows users to run multiple operating systems as guest virtual machines on the same hardware, potentially allowing for greater utilisation of resources.

But while rival Novell this month started shipping the software with version 10 of its Suse Linux Enterprise Server environment, Red Hat continues to have a lack of confidence in the virtualisation newcomer.

"[Xen] is not stable yet, it's not ready for the enterprise," Red Hat's vice president of international operations, Alex Pinchev, told ZDNet Australia via telephone. "We don't feel that [Xen] is stable enough to address banking, telco, or any other enterprise customer, so until we are comfortable, we will not release it."

Taking the customer viewpoint, he said: "If the National Australia Bank wants to implement virtualisation and it's not stable, you can imagine what they will tell us."

Instead of trying to play catch-up with Novell and simply shipping Xen as included software with Red Hat's operating system, Red Hat will attempt to build a full virtualisation platform around the product in the next version of its Red Hat Enterprise Linux server software, due to be released in December.

That platform will include software for storage virtualisation, for example, as well as systems management and provisioning tools.

But Pinchev admitted there was an "unbelievable" demand for virtualisation software from customers.

Large organisations like the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Central Queensland University are using virtualisation rival VMware extensively.

Red Hat has spent "millions" of dollars testing Xen, according to Pinchev, and has hundreds of customers around the world trying out beta versions of the software.

The desktop front
While Red Hat and Novell might not see eye to eye on Xen, they do agree on the level of interest from enterprises in using Linux in desktop PCs.

Novell chief executive Ron Hovsepian predicted in April that Linux desktops would start taking off in mainstream markets in the next 12 to 18 months.

"I absolutely agree with that, and we see a lot of traction in the desktop area," said Pinchev. "It started in Europe, where people are very, very unhappy with Microsoft."

Organisations in China, India, Japan and Thailand are also keen, according to Pinchev, and even the United States. "We're talking with one very large financial institution in the US, who wants to move 100,000 desktops to Linux," he said.

Pinchev claims Red Hat has customers right now with as many as 50,000-seat desktop Linux implementations, but he declined to divulge names.

One other area in which Novell and Red Hat would probably see eye to eye is the need to tackle common enemies like Sun Microsystems and Microsoft, particularly in the data centre, but also on the desktop.

Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 software continues to be popular in enterprises, but Pinchev alleged the upgrade to Vista Server due at the end of this year could prove costly.

"Customers are anticipating a huge cost to move to Vista," he said, adding Red Hat has started to see more migrations from Linux to Windows at the server level. The Linux vendor's business has traditionally been in Unix to Linux migrations, or new application rollouts.

Pinchev said Microsoft's highly publicised delays in getting its Vista family released were having a "very positive impact" on Red Hat. "Right now we are competing with something which doesn't exist, and the customers are getting annoyed with that," Pinchev said.

On the Sun front, Pinchev said Red Hat had definitely seen more customer discussions around the vendor's Solaris operating system since it became open source software last year, but alleged it had proved confusing for the market to face another open source operating system.

He claimed most of the AMD-based Opteron servers than Sun sold ended up running Red Hat Linux anyway. "Sun is writing us a big cheque every quarter. They hate it, but they do it," he said.