Open Source Virtualization: No Reason To Celebrate - InformationWeek

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9/20/2011
03:26 PM
Charles Babcock
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Open Source Virtualization: No Reason To Celebrate

Six months after the Open Virtualization Alliance launched, Linux-based KVM hasn’t gained on VMware, Microsoft, or Citrix.

The Open Virtualization Alliance is celebrating its six-month mark, having reached 200 company members, up from the 10 that founded the group in May to tout the existence of an open source, Linux- based option for virtualizing servers. But what is there to celebrate besides membership numbers? Proprietary virtualization from VMware, Microsoft, and Citrix Systems became more deeply entrenched than ever over these last six months.

The alliance is supposed to spread the word that an open source alternative exists to the proprietary code. The OVA will document the KVM system, which is a highly efficient virtual machine hypervisor built into the Linux kernel. It also plans to aggregate and publicize best practices, supply deployment expertise, and air successful implementations, all in a bid to increase the popularity of the open source hypervisor--and slow down the VMware juggernaut.

Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, AMD, Red Hat, SUSE, BMC, and CA Technologies are examples of the muscle supporting the alliance. As a matter of fact, the first five used to be big backers of the open source Xen hypervisor and Xen development project. Throw in the fact Novell was an early backer of Xen as the owner of SUSE, and you have six of the same suspects. What happened to support for Xen? For one, the company behind the project, XenSource, got acquired by Citrix. That took Xen out of the strictly open source camp and moved it several steps closer to the Microsoft camp, since Citrix and Microsoft have been close partners for over 20 years.

[It's not generally know that VMware holds seven of the top 17 SPECvirt benchmarks for virtual machine operation. KVM holds the other ten.]

Xen is still open source code, but its backers found reasons (faster than you can say vMotion) to move on. The Open Virtualization Alliance still shares one thing in common with the Xen open source project. Both groups wish to slow VMware's rapid advance.

Xen was once the contender that IBM and others threw their weight behind as the most competitive candidate. How could pricey VMware compete with free open source? But to continue to appeal to open source developers, Xen needed to show its independence. Instead, soon after XenSource was acquired by Citrix, Citrix and Microsoft announced they would both support Microsoft's Virtual Hard Disk virtualization file format.

When KVM appeared, touting compatibility with the Linux kernel and high performance, a transfer of loyalties followed. Open source developers want the most independent and highest performing product available. KVM as part of the Linux kernel was winning benchmarks. Red Hat acquired KVM and encouraged its further development. Seeing the writing on the wall, IBM, HP, et al, migrated in KVM's direction. Better to switch horses in the middle of the race than watch VMware end up owning the racetrack, the grandstand, and all the stables out back.

IBM was particularly vocal in support of KVM, even when it wasn't clear the open source hypervisor had legs. Two months after the announcement of OVA, Jean Staten Healy, IBM's director of worldwide Linux, compared KVM to Linux in an interview with Database Trends and Applications: "Just like with Linux, open virtualization offers choice, lower costs, and interoperability. Those three elements are critical to businesses of all sizes and are the biggest reason why open virtualization is seeing such rapid and widespread adoption. In fact, you will probably hear me say those words a lot during our discussion because they really are key to understanding the need for KVM."

KVM is not like Linux, at least, not yet. Linux is growing fast, the only server operating system that's maintaining a 20% growth rate year over year. KVM usage is increasing but it still barely disturbs the scales when it's added in the presence of VMware, Microsoft, and Citrix.

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