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Red Hat's KVM virtualization proves itself in IBM's cloud

KVM, the "other" open source virtual machine, has landed a big endorsement with IBM and PayPal

IBM has surprised the industry by choosing Red Hat's KVM server virtualization technology to run in IBM's new cloud-for-rent (by which IBM hopes to take on the likes Amazon EC2). Although Red Hat bought KVM way back in 2008, server virtualization has seemed like a three-horse race between market leader VMware, Microsoft's Hyper-V and the open source Xen project, commercially available from Citrix. KVM had been considered unproven for enterprise-class work. IBM might be changing that perception.

KVM (for Kernel-based Virtual Machine) is a full virtualization solution for Linux on x86 hardware containing virtualization extensions (Intel VT or AMD-V). Using KVM, one can run multiple virtual machines running unmodified Linux or Windows images.

All of this doesn't mean that KVM was without its admirers. Writes blogger Dilip Tinnelvelly on the Linux.sys-con.com site:

"The lightweight KVM which includes the latest Intel and AMD chipsets attracted a lot of developer attention last year and benefited enormously from dedicated Open source projects and even managed to upstage Xen in many respects. With the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.4 release, KVM is also officially the preferred method for virtualization on Red Hat’s platform. Until now what it lacked was an official vendor ecosystem, along with centralized development and support services."

IBM is the master of a considerable vendor ecosystem and KVM has become its virtualization platform of choice for the new cloud test bed system the company announced last week. IBM's new Smart Business Development & Test cloud offers enterprises the ability to rent a cloud for their test/dev needs.

IBM joins one of a growing of companies intent on capturing the nascent Infrastructure as a Service (IAAS) market. IAAS, when used for test/dev, is useful not only for testing potential cloud apps, but for testing premises apps. IBM claims that "the average enterprise devotes up to 50 percent of its entire technology infrastructure to development and test, but typically up to 90 percent of it remains idle." (See article: One cloud provider offers his view of the competitive infrastructure sky.)

IBM joins a growing roster of IAAS competitors like Amazon, Rackspace and GoGrid -- some of which have long since been geared toward test/dev rather than live applications, such as LoadStorm. Although IBM has offered a limited private cloud solution for test/dev since June 2009, last week's announcement offered a bigger variety of ways an enterprise could order the service, from a set of on-premises equipment management by IBM to the full cloud offering with all gear hosted in IBM's data centers.

Big Blue's new test/dev cloud supports two flavors of Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise from Novell, but it uses only KVM for its virtual machines, complete with support from Red Hat. Enterprises get to sample KVM and Red Hat gets a proving point for its oft overlooked virtualization technology.

Although the new cloud services won't be rolled out for general availability until Q2 2010, IBM already has some heavy hitter beta users, too, namely PayPal. PayPal is using IBM's cloud to create and test its planned new mobile payment options, the company said.

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