IBM endorses Red Hat's KVM virtualization

Linux-based hypervisor gains acceptance, but not much adoption

A year after dropping Xen virtualization from its Linux software, Red Hat is still a niche player in the virtualization market. But the company is gaining some recognition for the KVM hypervisor. 

IBM, which already uses KVM in a cloud service, announced a partnership with Red Hat this week to build KVM-based products for enterprise IT customers. KVM, or "Kernel-based Virtual Machine," is part of hte Linux kernel and "allows a business to create multiple virtual versions of Linux and Windows environments on the same server," Red Hat and IBM said. 

Red Hat uses KVM for its Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization software. But adoption is limited. While VMware boasts a customer base with nearly every member of the Fortune 1000, about 500 customers total are using RHEV, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst said in an interview today.

Those are mainly loyal Red Hat customers who already bought other products from the company, however. Although Red Hat spent some time at the Red Hat Summit bashing VMware for not promoting interoperability, attacking VMware's core business hasn't been a major focus. Red Hat's new cloud building software supports both KVM and VMware, but limitations in VMware APIs mean third-party products can't support features like live migration, said Red Hat CTO Brian Stevens.

"Our interoperability with VMware is limited to the APIs they've exposed," he said. 

Red Hat may never topple VMware in hypervisor usage, but IBM's expanded support gives KVM a better shot. Red Hat and IBM said they will work together to develop "key virtuaization and cloud management interfaces," APIs for cloud computing, data center automation, virtual storage and networking, virtualization security and virtual appliance management. This will include "increasing the scope and adoption of the Red Hat Virtualization Management APIs, and building a community to encourage the use of the Red Hat Enterprise Virutalization Manager APIs by third-party virtualization products."

IBM's Linux director, Jean Staten, said "The recent enhancments to the security, reliability and performance of KVM have made it a compelling choice for enterprises looking for the flexibility of an open standards-based virtualization option." 

On another topic, Whitehurst said Red Hat has no plans to make a push in the destkop operating system market, but has debated whether to put more of its marketing muscle behind virtual desktops. Red Hat, of course, is mostly a server OS company, but it does have a destkop virtualization offering and spends several million dollars per year in research and development on VDI, Whitehurst said. 

So Red Hat has the technology ready to go in case the market takes off, but so far it hasn't made sense to put as much marketing emphasis on VDI as Citrix and VMware have.

"VDI is the technology of next year and always will be," Whitehurst said. "Everybody keeps waiting for this huge market to take off and it hasn't." 

Still, Whitehurst believes there is an ongoing transition away from traditional PCs, but that it will take a long time. "The concept of the traditional fat client is a donosaur," he says. "But they will be around for a long time because there are a lot of applications written for them."

Follow Jon Brodkin on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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