Sour grapes and personal motives in the virtualization space

* Vendor posturing in the open source virtualization world

There has been a lot of noise coming recently from various vested interests about virtualization. First, Novell released SuSE 10, the first Linux distribution to bundle the open source Xen hypervisor. Then Red Hat hit back - speaking to a journalist in Australia, Red Hat Vice President of international operations, Alex Pinchev, is reported to have said, "Xen is not ready for the enterprise." I am not sure that he meant this to be picked up internationally, but it was, and it caused quite a stir.

What surprises me is that so many are taking this so seriously, accepting it uncritically, and willingly repeating it. A critical eye on these comments suggests that it is just sour grapes from an out-maneuvered competitor. After all, Red Hat is playing catch-up, as Novell has beaten it to the market by a good six months with the newest enterprise-class Linux distro, with bundled virtualization capability.

Meanwhile, Red Hat is full steam ahead working on its next enterprise Linux offering, Red Hat Linux 5, due out sometime toward the end of the year, which will have (you guessed it) bundled virtualization capability courtesy of the Xen hypervisor. Will Red Hat think Xen is ready for the enterprise by then? You bet it will.

Red Hat says it will deliver more than just bundled Xen to deliver something more enterprise-grade - a "virtualization platform" which includes storage virtualization, provisioning, and systems management capabilities. But there are already some very capable third-party management tools for Xen. So why would Red Hat's own first-generation tools make Red Hat's Xen any better than SuSE's Xen when combined with, for example, Virtual Iron or XenEnterprise (which is developed by many of the same people that develop Xen)? Personally, I would look at Red Hat's message as fear, uncertainty, and doubt. After all, even Microsoft is working with XenSource to provide interoperability between Windows and Xen.

The other issue that has piqued my interest is the changes to the Linux core that the Xen community and VMware are trying to have included. VMware's plan for an "open standard" (a term vendors seem to use when they want to be perceived as "open", without actually exposing their source code) called Virtual Machine Interface clashes with patches that the Xen community wants to have included. Now the Xen community and VMware have reportedly come to an agreement of sorts, apparently brokered by IBM's Linux kernel team. Personally, I believe VMware is taking care of its profit motive by finding ways to outflank Xen, rather than working with the Xen community altruistically for the good of Linux. Whatever VMware can do to get hooks into the Linux kernel can only be good for VMware commercially (especially given the increasing competition in the Windows space following Microsoft's recent agreement with XenSource). Realistically, VMware must come to some agreement with the Linux incumbent to do so. If it turns out to be what it seems, then that will indeed be good for everyone. However, I doubt it is that simple - but only time will tell.

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