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Red Hat Launches Linux Release with KVM Hypervisor

Red Hat has released the fourth update of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) platform, which the company is calling the foundation of its virtualization portfolio.

The company announced the released at its annual Red Hat World and JBoss Summit in Chicago, which was linked via narrowcast at a press conference held at San Francisco's W Hotel near where VMware's annual VMworld 2009 conference is also taking place this week.

REHL 5.4 comes with several new features but the biggest change in this release is the integration of the KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine) hypervisor technology Red Hat acquired last year with its purchase of Qumranet. The company had been, and still is, closely aligned with the Xen hypervisor, which was first integrated into RHEL 5.0 in March 2007. The KVM hypervisor will "sit right beside the Xen hypervisor," said Navin Thadani, senior director for Red Hat's virtualization business. He was quick to add that RHEL customers who have deployed the Xen hypervisor will continue to be supported throughout "the full lifecycle" of RHEL 5.

Red Hat announced its virtualization product strategy, which is centered on a product portfolio called Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV), in February. The RHEV portfolio consists of a server virtualization management system, a VDI management stack, a stand-alone hypervisor based on the KVM, and RHEL itself with the integrated KVM.

"RHEL is the foundation of the RHEV," Thadani said. "And our customers are beginning to see [RHEV] as the foundation for their cloud-based computing future." The RHEV portfolio relies on a built-in open management infrastructure enabled by the libvirt open-source virtualization API. The libvirt API allows developers to use the same GUI with any virtualization technology that utilizes libvirt. For the enterprise, RHEV essentially becomes a substraight for private or internal clouds that can tie into other cloud providers who are basing their infrastructures on open source, he said.

RHEL 5.4 also comes with features targeted to application providers, including an enhanced Systemtap performance monitoring toolset with support for profiling and monitoring C++ applications. This release includes a large number of static kernel trace points "to simplify performance observation for the highest profile kernel subsystems," the company said. Down the road, Red Hat plans to include an implementation of the malloc memory allocation library tuned for the latest generation of multicore processors.

"We recognize the importance of the application developers and the ISVs in our ecosystem," Nadani said. "All the ISVs that are certified for RHEL are also certified to deploy their application on RHEV. It's a new deployment paradigm, and Red Hat stands behind it. Red Hat virtualization is supported by a number of leading server vendors, Nadani added, including IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, Dell, and Intel.

RHEL 5.4 is the first release to production of several products for the RHEV portfolio, Thadani said. The company will be filling out that portfolio throughout the rest of the year.

Red Hat vice president of corporate development Michael P. Evans, who manages Red Hat's cloud strategy, was on hand in San Francisco during the press conference. He said that this is the first time the KVM hypervisor technology has been included in a production, commercial-grade, enterprise-ready RHEL.

"We could see three years ago when we started with Xen that there would probably be a better solution coming along underneath," he said. "That was when KVM was in its early days. We just assumed that there would be something better. And there may be something better than KVM in two years. It's the nature of the Linux community that the next innovation can come anytime, from anywhere."

Virtualization complicates life for developers, Evans said. "It's thrown them for a loop, efficiency-wise," he said. "It complicates their test matrix dramatically. Now you throw in this cloud stuff, and they have a whole new challenge in front of them."

We believe that, by having our ISV partners having built their software on RHEL and JBoss, and us making RHEL and JBoss run on the Amazon cloud, simplifies things quite a bit."

Red Hat was the first vendor to offer a commercially available Java Enterprise Edition (JEE) app server on Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) Web service. Red Hat's existing 3,000-plus ISV partners already using RHEL don't have to do anything to get their apps to run on RHEV, Evans said, and they can run them in the Amazon cloud without much modification.

The Raleigh, NC-based company is currently ahead of its chief competitors--Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft--in the cloud, said Gartner distinguished analyst Yefim Natis. "Red Hat goes a step further and provides a more advanced and elaborate architecture so that you can create a more dependable environment. You have to give them credit for providing that architecture."

"Cloud right now is in what I call the goat-rodeo stage," Evans added. "They hype around cloud is making virtualization look old and boring, even though only 10 percent of the stuff has been virtualized. I guess we've been here before with other trends. But cloud is unique in my experience in at least one way: This is the first major market way in which open source is just assumed to be part of it from the beginning. Every cloud provider except Microsoft uses open source at least heavily, and often, massively."

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.4 is globally available now and is automatically delivered to customers with an active subscription.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance journalist and author based in Mountain View, CA.

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