Red Hat upgrades raise stacks in virtualisation

Changes to RHEV could give the company more market muscle

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The news that Red Hat has expanded its virtualisation platforms makes for interesting reading for IT managers looking to increase their use of virtual machines (VMs) across their enterprises at a competitive cost.

However, with a market that is leaning towards VMware and Hyper-V from Microsoft, can Red Hat compete more strongly with these two players?

Linux has continued to be popular as an operating system with those looking for a fully featured virtualisation platform that won't break the bank and has been available for over 10 years.

Its promise of cost savings and flexibility – it can be used on the desktop with solutions from Parallels and VMware as well as Red Hat – have been the key reason for its appeal in this area. Also, as Linux virtualisation has improved, using the platform on commodity x86 servers has developed rapidly to enable the system to use more of the servers' resources.

Full or contained?

IT managers have a number of choices to make when looking at server virtualisation: initially whether to use full or contained virtualisation.

In the former, virtualisation uses Linux as the host for a number of guest operating systems. Examples include Xen and Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM). In the latter, the guest operating system is an isolated container, which can be effective in ensuring the robustness of the virtual machines being run.

If it is not necessary to host multiple operating systems, container based virtualisation can be highly effective. Examples here include OpenVZ and Virtuozzo Containers.

The Red Hat Enterprise Virtualisation (RHEV) platform has been a go-to virtual machine (VM) environment for many IT managers looking for a system that can help them build and then manage a kernel-based VM deployment. The latest update to the platform offers support for standard x86 processors (including Intel's i7, Opteron G4 and AMD 15h) and expands the addressable memory within any given VM to 2TB.

RHEV builds on the KVM machine hypervisor and the oVirt open virtualisation management platform – projects that Red Hat began and released to the community. The company says that it provides a strategic virtualisation alternative to proprietary platforms for organisations looking for better total cost of ownership, faster return on investment, and avoidance of vendor lock-in.

IBM connection

Red Hat's strong links with IBM have not gone unnoticed in the marketplace, but IT managers need to do a feature comparison of the main players in the Linux virtualisation sector to ensure they buy the right virtualisation platform for their application. In the past, Red Hat could not be compared on a like-for-like basis with VMware for instance, as it lacked some key components, but the new deployment answers some of these questions.

A good example is live storage migration. After VMware introduced this with vSphere and its vMotion feature, which enables the migration of files without any downtime, it quickly became a 'must have' on other VM suppliers' systems.

Red Hat has reacted with an upgrade that now offers this essential feature.

In addition, last year also saw Red Hat launch its own storage solution after its purchase of GlusterFS. This acquisition enabled Red Hat to further evolve its enterprise virtualisation as it could now offer distributed file systems using clusters over TCP/IP Interconnect or Infiniband remote direct memory access.

The practical upshot for IT managers deploying RHEV is that the new memory platform can address petabytes of data over any number of VMs, and has increased the number of central processing units from 64 to 160. Also, there is a new user interface that provides dashboard reporting on the status of VMs.

Closer to competition

What is clear from the upgrades on offer is that Red Hat's deployment moves its platform closer to the feature set expected with virtualisation systems from VMware and, of course, Microsoft. Also, being the only mature open source platform of its kind, existing users will be keen to see what the upgrades can deliver to their businesses.

Red Hat's partners are ready to wave the flag for the upgrade. Satinder Sethi, Vice President, Data Center Solutions at Cisco, says: "Red Hat continues to innovate in the open source community, and with the release of Red Hat Enterprise Virtualisation 3.1, customers are offered important advances in open virtualisation technology that will allow them to further drive operational efficiency and reduce costs to operate their data centres.

"Together, Cisco and partners like Red Hat offer flexible and scalable capabilities for diverse data centre workloads and their business needs."

Many businesses that have used open source systems for their data management may have had the view that Red Hat has in the past lacked some of the more powerful and refined features of offerings such as Windows Server 2012 and VMware. But with the upgrades that company has released, the open source movement has moved a step closer to its commercial competitors.

IT managers must not, however, think only of cost savings – which is still the major draw for using Linux for virtualisation – as businesses must assess whether open source can deliver the feature set, performance, and upgrade path they need.