Open Source KVM Takes on the Hypervisor Leaders

The hypervisor—software that allocates and manages virtualized system resources—usually is the first thing that comes to mind when virtualization comes up. And when IT considers server virtualization the first option typically is VMware ESX, followed by Microsoft’s Hyper-V.

But that shouldn’t be the whole story. Even in the Windows/Intel world there are other hypervisors, such as Citrix Xen.  And IBM has had hypervisor technology for its mainframes for decades and for its Power systems since the late 1990s. A mainframe (System z) running IBM’s System z hypervisor, z/VM, can handle over 1000 virtual machines while delivering top performance and reliability.

So, it was significant when IBM announced in early May that it and Red Hat, an open source technology leader, are working together to make products built around the Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) open source hypervisor for the enterprise. Jean Staten Healy, IBM’s Director of Worldwide Cross-IBM Linux, told IT industry analysts that the two companies together are committed to driving adoption of the open source virtualization technology through joint development projects and enablement of the KVM ecosystem.

Differentiating this approach from those taken by the current x86 virtualization leaders VMware and Microsoft is open source technology. An open source approach to virtualization, Healy noted, lowers costs, enables greater interoperability, and increases options through multiple sources.

The KVM open source hypervisor allows a business to create multiple virtual versions of Linux and Windows environments on the same server. Larger enterprises can take KVM-based products and combine them with comprehensive management capabilities to create highly scalable and reliable, fully cloud-capable systems that enable the consolidation and sharing of massive numbers of virtualized applications and servers.

Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization, for example, was designed for large scale datacenter virtualization by pairing its centralized virtualization management system and advanced features with the KVM hypervisor. BottomlineIT looked at the Red Hat open source approach a few weeks ago, here.

The open source approach to virtualization also is starting to gain traction. To that end Red Hat, IBM, BMC, HP, Intel, and others joined to form the Open Virtualization Alliance. Its goal is to facilitate  the adoption of open virtualization technologies, especially KVM. It intends do this by promoting examples of customer successes, encourage interoperability, and accelerate the expansion of the ecosystem of third party solutions around KVM. A growing and robust ecosystem around KVM is essential if the open source hypervisor is to effectively rival VMware and Microsoft.

Healy introduced what might be considered the Alliance’s first KVM enterprise-scale success story, IBM’s own Research Compute Cloud (RC2), which is the first large-scale cloud deployed within IBM. In addition to being a proving ground for KVM, RC2 also handles actual IBM internal chargeback based on charges-per-VM hour across IBM. That’s real business work.

RC2 runs over 200 iDataplex nodes, an IBM x86 product, using KVM (90% memory utilization/node). It runs 2000 concurrent instances, is used by thousands of IBM employees worldwide, and provides 100TB of block storage attached to KVM instances via a storage cloud.

KVM was chosen not only to demonstrate the open source hypervisor but because it was particularly well suited to the enterprise challenge. It provides a predictable and familiar environment that required no additional skills, auditable security compliance, and the open source licensing model that kept costs down and would prove cost-effective for large-scale cloud use, which won’t be long in coming. The RC2 team, it seems, already is preparing live migration plans for support of federated clouds. Stay tuned.

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