Qumranet Joins Red Hat - Lots of questions

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As has been reported elsewhere, take the front page of Red Hat's website for example, Red Hat has "acquired" Qumranet Inc for a little over $100 million. In a presentation a month or two back for the BozemanLUG meeting... I played some demo videos of Qumranet's Solid ICE product and discussed KVM. Just in case you weren't aware, Qumranet is the company that sponsors the development of the Kernel Based Virtual Machine which got merged into the mainline Linux kernel starting with version 2.6.20. KVM requires hardware support for virtualization to be present in the CPU (Intel VT / AMD-V).

Doesn't Red Hat already use Xen in RHEL?

Yes, Red Hat does use Xen in RHEL although they prefer the term, Red Hat Virtualization. Fedora added support for KVM some time ago... and Red Hat has been working hard to help KVM get to the point where it is mature enough to become a replacement for Xen. They have also been funding a number FOSS virtualization related projects (see oVirt for example) several which support KVM.

Why do many consider KVM a better approach than Xen?

Well, here's what one of the KVM developers said in a blog post entitled, The truth about KVM and Xen:

I'm think we can finally admit that we, the Linux community, made a very big mistake with Xen. Xen should have never been included in a Linux distribution. There, I've said it. We've all been thinking it, have whispered it in closed rooms, and have done our bests to avoid it.

I say this, not because Xen isn't useful technology and certainly not because people shouldn't use it. Xen is a very useful project and can really make a huge impact in an enterprise environment. Quite simply, Xen is not, and will never be, a part of Linux. Therefore, including it in a Linux distribution has only led to massive user confusion about the relationship between Linux and Xen.

Xen is a hypervisor that is based on the Nemesis microkernel. Linux distributions ship Xen today and by default install a Linux guest (known as domain-0) and do their best to hide the fact that Xen is not a part of Linux. They've done a good job, most users won't even notice that they are running an entirely different Operating System. The whole situation is somewhat absurd though.

Another reason given is that Xen seems to be doing a lot of code duplication by providing Xen versions of drivers that can already be found in the mainline Linux kernel. In contrast, KVM is a module for Linux that has a codebase that is a fraction of the size of Xen's. KVM adds hypervisor features to Linux using the device drivers that the Linux kernel already has.

At work I'm running Fedora 9 on a Dell Optiplex 755 with Intel Core 2 Duo processor and I've been running KVM using virt-manager. I have used KVM primarily to try out LiveCDs of new Linux distribution releases as well as to run a Microsoft Windows XP desktop that used to be a physical machine. It seems to work rather well and I've been very impressed.

Qumranet - KVM and what else?

While Qumranet's primary claim to fame has been as the sponsor for the bulk of KVM development work their primary business has been selling a closed source (proprietary) Desktop Virtualization environment named Solid ICE. What is it? See this demo video for quick and dirty visual presentation. Sorry, it requires the ability to play Windows Media Video (WMV) files.

SPICE is a patented communications protocol that Qumranet created to provide local desktop performance from remote virtual machines. They claim SPICE is similar to Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) but with process balancing features that give it a significant performance/speed boost that allows it to do such things as drive upto a 4-head display with full screen HD video and bi-directional audio. If you look at the video, it is quite impressive.

Will Solid ICE and the SPICE protocol become FOSS?

Red Hat has a track record of being completely committed to the FOSS lifestyle and they have GPLed all of their products and continue to fund a large number of FOSS projects. Since Red Hat has purchased Qumranet does that mean that they will open up their proprietary products? Will they donate the SPICE patents to the FOSS community's patent pool? So far Red Hat hasn't said yet but I'm willing to go out on a limb and speculate that they will.

It remains to be seen if Qumranet has licensed any code from third parties and if any pieces will have to be re-implemented. We'll see. I predict that a year from now, most if not all of the currently proprietary Qumranet products will be set free... fingers crossed.

How will RHEL change as a result?

What impact will the acquisition have on some of the virtualization related FOSS products Red Hat is currently funding? Will they keep working on oVirt? I guess we will just have to wait and see.

How long will it take Red Hat to merge KVM into RHEL? When is RHEL 6 coming out? Will Solid ICE be part of RHEL or remain a separate product? When you find out, let me know. :)

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The only question I have

The only question I have about SPICE is the amount of 'IP' that Qumranet has licensed from other companies. If they own all of the copyrights and control the patents to SPICE then I see it as a no-brainer.. but it seems likely that they don't. Just a impression that I get. So while SPICE is probably decent and a mostly finished product right now I would be surprised if Redhat released it as a working open source one. They may only be able to release portions of the code.

From were it goes from there I don't know. I would of thought the open source NX libraries would of lead to secure and fast remote access of Linux systems over WAN links, but nope; Everybody cobbles along with insecure and low performing VNC.

So it depends on how high of a priority 'thin clients' are to Redhat. It may not be a high priority since X Windows already does a good job for local area networks and Redhat already has administration and remote GUI for KVM in the form of Virt-manager (which uses VNC, btw, tunnelled for security I believe).


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