February 26, 2007 4:00 AM PST

KVM steals virtualization spotlight

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Torvalds, who accepted the first KVM patches in December, said the technology's lack of intrusiveness and complications led to its inclusion.

"One reason KVM was so easy to merge was that it was really fairly straightforward, from the kernel's point of view," Torvalds said. And KVM programmers were easier to deal with than Xen programmers, he added: "I think they just had a lot less politics, and very few general policy issues."

Social factors also shouldn't be discounted. KVM puts the Linux kernel squarely in the center of the universe, whereas Xen shifts a lot of the brains of the computing operation to the separate hypervisor, so it's no surprise kernel engineers would be more interested in KVM.

"One reason KVM was so easy to merge was that it was really fairly straightforward, from the kernel's point of view."
--Linus Torvalds, Linux founder

Social dynamics may sound secondary to technical details, but in open-source programming they're closely related, Red Hat's Stevens said.

"I'm not separating the two. Technology...has to be done in a way that allows the community to build around it. KVM picked a technical approach that was clean and simple and easy to understand," and the programming interest followed, he added. Among those interested is Ingo Molnar, a top Red Hat programmer who has been improving KVM performance.

The importance of tight integration with the Linux kernel shouldn't be discounted, Stevens said.

"It's a more natural way to manage a community. We continue to bear the burden of merging Xen with the latest kernel. It's really expensive," Stevens said. "The developers are doing that work again and again and again--it takes weeks. They're always behind the latest kernel. That's what exciting about KVM: That work just goes away. Anything that doesn't check with Linux will be bounced or fixed right away."

For Qumranet, kernel integration means a lot of work is done for them, too. "Being part of the Linux kernel, KVM uses existing kernel components--for example, scheduler and memory manager--and saves overall programming resources, thus avoiding duplication of efforts for the open-source community," Schnaider said.

Xen programmers had originally planned to integrate their software with the Linux kernel, but have since backed away from that approach in favor of adding a hypervisor interface called paravirt-ops. That approach permits Linux to deal with other hypervisors, including VMware's.

"Xen is never going to be in the kernel, because it's not a kernel component," XenSource CTO Simon Crosby said. "But the interface between Xen and the kernel, paravirt-ops--that's going in." The first components are expected in the upcoming 2.6.21 kernel, he added.

Bumps in the KVM road
For Crosby, KVM is a nice idea--"Xen doesn't have a try-out mode"--but it's arrived late.

VMware did start off with a hosted model, but it now has moved to a true hypervisor. That's the preferred evolutionary direction, Crosby argued. Virtual machines are handy for developers who want to test new software in safe partitions, but hypervisors offer better performance, have security advantages, and juggle the competing needs of multiple virtual machines better, he said.

VMware has a similar belief in that evolutionary direction. Its higher-end and hypervisor-based ESX Server is the foundation of its Virtual Infrastructure software, which monitors a group of servers running virtual machines and shifts work from one to another according to preset rules.

"A hosted architecture works great but has not delivered what we call Virtual Infrastructure," said Raghu Raghuram, VMware's vice president of product and solutions marketing. "In order to do that, you need the separate hypervisor layer." However, KVM is both viable and helpful, he added.

Microsoft's next virtualization technology, Viridian, is based on the notion of a hypervisor, while its existing Virtual Server is not. The Viridian technology is likely to arrive in a 2008 service pack for Windows "Longhorn" Server, an update to the operating system that is set for release at the end of this year. Microsoft has been lagging rivals VMware and Xen in virtualization, which has given Linux something of an edge. Under that competitive pressure, Microsoft has linked up with XenSource to make sure Viridian can run versions of Linux that have been adapted for Xen.

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i am confused with all this
i was eagerly awaiting for redhat's rhel-5 due in march that suppose to come with xen, now what?

does it mean we will have kvm and xen in rhel5? what about the future versions?

i hope redhat will develop a unified administration tool for managing all that different virtualisation software so that we dont need to see (nor deal with) whats behind.
Posted by ismetd (20 comments )
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your absolutely right!
We should only have one choice! The company
should choose for us... wait, that sounds kinda
familiar somehow.
Posted by Johnny Mnemonic (374 comments )
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kvm and xen in rhel5
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Posted by George Cole (314 comments )
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