For those of us who have witnessed the emergence of open virtualization technologies such as KVM, the benefits of an open approach to server virtualization can seem obvious. But one of the things that KVM has suffered from is that it has not been well explained in the marketplace. It is actually quite a geeky name if you think about it – and then explaining what KVM stands for – Kernel-based Virtual Machine – doesn’t actually help to explain it much more! It would probably have been easier to attract attention if it had a cooler name but in fact it is a really good product and is now very much enterprise-ready. So we now need to get the word out about it – we need to talk about the benefits and we need to talk about why the hardware support for new virtualization hypervisors like KVM has come into the marketplace and talk about what people are doing with it.
“…you have a lot of people working on the same problem,
you are able to bring a lot of brains to bear to build the system…”
The term “open virtualization” means it is an open source product, that it is built by a community of developers from both vendors and individuals all working together to build the project in the same way as other projects such as Linux, Apache, and Eclipse and so on. The benefit of having an open virtualization approach is that you have a lot of people working on the same problem, you are able to bring a lot of brains to bear to build the system, and as a result, it tends to progress faster in terms of development. Like any other open source project, because you can see everybody else’s code, the quality can be very high because you are getting the peer review of the code. And, of course, since it is an open source project, everyone can take that project and use it as the basis of the products they build so, for example, companies like Red Hat, SUSE and Canonical can build their products on top of it.
The second important aspect to open virtualization is that you are able to move about the images of the virtual machines between different hypervisors so a virtual machine that runs in one hypervisor can run on another hypervisor. That is where a lot of the work has been done in the industry around the Open Virtualization Format through the standards body, DMTF (Distributed Management Task Force).
And the third critical component to the open virtualization approach is around open virtualization management. Are you able to manage a number of different hypervisors? Are there open interfaces to be able to manage different hypervisors from “a single pane of glass” or single interface? This is where we expect the new oVirt project to be very important (http://www.ovirt.org)
“...you can reduce costs and you get choice…”
The benefits of open virtualization are that you can reduce costs and you get choice – you are not locked into one vendor. But you need to look at all three of those streams –the code, the format of virtual machines, and the virtualization management.
The designers of KVM, in particular, developed it as a module that plugs into Linux, which of course is another open source project, and turned Linux into a hypervisor. The benefit of that is you are now able to take advantage of all the work that has already gone into Linux. Linux already has very good memory management, it already has very efficient process schedulers, it already has high levels of security for access control, and it has wide device support. You can take advantage of those features and the net out of it is that with KVM, you can have a high performance, very scalable, and very secure hypervisor.
To find out more, a great place to start is the Open Virtualization Alliance (http://www.openvirtualizationalliance.org), whose mission includes educating the market about open virtualization. Speaking of education, the OVA is organizing an educational webcast on December 8th called Understanding KVM as an Enterprise-Grade Solution. Register for this free webcast at: http://www.openvirtualizationalliance.org/news/index.html
Jean Staten Healy (@jeanstatenhealy)
Director, Worldwide Linux and Open Virtualization, IBM