Less than a week after Red Hat Inc.’s surprise $107 million purchase of Qumranet Inc., I remain mystified by this acquisition. Qumranet is the Israeli-based creator of the KVM open source hypervisor, which is incorporated into the Linux kernel; SolidIce virtual desktop, which Qumranet launched earlier this year but has yet to gain serious traction, and Spice, a super-fast communications protocol for transmitting bandwidth-heavy multimedia content at high speed that other vendors currently can’t match.
The first person to raise questions about this buy to me was George Weiss, executive vice president of Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., who said this dual hypervisor strategy would make life more difficult for Red Hat customers, who would have to buy a management console to control the two hypervisors, Xen, which is already in Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 5, and KVM, which will be added in subsequent versions.
Burton Group analysts Chris Wolf and Richard Jones pointed out that KVM enters a crowded market late in the game. Despite a solid architecture, KVM is still immature and lacks the momentum and multi-vendor support of more-established Xen, Wolf said. To be the No. 2 virtualization vendor based on KVM, Red Hat must end its isolation from the Microsoft camp and attain certification under Microsoft’s Server Virtualization Validation Program so its hypervisor will be optimized for Microsoft guests, he said.
KVM needs the support of another big vendor or two, added Jones. The Qumranet acquisition will pull Red Hat in the direction of desktop virtualization while Xen will continue to dominate the server market, he predicted.
Tech blogger Jason Perlow said Red Hat told him that it plans to open source the Spice protocol and other components of the SolidIce desktop virtualization. If so, Red Hat will have positioned itself as a solid competitor to VMware and Citrix’s desktop and server virtualization, assuming an attractive pricing model, Perlow predicted. “At the end of the day, it’s not about raw technical merit. It’s about how well the vendor markets the solution and how palatable it is to end users,” he said.
Daniel Kusnetzky, principal analyst of Osprey, Fl.-based Kusnetzky Group, who recently counted Qumranet as a client, raised another rationale for Red Hat’s purchase of Qumranet: control over the hypervisor. Red Hat lost leverage over Xen when Xen was bought by Citrix; this acquisition gives Red Hat control over KVM, he said. Good point.
The bottom line: Maybe it’s just that I’m a frugal New England Yankee, but I wouldn’t pay $107 million for a giveaway hypervisor and a promising-but-wannabe desktop virtualization product. Especially since desktop virtualization is not yet ready for mainstream adoption since it shifts storage to the data center, which is more costly. This acquisition is all the more surprising since Red Hat hasn’t done much with the desktop to date. Kusnetzky may have hit the bull’s eye on Red Hat’s motivation but Wolf also is correct that it’s time for Red Hat to mend fences with Microsoft if it wants to be relevant to the overwhelming majority of the computing universe, desktop or server.