Red Hat's Many-Layered Virtualization Bid


Every once in a while, a development comes along that has so many possible consequences that it's hard to know where to begin. Red Hat's purchase of Qumranet is such a case.


Red Hat has agreed to pony up $107 million for the Israeli maker of virtualization software, including the Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) that rests within the operating system -- make that within Red Hat's Linux operating system.


That in itself is a significant gain for Red Hat because it becomes the second OS vendor with an integrated virtualization layer. Microsoft is expected to release the Hyper-V version of Server 2008 any day now, having already delivered the manufacturer's version last spring. This is a crucial moment for virtualization then, because it sets up a stark contrast between the OS vision of virtualization vs. the bare-metal vision of VMware and Citrix. The central question being: Do you want your virtualization layer between the OS and underlying hardware, or would you rather see it as another module within the OS? Naturally, this has major implications for Microsoft, Apple, all the Linux guys, Sun and anyone else who has gotten comfortable with the notion of operating system supremacy for all things digital.


The buy also gives Red Hat a wedge into Microsoft's considerable installed base. Qumranet's system essentially allows Red Hat to integrate its applications with Windows applications, punching holes in the wall that still separates rival operating systems, even in virtualized environments.


And then there is the virtual desktop angle, considered by many to be the next phase of virtualization -- despite the fact that the first phase, server virtualization, has barely gotten off the ground. Qumranet gives Red Hat instant cachet in that sphere by virtue of its SolidICE platform, introduced only last spring. At a time when Sun, HP, Microsoft VMware and Citrix are scrambling to shore up their positions on virtual desktops, Red Hat is suddenly the new player in the field.


From the outside, it's easy to understand why Red Hat would make such a deal. $100 million seems like a pittance to pay for such a major broadening of its market clout. On the other hand, the company has a lot of balls in the air now, and it remains to be seen how good of a juggler Red Hat is.