Children, Behave!

Why can't the virtualization vendors just get along?

Nothing aggravates me more than to watch companies point fingers at each other and claim who’s standard is better and who’s is ready for prime time. When it happens in the consumer electronics industry its aggravating enough – such as the current Hi-Def DVD wars– because it halts the progress of technology adoption and it hurts the consumer. But when it happens in Open Source and open systems, its particularly disheartening, because it provides more and more ammunition for the Redmond Collective to say “See? These jackasses cant get their act together. Come to the warmth and cuddling bosom of the Borg. All your base belong to us!”

The latest in standardization spats that’s been getting my underpants in a twist is this whole virtualization battle between VMWare, Xen, Redhat and Novell, and the maintainers of the Linux kernel.

VMWare: “My standard is more mature and is used by enterprise IT today!”

Xen: “My standard is more open and is Free!”

Novell: “Our distribution is more leading edge for using Xen!”

Red Hat: “Ours won’t use Xen because its not ready for prime time!”

Linux Kernel: “Won’t you idiots make up you’re damned mind and agree to something?”

Borg: “To hell with these long haired communist hippie idiots and use Microsoft Virtual server. Its an easy choice, and we’ve made it for you!”

OpenVZ: “Hey, we got a open source virtualization solution too!”

Now, I realize I’m making a bit too much light of the situation, but virtualization technology is a BIG deal. Along with clustering/grid computing and LAMP and JBOSS and open desktops, it is going to be one of the key areas and applications in the next few years in which Linux is going to make headway in enterprise environments and challenge traditional monolithic systems like Windows and commercial Unices. Now that on-chip, on the metal virtualization is a reality with the current generation of Intel and AMD processors, we’re going to see a whole pattern of using Linux as a server and application consolidation platform. That is, if we can get all these bozos to agree to work together.

I admit to being a VMWare bigot. I use the product daily, and without a doubt its the most polished virtualization solution on the market today, with a host of other commercial tools sold by VMware to make it a complete managed solution. It also doesn’t suck that VMWare Server e.x.p. is freely downloadable and usable, as is the VMWare Player, which I regard as one of the all time top gifts to the Linux end-user community by a commercial software vendor.

At the same time, I see the huge value in making virtualization solutions open source, and thats where projects like Xen and OpenVZ come into play. I don’t currently use either of those software projects because while they are fully functional, they just don’t have the polish of VMWare. However, I do want to see them succeed, and I want to see virtualization integrated into the default Linux kernel tree. And we cant have three or four different virtualization standards flying around out there, there has to be some common ground or there will be chaos, and as a result the Borg will continue to reign.

It’s clear to me that we need to have a sit down among all the parties. While VMWare has been extremely generous in making their entry-level server virtualization solution free, I think they still need to make the core of their virtualization engine open source, so that they can get the developer community working on refining it and extending it. At the same time, we need to bring Xen and OpenVZ into the picture, and get all three parties to agree on a single kernel-level and hypervisor standard by which commercial software vendors like VMWare and Virtuozzo (the commercial version of OpenVZ) can build and sell as commercial products and services and that other 3rd parties can tie into easily, and that Linux vendors like Redhat and Novell and the Linux Kernel group can agree that is pre-built into the Linux kernel as foundation technology and provide all the API hooks that everyone needs for software development.

But then again, there’s always the Borg to go to when we can’t figure out how to play nice with each other, right?

Comments on "Children, Behave!"


All your base ARE belong to us.

Good points though, I think that standards are what will further linux, and I agree that VMWare really needs to make the core of their engine open. Hopefully they’ll agree on something soon.


The people you refer to as Xen are probably XenSource. Xen itself is a hypervisor, tool set and kernel patch, XenSource is a company that sells a Xen based Linux product (that smells like CentOS) with some very, VERY polished tools.

Also check out Virtual Iron, who sells a different spin on Xen. Their concept used to be that you plugged a CD in one machine and let the rest of the machines network/PXE boot; smooth but not what I needed so I haven’t looked lately.

Red Hat Enterprise 5 has Xen tools built in. I’d say it IS being supported, and since you can count on a minimum of 5 year support for any Enterprise edition, (probably more like 10 to 15) I’d say that Xen won the Red Hat nomination.

There are some other serious players on the field, but the battle seems to be boiling down to Xen Vs. VMware. Xen is cost free, free to download, open source and you can get it with CentOS 5, Novell, Red Hat Enterprise 5, Gentoo, Debian or probably through any other major Linux distributor now.

VMWare is not open source and probably never will be. VMWare is owned by EMC who has lately not been at the top of the charts for customer satisfaction. It is free of cost, but if you look at Enterprise edition cost comparisons you need a VERY hefty budget to consider VMWare.

Of course, every distribution that sells support will tell you that they have the best one. Ask any of the distros using Xen and they’ll tell you why Xen is better than VMWare, ask EMC and they’ll tell you why you need VMWare. Shocking isn’t it?

The really interesting news is that Window’s next server edition will almost certainly use the same same type of virtualization that Xen uses. Longhorn (this incarnation) plays nice with Xen on Novell and Longhorn hypervisor hosts Novell nicely too.

Short version:
* Microsoft, Red Hat, Oracle, Novell, and Debian all seem to be planning on working with , or flatly supporting Xen.
* Xen was designed to take advantage of new hardware options from AMD and Intel (new enough that you still have to ask specifically if you’re buying servers)
* EMC’s VMWare offers an older hardware the ability to do virtualization that Xen cannot.

Did you know you can run VMWare inside of a Xen based system? I don’t know about efficiency, but when I tried it, it worked.


Don’t forget that you can’t compare those solutions so straightforwardly as the underlying technology is quite different.

Check Wikipedia’s page on virtualization

And as Mike says, with the next generation hardware support, Xen is really leading the way.


Err … If vmware is so polished why would they open source their engine ? If they are the superior virtualization technology what does open sourcing their engine bring them when the open source versions are judged by you as lacking polish ? And if you are so supportive of free software, why don’t you give up the proprietary polish and work on polishing up the free software that’s available ? And if you don’t have polishing skills, why don’t you help provide information that a user of free software would need if they don’t want to run vmware ? Get real!


VMWare is polished but its hypervisor only supports a limited amount of hardware, a small subset of what the Linux kernel supports. Open Sourcing the vmkernel hypervisor and other parts of ESX server would enable it to run on more hardware, and allow extensions into things like the service console.

I proposed this to VMWare at the most recent TSX forum in Las Vegas, and they were open to the idea for further discussion. So it’s not that far out a concept. They know Xen is a threat and they can sit on their laurels for only so long until they need to do something drastic.


I still think the idea of an Open Source version of ESX has legs. Here’s a copy of the presentation I made at TSX a few weeks ago:


It was for a session called “VMWare’s next big idea” and I was selected from a large list of entries that were made at the 2 day symposium, to compete with 3 other people who also presented their ideas for a $500 prize.

I didn’t win, the guy who came up with the idea so VMWare’s partners could “print money” did.


I took a look at your proposal. Open source of course doesn’t really mean anything because everything depends on the license. But what seems to be the ever present issue in the free software world is that people using proprietary solutions want that solution made free software. As long as people refuse to use free software as a matter of principle even if they have to work around some lost functionality, proprietary software vendors know they can keep things just the way they are by being one step ahead of any free software. Until freedom becomes the number one priority, users of proprietary software seeking open sourcing of their favorite product will always be seen by proprietary software vendors as beggars.


Fundamentally I cannot agree with that because the methodology I proposed for VMWare is the exact thing that Sun is doing with Solaris, OpenSolaris, OpenOffice and StarOffice, or what Red Hat does with Fedora and RHEL and what Novell does with SLES and OpenSuSE. It seems to be working for those vendors quite well, and their community certainly isn’t perceived as a group of beggars. If anything those product development cycles would not be anywhere near as accelerated as they are without the participation of the community. This is what I am trying to drive home with the folks at VMWare.

As to “everything depends on the license” I believe it is possible to address the IP needs of the originating company and the developer community with a number of different OSI-approved licenses. GPL2, GPL3, LGPL, Apache, Mozilla, CDDL and BSD are all legitimate Open Source licenses, and can satisfy a number of different needs. Personally, I think that GPL3 holds the most promise for dealing with IP issues going forward, but that’s for the community to decide.


With Intel’s new iVT hardware there should be more standardization between the VMs. If not, at least they will run faster.


What about KVM.

… Kernel Virtual Machine (unless I am mistaken), another linux virtualization option.

my other 2 cents:
OpenVZ = very quick, but not true VM, hence useage of Virtual Environment, coz it’s like super-chroot. Hosts on certain distros of Linux. Gratis & Libre.

Xen = supports h/ware vmx/vmt for better performance: Linux host. Gratis & Libre.

VMware server = easy to set up and use. Supports hosts on Win/Lin/Mac. Gratis

At the moment I mostly use OpenVZ and VMware. Provisioning tools in Xen were too painful last time I tried (end 2007).


I agree with you to a degree. The powers that be should have a standard virtualization interface within the linux kernel that would allow anyone to develop virtualization products. In comes KVM which was introduced to the linux kernel in version 2.6.20 (http://virtualize-it.highspeed-data.net/index.php/linux-2620-integrates-kvm-hypervisor-for-hardware-virtualiztion/). This could be a start when it comes to kernel-based virtualization standards because it is possible for anyone to develop a type-1-like hypervisor product using KVM! However I do not believe that any of these companies that develop a type-1 (or bare metal) hypervisor will do things any differently than what they are doing now. It’s called competition.

I also agree that while VMware is one of the most polished and easy-to-use solutions out there, there are others like VirtualBox and Virtual Iron that have open source versions of their products and seem to be doing just fine. So VMware probably wouldn’t lose much if they contributed some source but on the other hand, would you give your secrets away if you were them?

I still have customers running Pentium 3/4 CPUs that lack the Intel-VT feature set, and from a performance standpoint any properly provisioned machine can can do well. But if your system is lacking key resources you may even consider to use something like OpenVZ which is limited to a degree but uses very little overhead, or VirtualBox which also can run different operating systems on linux free of charge (like VMware server). And don’t forget Virtual Iron which is a type-1 hypervisor solution running on Xen.

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