Red Hat to Use Automation, Virtualization to Eat the Server Space
Published: November 13, 2007
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
It is not very often that you see an IT vendor that is not holding a monopoly or near monopoly in its market point to the upper decks and say that it is going to make a home run, on demand. But last Wednesday, as the chief techies and marketeer at commercial Linux distributor Red Hat were announcing Enterprise Linux 5.1 and their vision to virtualize the data center, the company said that it was aiming to have its Linux own 50 percent market share on global server shipments by 2015.
Paul Cormier, executive vice president of worldwide engineering at Red Hat, didn't waste any time in proclaiming the company's lofty goal when he started the conference call with journalists and analysts. "We are predicting that Red Hat will power over 50 percent of servers by 2015," he declared. This undoubtedly sent a number of people checking to see if their phone lines or Web links were bad, or if maybe they had too much wax in their ears. But as soon as the presentations were over, everyone flooded the lines with the same question: You're gonna what? "We will more than double our market share by 2015," confirmed Scott Crenshaw, vice president of the company's Enterprise Linux business unit, adding that meant Red Hat would be on more than half of the servers shipped.
That is a hard ball to hit as high and as far as Red Hat seems to think it can hit it, but being an upstart Linux pioneer from the dot-com days, this is exactly the kind of behavior you expect. You just don't expect such statements publicly, and with such precision. That can, of course, be dangerous--particularly for a public company as Red Hat is, even if it does have tens of thousands of customers and operating systems already installed on millions of servers.
Cormier and Crenshaw believe that Red Hat's dominant position in commercial Linux in the data center, its huge market share in middleware thanks to the JBoss acquisition, and the automation it has build into its Red Hat Network and related service offerings will, when combined with a slightly more sophisticated but unified variant of its Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 platform and its subsequent kickers, give it enough of an edge over Microsoft's Windows platform, the current reigning shipment champion and the revenue leader for the past few years in the server space, and Unix, which still rakes in the money for IBM, Sun Microsystems, and Hewlett-Packard, to take more than half of global server shipments in a mere 12 years. Doing so means continuing to gnaw away at proprietary and Unix platforms while gaining Linux footprints on RISC and mainframe machines while at the same time getting a much bigger piece of the X64 (and presumably, X128 or X256) server market, too.
The secret ingredients that Red Hat plans to use to gain dominant share of the server market are integrated virtualization and support for other virtualization platforms; lots of automation for physical, virtual, and so-called "cloud computing" utility-style compute farms; a broad base of applications certified for the platform (3,400 to date, with hundreds added each week); and the distribution of software from independent software vendors through virtualized appliances. The latter idea, which involves packaging a set of applications inside a virtual machine and selling it that way as a means of simplifying installation on disparate hardware, is one that has been pushed by VMware for two years with a certain amount of success. rPath, which was founded by a bunch of ex-Red Hatters, is also creating custom Linux appliances using an application repository.
The foundation of Red Hat's strategy is, of course, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which was revved to a 5.1 release last week. The company was a little vague on the improvements that are being rolled into the new release, but the key improvements seem to have to do with the integrated Xen hypervisor inside RHEL 5.1. The company said that in many cases, performance tweaks to Xen allow virtualized software stacks to run at near-metal performance; the Xen hypervisor that uses RHEL 5.1 as a domain controller for virtualized operating systems also adds Windows XP, Windows 2000 Server, Windows Server 2003, and the beta of "Longhorn" Windows Server 2008 to the list of supported guest operating systems. Red Hat has also worked with Intel and Advanced Micro Devices to tune RHEL to take better advantage of multicore processors and electronics for enhancing the performance of virtualization, such as nested page tables.
In addition to traditional desktop and server variants of RHEL, Red Hat said last week it is working on two other means to provide Linux capacity to customers. The first is the ability to run Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.1 on Amazon's Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2) utility computing farm. Any of the 3,400 certified RHEL applications can be deployed on the EC2 utility, which is run by the bookseller's Web Services division. Red Hat said that RHEL 5.1 is the first commercial operating system to be supported on the EC2 service, which has a companion Amazon storage utility called Simple Storage Service (for storing files, and nicknamed S3). This claim is a bit of a stretch, since rPath announced its own Linux and the repository that can deploy appliance instances, was supported on the EC2 utility back in April. Red Hat plans to charge $19 per month for an EC2 instance, plus 21 cents to 94 cents per compute-hour of utility resource that customers use; the scale depends on the performance of the compute instance and includes bandwidth and storage fees. Red Hat Network will be used to provision instances on the EC2 farm. Sun does not support Linux on its eponymous grid utility--it maintains that it merely needs to support Solaris--but if it starts to, you can bet that Red Hat will be available here, too. The EC2 support for RHEL 5.1 is in private beta now, with a public beta expected before the year is out. The company did not say when EC2 support for RHEL 5.1 would be available for purchase.
The other way that Red Hat plans to drive the penetration of its Linux in the data center is through the creation of an appliance variant of RHEL 5.1 that ISVs will use to package up pre-configured and pre-installed instances of operating systems, middleware, and application software. The special variant of RHEL 5.1 made for appliances is called Red Hat Appliance Operating System, or AOS for short, and Brian Stevens, Red Hat's chief technology officer, said in the call that it is an instance of Linux optimized for virtual environments that will get a software development kit that helps ISVs figure out how to package their applications inside a virtual machine. Red Hat AOS will deploy inside the popular hypervisors, including the Xen hypervisor inside of Red Hat itself as well as VMware's ESX Server, and Microsoft's future "Viridian" hypervisor. The hypervisors used on IBM's mainframes and Power machines was not mentioned, nor was the Xen Server hypervisor from Citrix Systems (which just bought XenSource, the creator of Xen, a few weeks ago) or the Xen hypervisor inside Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Sever 10 operating system. Applications packed up inside AOS will also be deployable on the Amazon EC2 utility running RHEL 5.
Clearly, Red Hat has high hopes for its implementation of Linux, and it believes that the first six months of shipments for RHEL 5 portend good things. RHEL 5.0 was announced in March and has been shipping for the past six months. So far, Red Hat has 18,000 servers using its integrated virtualization software. The company says that it believes customers will deploy more than 50,000 servers using the Xen hypervisor woven into RHEL 5.1 before the first full year of shipments are out. That is a pretty steep hockey stick curve for shipments, and it implies that it could be as much as 120,000 servers by this time next year if it is a normal S curve. Looking out ahead seven years, it is not hard to imagine millions of servers running RHEL. Of course, the imagining is the easy part.
The Low-Down on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.1 Enhancements
Red Hat, IBM Commit to Better Mainframe Linux
rPath Linux Packages Up Amazon's Grid Computing
RHEL 5: How's It Going?
Red Hat to Push Desktop Linux with Intel Partnership
Brazilian Game Site Chooses Hybrid Mainframe-Cell Platform
Red Hat Integrates and Simplifies with RHEL 5
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