The Value of Open Virtualization - Industry Leader Q&A with IBM's Jean Staten Healy

A longtime supporter of Linux and open source technologies, IBM has also become a leading proponent of Linux Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) and is a founding member of the recently-formed Open Virtualization Alliance. With 2011 marking IBM's centennial, as well as the 20th anniversary of Linux, Jean Staten Healy, director for Cross-IBM Linux and Open Virtualization, reflects on the ways each has contributed to the other, and the promise offered now by open virtualization to help customers ensure cost efficiency and avoid vendor lock-in in virtualized environments. "As it happened with Linux, the need for virtualization technology will continue to grow, and open virtualization solutions based on KVM will become more and more important to customers looking for choice and cost benefits," Staten Healy observes.

Linux Executive Report: You have moderated many discussions over the past year on open virtualization and that was also the topic of your keynote at the recent Red Hat EMEA Partner Summit in Dublin. Why is open virtualization important?

Staten Healy: Just like with Linux, open virtualization offers choice, lower costs and interoperability - those three elements are critical to businesses of all sizes and are the biggest reason why open virtualization is seeing such rapid and widespread adoption. In fact, you will probably hear me say those words a lot during our discussion because they really are key to understanding the need for KVM.                                                                                                              

Linux Executive Report: What does it offer that a proprietary virtualization technology cannot?

Staten Healy: In short - choice, lower costs and interoperability, because KVM is open, it is available from multiple sources. Open virtualization also benefits from the open source licensing approach. It's already included as part of enterprise Linux distributions and if you're using it as the standalone hypervisor, there are no license fees and competitive support and subscription costs. Over a 3-year period, an open virtualization solution can cost less than half of a proprietary alternative. Also, open virtualization efficiently supports a wide range of guest operating systems, including Windows as well as Linux. In fact, we think that one of the major uses of KVM is going to be by customers who want to virtualize mixed Linux / Windows environments, and have a common hypervisor.

Linux Executive Report: Why is it important to have an open cloud technology?

Staten Healy: In a cloud infrastructure, the hypervisor becomes a vital technology. An open source hypervisor for building cloud stacks can successfully challenge closed source alternatives in terms of performance, scalability, security, and cost. Without technologies like KVM, the development of open cloud infrastructures might be hampered as companies get locked into proprietary cloud implementations.

For companies examining a variety of open source and proprietary solutions, it is important that they consider all the options and select the one that best meets their needs at the lowest cost.

Linux Executive Report: Is vendor lock-in in the cloud a more critical concern for organizations than it is on-premise?

Staten Healy: Absolutely. If we think about what made Linux successful, the same logic applies to the cloud. Organizations cannot afford to be locked into one vendor's vision for cloud. Because the hypervisor is a fundamental technology to building public and on-premise clouds, the choice of hypervisor is very important. By selecting an open hypervisor, organizations get access to a broad community of developers implementing this new technology. As the technology grows, companies make decisions to step in if the technology will help them add features, and also help spread their development costs. As the technology matures, it not only gets better but it also gets more affordable. That's what made Linux successful, and this is why KVM will be successful in delivering open clouds as well.

Linux Executive Report: What is significant in particular about KVM open virtualization?

Staten Healy: KVM is a full virtualization solution for x86 hardware containing virtualization extensions. It's been part of the Linux kernel since the 2.6.20 release (February 2007). IBM and Red Hat have been working together on KVM for more than 5 years within the context of the open source development community.

Because KVM is part of Linux, one can protect and secure KVM environments by deploying KVM security features. IBM has also been investing in products such as IBM Systems Director VMControl which will add the ability to manage the life cycle of virtual images to improve productivity. IBM also already has Tivoli products such as Tivoli Provisioning Manager (TPM) and Tivoli Service Automation Manager (TSAM) intended for automated provisioning of virtual machines and unify virtualization management across IBM and non-IBM platforms.

In September 2009, KVM was included in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.4, and is now offered with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6. Red Hat's release was made possible, in part, by months of intensive development work in the KVM open source community to harden KVM and to hone its performance characteristics.

One proof point of KVM's progress is its scalability which was recently demonstrated by a SPECvirt publication using a 64-core, 2TB IBM x5 3850 server that achieved 336 actively running guests, more than twice the capacity of the nearest competitive result.

Linux Executive Report: Who is IBM partnering with to promote the adoption of KVM and develop the ecosystem around it? 

Staten Healy: IBM is working with dozens of industry leaders to foster adoption of KVM.  In May, IBM along with BMC Software, Eucalyptus, HP, Intel, Red Hat and SUSE (formerly Novell) announced the formation of the Open Virtualization Alliance.  This consortium will provide education, best practices and technical advice to help businesses understand and evaluate their virtualization options.  The alliance has seen great momentum and keen industry interest.  Five weeks after the formation of the alliance we announced that 65 new members joined.

IBM partners closely with companies like Red Hat to ensure that development efforts make KVM the best hypervisor for x86-based systems. IBM also is ensuring that virtualization and cloud offerings based on Linux use KVM as the hypervisor. We are constantly creating resources for developers and system administrators to tune KVM for performance and learn KVM best practices.  A large number of IBM software products support KVM (e.g., DB2, WebSphere Application Server, WebSphere Portal, Tivoli and Maximo products, Lotus Collaboration products and more). Today over 60 IBM programmers are working on KVM as part of the open source community.

Linux Executive Report: Do you see the trajectory of KVM as following a similar path as Linux in terms of enterprise adoption?

Staten Healy: Absolutely!  Ever since it's inception in the early 90's Linux has seen tremendous growth, and today it is the fastest growing operating system, in fact the only operating system with double digit growth every year (20% CAGR, according to IDC). 

This is because of the Linux community's innovation that is accelerating adoption of open standards, especially in today's work around virtualization. The open source community thrives because invested individuals, groups, and corporations are actively creating, developing, testing, and supporting the software that comprises the Linux and open source software ecosystem.

Now that many industry leaders such as IBM, Red Hat and SUSE, stand behind KVM through the Open Virtualization Alliance, I expect that KVM will see accelerated market adoption. 

Linux Executive Report: This year marks IBM's centennial as well as the 20th anniversary of Linux. How has IBM helped Linux develop and grow?

Staten Healy: IBM's decision to support Linux brought the power of open source innovation to IBM servers, systems and solutions and was an important milestone in our 100-year history. In 2000, IBM announced it would invest $1 billion in Linux, with a concerted focus on improving the operating system from within the Linux community, transitioning all IBM systems to run Linux and optimizing existing IBM hardware and software to become Linux-ready.

Since that time, IBM has invested considerable financial, technical, and marketing resources to foster the growth, development, and use of Linux technology, and has made significant contributions to the community on which Linux relies. 

IBM is consistently among the top commercial contributors of Linux code, with more than 600 IBM developers involved in over 150 open source projects and thousands of dedicated development and support personnel supporting all of IBM's products and customers on Linux.  As a result:

  • Linux is supported on all modern IBM Systems.
  • Over 500 IBM software products run natively on Linux.
  • IBM offers a full line of implementation, support, and migration services and has facilitated thousands of migrations to Linux.
  • IBM has completed tens of thousands of Linux customer engagements
  • IBM offers the widest range of hardware, middleware, and services products for Linux in the industry.

Ten years following our initial announcement, Linux and open source development at IBM is still going strong. This IBM commitment caught the attention of CEOs and CIOs all over the world, drove down customer costs while increasing flexibility and represented a significant validation of open source innovation. Today, Linux is the fastest-growing operating system in the world and will no doubt play a key role in IBM's success in our next 100 years.

Linux Executive Report: And what has Linux enabled for IBM?

Staten Healy: IBM's involvement and significant investment in Linux has allowed IBM to take on a leading role in the advancement of open source technologies.

IBM's commitment to Linux stems from the belief that Linux is not only a world-class operating system, but that it also provides flexibility, choice, and an attractive total cost of ownership that can benefit IBM customers. As an open source development project, Linux benefits from community innovation that constantly develops and integrates leading-edge technologies and best practices into the operating system.

Linux runs on all IBM systems enabling standardization and avoiding the risk of locking customers into proprietary solutions. This helps spread the development cost of the OS, driving cost efficiencies that translate into more competitive pricing and thus savings for our customers. This standardization gives IBM competitive edge, as IBM is the only vendor providing this breadth and depth of Linux-based hardware and software.

IBM's investment in Linux has not only benefited IBM but certainly also our customers, partners as well as other technology companies.

IBM has made a substantial investment into Linux and open source - and it's working.

Linux Executive Report: Looking ahead how do you see IBM's role in the Linux and open source world developing? What changes and opportunities do you see ahead?

Staten Healy: Without question, IBM will continue to work actively on Linux as a committed member of the open source community.  I know I have said this a lot, but they really are key - Choice, Cost and Interoperability will always be critical factors for organizations making technology decisions. Customers will always look for choice and will always compare the cost of owning proprietary solutions to open source solutions - and IBM will continue to be the trusted partner providing a broad range of Linux-based hardware, software and services.

KVM is an exciting development. As it happened with Linux, the need for virtualization technology will continue to grow, and open virtualization solutions based on KVM will become more and more important to customers looking for choice and cost benefits. With KVM, IBM sees an opportunity to drive value to both our customers and shareholders.

Another area that will be important moving forward is growth markets. There is tremendous opportunity for open source technology in the growth markets as many regions are building their IT infrastructure from scratch, without the constraints of legacy systems.  Last year, IBM opened the Kazakhstan Linux Innovation Center - another example of our commitment to open source and growth markets, and our colleagues in Kazakhstan are now actively working with local banking customers to capture the true vision of Smarter Banking where banks can manage and capture value from their data, optimize their systems, and leverage virtualization and the cloud to reduce costs and gain operational efficiencies.

To learn more about IBM and Open Virtualization, click here.