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A desktop virtualization vendor that's been operating in stealth mode, Qumranet, has emerged as one of the first companies to make use of the KVM virtualization engine, already implanted in the Linux kernel.
Few developers know much about KVM. It was added to Linux kernel 2.6.20 in October 2006. KVM is a hypervisor capable of making use of the virtualization assists built into the latest Intel and AMD chips. Those hardware hooks simplify some of the complexity in the x86 instruction set, giving KVM a lean and mean profile at just 12,000 lines of code.
Qumranet is offering one of the first virtualization products to be built on top of KVM. That may be because the lead KVM developer, Avi Kiviti, and several other developers are part of the startup, which has offices in Netanya, Israel, and Sunnyvale, Calif.
Qumranet made its debut Monday at the Demofall 07 show in San Diego, emphasizing its desktop virtualization product, Solid Independent Computing Environment, or Solid ICE. It's meant to be able to host thousands of either Windows or Linux desktops from central servers. One server can host both types of desktops. In addition, each user desktop may show a high degree of individualization.
"Typically, desktop virtualization is good for IT managers, bad for end users," says John-Marc Clark, marketing director of Qumranet, in an interview. That's because virtualization centralizes user software on large servers managed by IT, eliminating much of the patching and upgrade costs associated with user machines. On the other hand, it imposes a user desktop, or a few variations of a standard desktop, on thousands of users without them being able to influence it.
The Solid ICE approach lets users add an application to their desktops, then captures the addition and saves it as a virtual machine image specific to a given user. A policy engine tracks what's on each user's desktop and enforces restrictions on what can be added, Clark says.
In addition, Qumranet sought to make the desktops virtualized on central servers as efficient as possible. "We said, 'let's make a big impediment to desktop virtualization go away. Let's put the hypervisor into the operating system,' " said Clark. With an open source hypervisor in Linux, virtual machines may be created to run either Windows or Linux above the kernel's KVM.
To round out its desktop product, however, it needed to invent a new and proprietary protocol that it calls Spice. Spice gives Solid ICE a way to manage connections between virtualization servers and desktops, claims Clark.
Microsoft's Viridian, to be launched within six months of the February launch of Windows Server 2008, also will be a hypervisor built into the operating system. It will run Microsoft's Virtual Server virtual machines, with an ability to convert VMware's virtual machines into Viridian-compatible VMs.
VMware's ESX Server also can run either Windows or Linux operating systems above the hypervisor. It's positioned as an independent layer of virtualization software outside either the Linux or Windows any operating system.
Linux distributors Red Hat and Novell also have recently integrated the Xen open source hypervisor as a module that can be activated by the Linux kernel. Established at the end of 2005, Qumranet has 45 employees and was co-founded by CTO Moshe Bar, one of the co-founders of XenSource. President Rami Tamir is former director of engineering at Cisco Systems Israel for six years. Qumranet is named for Qumra, the cave where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.