Don Marti

Fri 05 Sep 2008 06:38:14 PM PDT

A $107 million bet

Many carpal tunnels have suffered in the debate over the famous Novell-Microsoft Deal. Was it about a legit technical collaboration between the two companies, as Novell CTO Jeff Jaffe insists, or just a payoff for Novell's participation in patent FUD—eating a bug for money? People can argue it both ways and never get anywhere.

But now someone has made the money/mouth connection, in the amount of $107 million. Red Hat Advances Virtualization Leadership with Qumranet, Inc. Acquisition.

Qumranet is the home of KVM, the promising Linux-as-hypervisor technology that's already in the upstream kernel and in the bleeding edge distributions, and that's likely to be the basis of the next generation of "enterprise" Linux products. (see the feature and performance comparison with other Linux virtualization approaches) But as a company, Qumranet is all about Microsoft Windows. The reason to buy from them is to take the loud, bulky, hard-to-administer PC off the trading floor or out of the employee's cubicle, and stick it in the server room. Instead of having a bunch of desktop support people in your expensive Manhattan office, you can the admin there throw away broken thin clients and order new ones, and hire people in Overland Park, Kansas to do the hard parts of desktop support on checked-out virtual images.

The technology that enables everything that Qumranet does is, first, KVM with Windows guests, and second, a remote desktop protocol, optimized for LAN access, called SPICE. But it all depends on efficient Windows-on-Linux virtualization. Desktop users hate thin clients the way SUV drivers hate riding light rail. If you offer customers anything with the slightest whiff of thin-client sloth, you need to be really fast to convice them you're not peddling the same crappy "Network Computer" that PC-using sales people and PC-using CIOs have been shoveling onto regular users' desks since the days of the IBM 3270. In the long run, Red Hat can't sell the Qumranet stuff without having the exact thing that Novell claims it signed the Microsoft deal to do.

The Red Hat company line is still that it "will not compromise" on patent FUD. So, either Red Hat is about to eat the bug, take down all the "unthinkable" rants, sign a Novell-like deal, and start its own "interoperabilty lab," or I was right, Red Hat can do everything with Windows-on-Linux virtualization that Novell can, and the FUD deal is just a FUD deal.

Blogger Scott Dowdle has questions, but the biggest outstanding question has to be: now that you've put $107 million into Windows-on-Linux virtualization, do you need to agree to participate in FUD in order to get the Windows access you need?

(Another business opportunity for Qumranet: use a minimal Linux load on the host OS on a laptop, check in the virtual Windows box with your real work on it before crossing the border, and check it out again once your machine is out of the hands of Customs. Not that you, the Enterprise IT Customer, have anything to fear from The Government as such, but people make mistakes, hardware gets lost, and dishonest people get hired.)