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Red Hat CEO On Recession, Virtualization, Ballmer

Jim Whitehurst says his firm has encountered a "perfect storm" of conditions furthering its growth in recession.

Whitehurst is hoping a similar story will emerge with Red Hat's backing of KVM as the open source hypervisor of choice. He sees Red Hat competing with VMware to virtualize the enterprise. KVM was produced by the Israeli firm, Qumranet, which Red Hat acquired in September 2008. KVM is the hypervisor that has been built into the Linux kernel and was made part of the RHEL 5.4 release in early September. Red Hat also supports use of the open source Xen hypervisor.

KVM embedded in the Linux kernel uses the kernel's scheduler and memory manager, unlike standalone hypervisors. That gives RHEL a performance advantage when used as a host for virtual machines.

Whitehurst thinks that within a few years customers will want virtualization to be a part of the operating system, not a separate layer of software. That stance, he admitted, brings him closer to Microsoft's position than most other vendors. "Twenty years ago, people bought a separate TCP/IP stack for networking. Now it's just part of the operating system. Virtualization will be the same thing," he said.

With KVM in the RHEL 5.4, customers have "better performance and better hardware enablement" for starting up fresh virtual machine servers. KVM has already emerged "with better traction among open source developers" than Xen, he added.

Whitehurst travels to Silicon Valley often from his Raleigh, N.C., headquarters in order to talk to fellow open source code company executives, venture capitalists, and the press. He hosts a dinner for his fellow CEOs on each visit and collects an update on the status of open source affairs.

Red Hat was successful under his predecessor, Matthew Szulik, who brought a maturity to the young company's operations. But it was also more isolated. Whitehurst is ensuring that the major open source players share ties that would allow them to rally to one another's cause, if the occasion ever demanded.

Whitehurst considers the possibility unlikely. In some ways he seems to find dealing with Microsoft, which has expressed open hostility to open source code in the past, easier than with Oracle, a company that owns two open source code companies and is trying to acquire a third, MySQL AB, as part of Sun Microsystems.

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