April 29, 2017

There’s a lot of debate these days concerning what platform is best for deploying containers. On the one hand, virtual machines are popular destination because of the major investments IT organizations have made in existing management platforms. At the same time, a new generation of lightweight Linux operating systems have emerged that dramatically reduce the size of operating system footprint in a way that is often more consistent with the goals often associated with embracing containers in the first place.

Aiming to bring those two worlds closer together, Red Hat has made available Red Hat Virtualization 4 platform that, among other things, allows the Red Hat Enterprise Linux Atomic Host to be one of the guest operating systems that can be hosted on top of the hypervisor provided for the kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) that Red Hat offers as an alternative to VMware and Microsoft Hyper-V virtual machines.

Red Hat is locked in a fierce struggle with Canonical and CoreOS for the hearts and minds of developers building applications using containers. But rather than requiring IT operations teams to acquire separate tooling to manage a lightweight operating system, Red Hat is making it simpler to leverage investments in its implementation of the OpenStack cloud platform and other management applications to accomplish that goal, says Scott Herold, product director for Red Hat Virtualization. To that end, Red Hat also announced that Red Hat Virtualization 4 now also support the Neutron networking services provided within OpenStack.

It’s not clear to what degree IT organizations will be embracing lighter-weight forms of Linux to run technologies such as containers and OpenStack. Thus far, interest has been high simply because these operating systems leave more processing horsepower available to the application. They are also much easier for many developers to deploy without much help from an internal IT operations team.

The challenge facing IT operations teams arrives when it comes time to deploy applications running on these lighter-weight operating systems in a production environment. Rather than having to acquire new systems management tools, Red Hat is betting many IT organizations prefer to use their existing tools despite that additional processing overhead that might entail by deploying a lightweight operating system as a guest on top of a virtual machine.

Most IT environments are becoming more fragmented by the day. The ability to deploy a lightweight operating system as a guest on a virtual machine plays to the strengths of both Red Hat and VMware alike. While VMware clearly dominates the enterprise, Red Hat has been making gains as more IT organizations employ an open source first approach to drive down their commercial software licensing fee costs.

Today, the vast majority of containers are deployed on top of a virtual machine. The degree to which that will stay the case remains to be seen. As IT organizations become more comfortable with containers it’s likely that the number of containers deployed on bare metal servers as an alternative to virtual machines will increase. Regardless of the method employed, however, Red Hat clearly views containers as an opportunity to expand its control over IT infrastructure across multiple deployment scenarios.

Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard is a seasoned IT journalist with over 25 years of experience. He also contributed to IT Business Edge, Channel Insider, Baseline and a variety of other IT titles. Previously, Vizard was the editorial director for Ziff-Davis Enterprise as well as Editor-in-Chief for CRN and InfoWorld.