Israeli start-up Qumranet has launched a competitor to XenSource in the virtualisation market.

Like with all virtualisation companies, Qumranet's product enables users to run several operating systems on a single computer. However, Qumranet's software, which is called KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine), has one special advantage: it is already embedded in the code of the Linux OS. Since it is an open source product, Qumranet was able to convince the developers of the Linux kernel to integrate KVM as part of the operating system, saving the need to install it.

"Our product is inside Linux distributions like Red Hat's Fedora, Ubuntu and soon we will be inside Novell's SuSE," said CEO Benny Schneider. "This is actually the publicly available half of the product." According to Schneider, the other half is a commercial product intended for big organisations, based on KVM. This product, called Solid ICE, was announced this week at the DEMOfall conference in San Diego.

Many companies today use Linux-based servers, and Qumranet hopes that some of them will choose to buy its product because KVM is already in the operating system they work with. Furthermore, according to Schneider, unlike the other products on the market, the fact that KVM is integrated as part of the Linux kernel gives it an advantage in terms of performance.

Technologically though, KVM still has some way to go. "In certain areas of virtualisation we show better performance than our competitors," says Schneider. "But there are other areas where we are not as good. We are working together with the open source community to improve these areas."

Schneider claims that KVM has several advantages compared to VMware's products. "Our product uses innovations that were not around when VMware developed theirs. For example, we've designed KVM to better support the new Intel processors."

But the fact that KVM is an open source product has some commercial disadvantages. Since KVM is integrated into Linux, it can be used by anyone without paying anything to Qumranet, and with no obligation to buy the commercial product when it hits the market. Nevertheless, Schneider believes the commercial product has potential. "I believe we have an application that the market needs, and the combination between KVM and the commercial product gives us an advantage."

Currently, Qumranet's immediate competitor is XenSource. Both are developing a commercial product for the Linux market based on open source. XenSource's virtualisation platform is called called Xen.

Since XenSource was bought by Citrix and is championed by Microsoft, it seems to be on the rise. However, judging from XenSource's latest statements, and what's known about Citrix's business, it seems that XenSource will turn most of its efforts to Windows rather than Linux. For the people at Qumranet, this is excellent news.

"At the moment, our first reaction to the Microsoft-XenSource-Citrix front is wonderment. I would say our position only improved," says Schneider. "In both cases we are talking about a product with two sides - commercial and free. I'm not sure the financial backing XenSource now has will help it because the open source community does not like commercialism. Eventually, it is not the money that decides, it's the community."