Red Hat has launched an entire line of virtualisation software aimed at attacking market leader VMware by giving customers an open-source option for virtualising their data centres.

The new line includes the built-in virtualisation of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) OS as well as two virtual-machine management products - one for desktops and one for servers. Red Hat also is offering a stand-alone hypervisor called Red Hat Enterprise Virtualisation.

The new products also position Red Hat more solidly against Microsoft, which has a line of virtualisation-enablement and management technologies to accompany its popular Windows Server software.

Red Hat purchased Israel-based virtualisation software vendor Qumranet last September and the new offerings are based on some of the technology from that deal. They also represent a migration from the Xen hypervisor, on which Red Hat based the virtualisation included in RHEL 5, to the KVM (kernel-based virtual machine) hypervisor. KVM is based on the Linux kernel and is designed for high performance and stability.

Red Hat will continue to support customers using the Xen virtualisation software through the lifecycle of the RHEL 5 OS, which is until at least 2014, the company said. The KVM hypervisor will first appear in RHEL 5.4, the next version of RHEL that is due for final release in the next few months. Red Hat released the current version of RHEL, RHEL 5.3, on January 20.

Red Hat's virtualisation line and news last week that Red Hat and competitor Microsoft will support customers running each other's virtualisation software mean the heat is on market leader VMware, which had a rocky 2008 with the sudden departure of President and CEO Diane Greene amid financial woes. She was replaced mid-year by former Microsoft executive Paul Maritz.

Microsoft and Citrix Systems also said Monday that they are working more closely together to compete better with VMware. Citrix plans to release a new suite of virtualisation management tools in April that will be offered for Microsoft's Hyper-V and its Citrix XenServer virtualisation software, the companies said.

Specifically, Red Hat's new product line includes the Red Hat Enterprise Virtualisation Manager for Servers, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualisation Manager for Desktops, RHEL and the hypervisor.

The server virtualisation manager product will provide a scalable, graphical user interface-based management system so enterprises can manage every object in a virtualised environment, be it a user, an image or a virtual server, said Navin Thadani, senior director of Red Hat's virtualisation business.

Similarly, the desktop virtualisation manager will allow enterprises to centrally manage, secure and enforce policies for a virtual desktop environment without interrupting the user experience, Thadani said. The software takes advantage of a technology called SolidlCE from Qumranet and the SPICE remote rendering technology.

Red Hat Enterprise Virtualisation Hypervisor is a small-footprint hypervisor that Thadani said would likely be most popular with customers who have limited virtualisation experience.

He defended Red Hat's decision to offer another stand-alone hypervisor to a market that already has several options of what is rapidly becoming a commodity technology, saying that Red Hat wants to give customers choice for their different virtualisation needs.

Red Hat did not provide pricing information for its virtualisation line. The company will introduce the products gradually over the next 18 months, with the first ones appearing in about three months, it said.