Red Hat has announced the beta release of RH Enterprise Linux 5 (RHEL5), which will now include virtualisation.

Out this month, it follows the release some months ago of the community-based Fedora Core 4 which includes Xen, Xensource's open source hypervisor.

"People have been waiting for a long time for this on Linux and on other OSes", said Frank Artale, Xensource business development manager.

Predicting that 90 percent of future virtualisation would be hypervisor-based, Tim Yeaton, Red Hat's enterprise solutions VP, said that RHEL5 will major on simplified virtual machine management. This will allow IT managers to deploy and manage virtual machines with the tools they already use, such as Red Hat Network.

Also on the platform at the launch were representatives from both Intel and AMD, with whom Red Hat said it was workig closely to help develop virtualisation technology.

According to Red Hat CTO Brian Stevens, the issues RHEL5 is aiming to solve are twofold: how to allow customers to move to next generation hardware when IT has locked down the environment to make the systems stable, and how do you take spare CPU cycles and harness them? The big issue is on-demand computing and CPU harvesting," he said.

According to Stevens, this is about "taking the rocket science away from users. They want it seamlessly integrated into the architecture. We need to design and harden a set of APIs for that and they've yet to be developed. We're about enablement."

One element for the move is a new Web resource centre that will provide a place for Red Hat users to find new tools and other virtualisation software.

In terms of real world deployment, a Red Hat spokesman said that a number of customers were already beta testing the OS, but that he didn't expect the release of RHEL5 before the end of 2006. Pricing has yet to be determined.

Closely following this announcement is Fedora Core 5, now in test phase but due out on 20 March, which will include some of the management and analysis tools that will find their way into RHEL5. "It's designed to make para-virtualisation a snap for most users", said [techie].

Red Hat's move comes against a background of increasing competition in this area, in particular from SWSoft, which has set up a model eerily similar to Red Hat's. Its OpenVZ Project is an analogue of Red Hat's Fedora in that it's a community development. Being open source, users and developers can test and deploy it and when the code is deemed to be ripe, commercial products designed and hardened for serious enterprise deployment are produced using that codebase.