Red Hat embraced hardware virtualization a long time ago by adopting Xen as part of its Enterprise Linux operating system.
Despite that the company never penetrated the market enough to become a serious competitor for VMware, Microsoft and Citrix.
In the attempt to increase its chances to become a key player in the virtualization space, Red Hat is making some courageous choices.
First, it replaced Xen with KVM, becoming the first major vendor to sell and support this relatively new platform inside enterprise (IBM supports KVM too, but just for VDI and just for a very specific software stack).
Now, right before launching its VDI offering, Red Hat has open sourced the SPICE remote desktop protocol, acquired from Qumranet in September 2008. And this is a major step, one of the few that could make a difference.
All the other major virtualization players released or are about to release high performance remote desktop protocols that are optimized for VDI: Citrix has the ICA/HDX, VMware and Teradici just released the software-only version of PCoIP, and Microsoft is expected to integrate the technologies acquired from Calista in its RDP.
On top of these three, there’s a crowd that is pushing for its own proprietary protocol (like VDIworks and Pano Logic) or for its own RDP optimizations (like Quest and Ericom).
In this mess of non-compatible, brand new protocols, an open source alternative is certainly interesting.
The availability of SPICE as open source has many potential ramifications.
First of all, it may immediately attract IBM, which is using the Citrix HDX protocol today for its brand new desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) offering.
Secondarily, it may be integrated in Xen, which would increase the chances to have major contributors like Oracle.
More than that, it may slip in most thin clients, because vendors are free to extend it and integrate in their devices without having to deal with anybody.
Last but not least, it may receive the support of many cloud providers that, over time, will have to deal with heterogeneous virtualization platforms in their IaaS clouds.
The most important thing, anyway, is that the open sourced SPICE protocol could become part of the Linux kernel. Qumranet already succeeded in a similar challenge with KVM, after just six months of development.
If the Linux kernel will integrate SPICE, every distribution will feature it out-of-the-box in a few months. And this means that every Linux guest OS will be VDI-ready without doing anything.
Of course the success of SPICE will depend much on its performance. Brian Madden published a valuable insight on this very point covering the architecture and features of the protocol.
The open source version of SPICE is available here.