Red Hat SPICE protocol advances but release could be a year away

The open source remote access project will include 3D acceleration, network tunneling, and perhaps iPad, iPhone, and Android tablet support

In September 2008, Red Hat acquired Israel-based company Qumranet for $107 million and with it the company's virtualization solutions, including its Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM) technology and the Simple Protocol for Independent Computing Environments (SPICE) remote protocol.

KVM is now growing in popularity for desktop virtualization and cloud solution offerings, and the SPICE protocol could prove to be one of the key elements to wider adoption of the technology.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Red Hat turns up the dials on its virtualization plans for the server, desktop, and cloud with Virtualization 2.2. | Find out more about breaking through the second phase of virtualization and VM Stall. | Make sure to keep up with all the latest virtualization news with InfoWorld's virtualization newsletter. ]

SPICE is a remote computing solution that provides client access to remote machine displays and devices, such as keyboard, mouse, and audio. SPICE achieves a user experience that is similar to an interaction with a local machine, while trying to offload most of the intensive CPU and GPU tasks to the client.

Back in December 2009, Red Hat made a decision to open-source its SPICE protocol in hopes of rallying support from the open source community and making the protocol even better and more far reaching. The company also hoped that doing so would break down barriers to virtualization adoption by overcoming traditional desktop virtualization challenges, emphasizing user experience, and ultimately contributing to interoperability -- and even make the protocol a new standard. The company faces increased competition in this area from three big virtualization heavy hitters: Citrix (HDX), Microsoft (RDP), and VMware (PCoIP).

To help ensure that the SPICE project would be successful, the open source group set forth the following project goals:

  • To deliver a high-quality user experience, similar to a local machine, in LAN environments
  • To maintain low CPU consumption in order to have high VM density on the host
  • To provide high-quality video streaming and 3D

Perhaps feeling the heat from its more established competitors, the SPICE project team seems to be making some good progress on those goals. This month saw the release of version 0.5.2 of the SPICE protocol, and while this version is part of the unstable branch, it does mark the release of the project's first stable API. It also introduces support for off-screen surfaces and reaches 80 percent completion for QEMU integration.

The group is working toward getting the upstream QEMU to support SPICE and QXL without requiring patches. They are also looking to add better support for limited network resource environments across the WAN in order to achieve a user experience that is more similar to an actual LAN experience. To achieve this, the group needs to improve SPICE bandwidth utilization with a reasonable cost of more CPU utilization. The core of this feature is reaching a better compression ratio for bitmaps that are sent from the server to the client.

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