Red Hat makes desktop virtualization protocol open source

An open source SPICE protocol could help break down barriers to desktop virtualization adoption

Red Hat embraced the virtualization market some time ago, starting with the open source Xen technology as part of the company's Enterprise Linux operating system. After focusing a lot of attention on the server side for some time now, Red Hat appears to be coming back around to the desktop side of the business.

The company decided to take a few chances in order to become more of a key player in the virtualization market. The first move was to shy away from the Xen technology in favor of supporting and embedding the KVM hypervisor inside its Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) distribution. The next step was acquiring Qumranet in September 2008. Doing so gave the company key ingredients: KVM, the SolidICE desktop virtualization platform, as well as the Simple Protocol for Independent Computing Environments (SPICE) remoting protocol.

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SPICE is considered an alternative to Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), which is used to link PCs to remote desktops and servers. And the protocol is optimized to do a much better job at rendering multimedia audio and graphics -- a key to breaking down the barrier of desktop virtualization adoption. SPICE aims to provide the end-user with an experience that is comparable to using a physical desktop machine.

Remoting protocols are really beginning to take center stage. Because this technology is a key component to breaking into desktop virtualization, companies are scrambling to enhance and update existing remote technology in order to win end user acceptance of virtualization. Citrix has introduced ICA/HDX, Microsoft has updated RDP and is expected to update it further with technology acquired from Calista, and VMware is working with the technology from Teradici called PCoIP. An open source challenger in this market is certainly an interesting twist.

But the interesting news here is that Red Hat is now open sourcing its SPICE protocol in hopes of rallying support from the open source community and making the protocol even better and more far reaching. They also hope that doing so will break down barriers to virtualization adoption and contribute to interoperability -- or even, perhaps, make the protocol a new standard.

Thin client and device manufacturers may find this new open source protocol appealing and begin integrating it into their devices.

The next logical step for Red Hat would be to try and get the protocol included as part of the Linux kernel, much like Qumranet was able to do with the KVM hypervisor technology. If that happens, every Linux distribution would feature the SPICE protocol as the out-of-the-box solution of choice. Only time will tell if the world is ready for yet another remoting protocol like this one ... even if it is open source.

One thing is for sure: 2010 is shaping up to be an interesting year for desktop virtualization.

You can find the SPICE protocol specs, here.

This story, "Red Hat makes desktop virtualization protocol open source," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in virtualization at

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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