Xen Pushes Virtual Software Battle Upstream

In December, the creators of Xen, XenSource, officially announced the completion of the enterprise-ready Xen 3.0 release with support from all the industry heavyweights including HP, IBM, Intel, Novell and Red Hat. SWsoft, of Herndon, Va., also announced recently an open-source project and community called OpenVZ.org that is based on its commercial virtualization product known as Virtuozzo.

As Xen 3.0 and other open-source offerings like OpenVZ threaten to commoditize the core-virtualization stack, all virtualization firms, including VMware and XenSource, are focusing their commercial attentions higher up the stack.

XenSource, for example, is bypassing the core platform market altogether and instead will try to make money on an advanced virtualization management platform called XenOptimizer. The commercial offering, set to be available early this year, provides advanced virtualization capabilities for the Linux data center, the company said. A Windows version is possible but company executives would not elaborate on its long-term plans.

The Xen 3.0 engine will provide the core virtualization capabilities and XenOptimizer will offer advanced services including physical-to-virtual conversions, drag-and-drop provisioning of virtual servers, zero downtime maintenance and centralized monitoring and fine-grained control of CPU, memory, network and storage resources, all through a centralized dashboard.

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Stephen Walli, vice president of open-source strategy at the Cambridge, Mass.-based consulting firm Optaros, said VMWare and Microsoft paved the way for rapid adoption of open-source variants. “I don&'t think Xen will be a long time coming because virtualization has been maturing,” Walli said. “There is already demand for virtualization so Xen is in a good place.”

Microsoft, Redmond, Wash., sells its own Virtual Server 2005 platform but expects virtualization will become a commodity by the end of the decade. Ironically, Microsoft Research was one of three U.S. technology outfits that originally funded Xen when the project began in 2002. It announced plans this year to integrate a virtualization hypervisor directly into Release 2 of its Windows Longhorn Server operating system due in the 2009-2010 time frame.

Market leader VMware, which paved the way for its open-source brethren, is not standing still.

The Palo Alto, Calif., company—whose name has become synonymous with virtualization in the Intel market—is not ready to commoditize its flagship ESX virtualization platform. Still, the company is working hard to integrate ESX with the advanced services in its VirtualCenter management platform. For example, VMware is set to release in the first quarter of 2006 its ESX 3&'s four-way SMP support and VirtualCenter 2 management platform with new Distributed Resource Scheduling and Distributed Availability Services that will move the value proposition well beyond server consolidation to disaster recovery.

Other ISVs are moving up-stack and will support Xen in anticipation of its success. Virtual Iron, IBM and Akimbi, for example, said they will support Xen in their respective Virtual Iron, Virtual Engine 2.0 and Slingshot advanced virtualization platforms for managing virtual data centers. HP Virtual Machine Manager will support Xen when it is more established and stable, company executives said.

Partners who specialize in virtualization said customers are becoming interested in Xen but want to see commercial progress before they consider adopting it.

“I&'ve talked to clients about Xen and they think it&'s good for experimental work, niche applications or low-budget projects," said John Dodge, a solutions architect with Foedus, New York. “But they like the big company names supporting it and especially its future potential.”

Others maintain it will take some time before core virtualization software is commoditized. According to a report issued by IDC Research in late October, the software virtualization market is expected to grow to roughly $15 billion by 2009.