Citrix Offers Free XenServer, Embraces Microsoft Hyper-V

server virtualization software

The moves come on the eve of VMworld Europe, one of two annual events sponsored primarily by VMware.

Citrix on Monday unveiled a revamped version of its virtualization platform, XenServer, which will be available for free to any user for unlimited production deployment.

Microsoft Hyper-V is currently available as part of Windows Server 2008 Standard, Enterprise and Datacenter editions, as well as a stand-alone hypervisor Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008.

Citrix has been saying for years that it supports both its own XenServer and Microsoft's Hyper-V technologies equally, and that this is even more evident with the new free version of XenServer, said John Humphreys, senior director of marketing at Citrix.

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"If customers want Hyper-V, they get Hyper-V," Humphreys said. "If they want XenServer, they get XenServer. We're not religious about it."

For Citrix, the revenue opportunity from a free XenServer is selling its new Citrix Essentials tool, which manages virtual servers created with either XenServer or Hyper-V, Humphreys said.

While basic hypervisors have been free for years, most have had limited practical use in real-world environments. However, the new XenServer product differs in that it has advanced features approaching those of VMware's ESX offering, including live virtual machine motion, resource pooling and multinode management.

The most important of these, and the key feature cited by solution providers as missing from XenServer, is XenMotion.

Like VMware's VMotion, XenMotion allows the live migration of virtual servers from one physical server to another, a key part of a high-availability environment, Humphreys said.

"About 60 percent to 70 percent of customers have live migration as an absolute requirement in their RFPs (request for proposals)," he said. "VMware offers it only in the enterprise edition of its technology, which costs over $5,000."

XenServer's resource pooling feature also allows users to create a pool of up to 32 physical server hosts to which virtual machines can be dynamically migrated. For instance, Humphreys said, a customer could have an engineering pool and a finance pool, or separate pools for different geographies.

With multinode management, customers can centrally manage, query, provision and monitor all their virtual servers. This capability is free of charge from Citrix, but would require VMware users to purchase vCenter, which costs about $5,000, Humphreys said.

"vCenter includes a physical server, which is a single point of failure," he said. "Ours runs across all hosts so it's redundant, fault-tolerant and free."

The free Citrix XenServer will be available for download from the Citrix Web site and other download portals by the end of March.

The Citrix Essentials offering was developed to boost the enterprise management capabilities of Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V and System Center in storage management, provisioning services and lab automation. It is also intended to help make virtualization environments more scalable, manageable and agile, Citrix said.

Citrix Essentials comes in two primary versions. Citrix Essentials for XenServer manages virtual machines created using XenServer, while Citrix Essentials for Microsoft Hyper-V, also known as "Project Encore," does the same for Microsoft's technology, Humphreys said.

It includes Automated Lab Management, which streamlines the process of building, testing, sharing and delivering applications on-demand throughout the full application lifecycle, from development labs to production servers.

Also included is Citrix's StorageLink technology, which leverages the native capabilities of third-party, array-based storage systems to ease the management of customers' existing storage infrastructures from their virtualized environments.

Citrix Essentials also includes Dynamic Provisioning Services, which helps customers cut costs by letting them centrally manage common sets of master server images and stream them on-demand to either virtual machines or physical servers.

It also has high-availability features, such as automatic restart if there is a host or virtual machine failure.

Versions of Citrix Essentials for both XenServer and Hyper-V will be available through channel partners on April 7, with a suggested retail price of between $1,500 to $5,000 per physical server, Humphreys said.

Both will be available in an enterprise edition, which includes all the features except Automated Lab Management, and a platinum addition, which includes the Automated Lab Management, he said.

In an effort to promote the product, Citrix is making Essentials for Microsoft Hyper-V available to both Citrix and Microsoft resellers worldwide, and the company will collaborate with Microsoft on marketing and training.