Xen Brings New Zen


The commercial availability of XenSource's XenEnterprise running on Windows and the Xen offerings from Virtual Iron, Lowell, Mass., due soon, as well as from top Linux distributors Novell and Red Hat represent a key turning point in the virtualization era, Intel executives said.

Intel said it will support all virtualization platforms for resellers. This week, for example, Intel will announce that it will provide VMware-certified virtualization server solutions for its Intel Enabled Server Acceleration Alliance (ESAA) program. But at last week's Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, Intel, the second-largest contributor to the Xen open-source project, heavily touted Xen-based solutions.

During his keynote at IDF, Intel Vice President Pat Gelsinger highlighted Novell's announcement last week that its SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 is the first Xen offering optimized for Intel VT-x.

"On the server side, we see Xen as absolutely great because VMware has been the only [commercial] solution," Gelsinger said in an interview with CRN at IDF. "We're enthusiastic about it, of course."

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Observers still question whether virtualization software will slow sales of servers and processors. But Intel and AMD processors are Xen-enabled, and the two chip makers are developing new extensions.

At IDF, Intel touted planned Intel VT-x extensions and a next-generation VT-D for Directed I/O virtualization, which aims to improve memory management, performance and security of virtual machines. AMD, meanwhile, will integrate Nested Page Tables for AMD-V in 2007, which should result in faster and more seamless switching between different virtual machines, according to an AMD executive. AMD promises I/O virtualization support in 2008.

Red Hat, meanwhile, plans to ship Xen support as part of its version 5.0 platform in this quarter or next quarter.

Xen represents the first major threat to market leader VMware and its partner base, according to some observers. Still, new competition in the virtualization software market promises to reduce prices, expand use downmarket and catapult sales of virtualization-enabled processors, servers, software and services beyond the enterprise, Gelsinger said. "No one is taking the virtualization approach to the midsize market, and that's where Xen has a very interesting potential," Gelsinger said.

As they prep for market launch, XenSource, the commercial spin-off of the Xen open-source project, and Virtual Iron, a virtualization management platform, both recently launched channel programs to entice VARs to sell and provide services for their respective XenEnterprise and Virtual Iron platforms within the SMB market. Both ISVs said they have adopted a 100 percent channel business model. XenEnterprise on Linux shipped in August.

"It's a time-consuming business as every enterprise customer is different, and there's lots of customization and integration required. XenSource decided that it was much better off building infrastructure components and then working with a myriad of other software vendors who will build solutions," said Ian Pratt, Xen project leader and founder of XenSource, Palo Alto, Calif. "It helps create a healthy ecosystem of people building stuff on top of XenEnterprise."

According to Joe Toste, vice president of marketing at Equus Computer, a system builder in Minneapolis, "Virtualization is going to be huge. Virtualization is a salvation, and we all have to learn how to sell it because it'll let you do more computing on a lot less hardware."

The launch of the Xen platforms makes virtualization-enabled hardware and extensions more appealing, one AMD executive said.

"There were lot of people kicking the tires on Xen before Intel-VT and AMD-V were possible, but more people are testing it out because the new Xen can do multiple operating systems," said Margaret Lewis, director of the commercial ISP market at AMD, Sunnyvale, Calif. "Xen is just coming out into the market with heterogeneous support so we're in the first stages of evaluation, just like 10 years ago people were picking up Linux. But this will be faster."

Intel and AMD say their virtualization-enabled processors do little for VMware since its server runs on bare metal. But both companies say they will continue to endorse and support VMware, as well as Microsoft Virtual Server, Microsoft's next-generation Viridian hypervisor, and SWSoft Virtuozzo.

Intel and VMware, for example, plan to announce today that Intel will provide VMware-certified virtualization server offerings as part of its server platform and motherboard product portfolio. Through that effort, regional system builders that participate in the Intel ESAA program will have an opportunity to adopt and market VMware. Intel and VMware previously launched the Intel Virtualize ASAP program to provide certified stacks for partners.