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Open source firm to challenge VMware

Dec 05, 20053 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsOpen Source

XenSource, the company founded to provide support and maintenance for the open source Xen virtual-machine monitor, is releasing its first commercial product, a set of tools that the company says will make it easier to virtualize servers.

Called XenOptimizer, the product is in beta for the latest release of Xen, a community-developed program that provides an alternative to commercial offerings from VMware and others.

XenSource is expected to announce this week that XenOptimizer will be generally available in the first quarter of next year, says CTO Simon Crosby. Pricing has not been released.

XenSource also plans to announce general availability of Xen 3.0, the first major release of the software in more than a year.

Xen 3.0 brings a number of updates, including support for as many as 32-way symmetric multiprocessor virtual machines and expanded memory support for workloads with large memory demands. The new version also supports Intel’s VT virtualization technology and is expected to support Advanced Micro Devices’ (AMD) hardware-based virtualization technology early next year, which will enhance CPU and memory virtualization and will enable Xen to run under all operating systems, Crosby says.

Today, Xen supports Linux on x86 and on Itanium, though the Xen project, based at XenSource, is working on porting Xen to Power 5-based systems from IBM. Sun recently demonstrated Solaris x86 virtual servers running on Xen.

Xen backers say the software provides better performance at a lower cost than VMware, because it virtualizes operating systems at the kernel. That requires some modification to operating systems, but both Red Hat and SuSE say they will include support for Xen in their upcoming operating-system releases.

Still, even as Xen – developed by a group that includes AMD, Dell, HP, IBM and Intel – gains broader support, it has a tough road ahead in the fast-growing virtual machine market, analysts say.

“Xen’s market is a good one for them to be aimed at, but there is a huge gorilla [in VMware] they’re competing with that is gaining weight fast,” says Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT Research. “They claim to be offering a real significant price/performance benefit, which could increase the uptake of Linux servers.”

For enterprises, the question is how big their Linux presence is and what kind of open source expertise they have to support a Xen rollout, he says. XenSource hopes the introduction of XenOptimizer will help alleviate the expertise concern.

“Xen the open source product is a pretty raw technology. . . . Until now, the majority of deployments have been by people who are Linux experts and have developed their own solutions to roll it out,” Crosby says. “What [XenOptimizer] provides is all the wrapping around Xen that one would need to actually go off and deploy in a normal enterprise environment.”

XenOptimizer provides a dashboard view of virtualized resources, enabling customers to monitor and manage a Xen-based virtual environment from a single location, Crosby says. The software doesn’t plug into higher-level management tools, such as HP OpenView or IBM Tivoli, though XenSource plans to add that type of support next year, he adds.

Andi Mann, senior analyst of systems management at Enterprise Management Associates, says XenOptimizer will be an important factor in determining how Xen fares in corporate data centers.

“But every time you introduce a new technology, you introduce a management shift,” Mann says. “With something like XenOptimizer, it becomes a lot easier to manage, and that’s critical not just to acceptance, but also to what kind of real returns businesses will get out of virtualization.”