The Tao of Xen

Last month, Citrix donated its already open-source Xen Hypervisor to the Linux Foundation, which is turning Xen into a collaborative project.  Partners in the newly redubbed Xen Project include several tech giants, such as cloud hosting behemoth Amazon Web Services, and Citrix itself. The move is Citrix’s latest battle tactic in the cloud wars – ­a savvy tactic, at that.

Citrix aims to entice more users to what is still essentially Citrix technology and then attract those new users to Citrix’s commercial products, according to The Register. The vendor will also benefit from having partners to shoulder more of the burden in Xen development while potentially becoming more reliant upon Xen. Each founding partner will contribute to non-technical governance matters, including marketing and outreach, and invest $25,000 annually in the project. Peder Ulander, VP of open-source solutions at Citrix, explained to The Register that the move will enable “key users like Google, Amazon, Terremark, and Samsung to participate in the leadership of the platform” while maintaining independence from Citrix.

Impact on the hypervisor market

Of course, Citrix’s partners – tech heavies chomping at the bit to wield more influence in open-source development, especially in the rapidly growing cloud environment – are hardly complaining. The move may therefore impact Xen hypervisor competitors, among them VMware’s ESX and vSphere and Microsoft’s Hyper-V. VMware is particularly vulnerable: Hyper-V is fast turning heads and gaining market share.  Hyper-V – a lower-cost alternative to VMware for years – has begun to catch up to VMware and others in terms of features and scalability.

One Xen Project partner, Terremark, has a history with VMware.  Before Verizon acquired Terremark in 2011, both companies were big VMware customers.  VMware even invested in Terremark in 2009. Later that same year, Terremark partnered with VMware when the latter rolled out its vCloud Express platform.

Terremark also has a cozy partnership with Citrix, however. Chris Drumgoole, Senior VP of Global Operations for Terremark, cited that relationship in a company blog post as part of Terremark’s reason for investing in the Xen Project as well as in Cloudstack, an IaaS solution that Citrix recently donated to the open-source nonprofit Apache Software Foundation.

And there’s still more to it. Though Citrix has earned acclaim for attracting lucrative government contracts on the basis of its hyper-secure (and hyper-closed-source) cloud offerings, there’s no denying either the demand for more affordable solutions or for more open-source ones.

The timing is right for Terremark to jump into open standards. As Drumgoole wrote, “Our support and investment reflects our desire to see the cloud market mature quickly and provide businesses with cloud-based offerings that address specific needs like performance, cost and flexibility.”

If not for the partnership with Citrix, it might be surprising that Terremark did not pick another open-source competitor, such as Red Hat’s KVM, which already dominates the hypervisor market. But if this is a win for Citrix’s strategy to better position itself in the open cloud fray, the main competition remains supremely nonchalant.

Red Hat responds

Stephanie Wonderlick, director of corporate communications at Red Hat, dismissed any questions of Xen posing a potential threat to KVM.  “We do not anticipate that this will impact Red Hat’s strategy,” Wonderlick told Enterprise Networking Planet. “KVM adoption and interest are quite strong, and we do not believe this announcement will change that.”

Whereas Red Hat’s OpenStack implementation builds heavily on KVM, this attitude is apparently echoed in regards to Cloudstack and other IaaS solutions.  In a recent interview, Red Hat CTO Brian Stevens accused other software companies offering open-source supported distributions of trying to be – as Forbes writer Reuven Cohen put it – “the ‘Red Hat’ of OpenStack.” Stevens’s rebuttal: “We actually are Red Hat.”

Still, the future looks bright for Xen, according to Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation.  “I can tell you that the Xen community is growing and the vision is expanding,” Zemlin told Enterprise Networking Planet.  “We expect adoption of both Xen and KVM to continue to increase.”


Joe Stanganelli is a writer, attorney, and communications consultant. He is also principal and founding attorney of Beacon Hill Law in Boston.  Follow him on Twitter at @JoeStanganelli.

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