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Something for Nothing: Citrix Gives Away XenServer

You may have heard that Citrix, in what can only be described as an exceptionally bold move -- and risky, calculated gamble, all at the same time -- is now giving away a new version of its XenServer hypervisor that has capabilities way beyond the typical free hypervisor.

Among the goodies in this version are its version of live motion, called XenMotion, which also incorporates multi-node resource sharing; management for an unlimited number of servers and VMs; and integrated storage management, among other stuff. Wow; that's a lot of virtualization power, and is now free for the taking.

It's hard not to applaud Citrix for making XenServer free. You can't get that much capability for free with any other solution, including VMware. This is no small thing. I mean, if you're an admin with virtualization responsibilities in this recession, don't you at least now owe it to yourself and your company to see what XenServer can do?

Of course, this is exactly what Citrix wants you to think. And when you've got XenServer set up (and if it works well), of course you're going to at least consider Citrix Essentials on top of that, right? And then, since you have so much Citrix in your datacenter, why not Citrix XenDesktop, goes the thinking to which every Citrix sales rep in the world wants you to subscribe.

So goes the theory, anyway. Make no mistake: XenServer is a fine hypervisor, which will be borne out in our next print issue, which should be hitting your mailboxes any time now, if it hasn't already. We prove that unequivocally. It still hasn't really taken hold in the buying public's imagination, however -- at least not yet. Let's face it: When folks think hypervisor, product No. 1 on the radar is VMware's ESX. Product No. 2 is Microsoft's Hyper-V, which is pretty remarkable considering how new it is. XenServer (or Xen in general) is usually next on the list. Will this souped-up version, which may well be enterprise-worthy right now, change that pecking order? Citrix sure hopes so.

The question that must be answered is this: How much free stuff can Citrix give away and continue to be viable? It just released an awful lot of intellectual property, for no discernable return. Sure, there's hypothetically something at the end of all this (an enterprise presence and upsell of other products), but absolutely no guarantee that any of that will occur.

If XenServer now does what you want, why spend $1,500 per server to upgrade to Essentials? Yeah, you'll get StorageLink for better storage management, and lab management software if you want the Cadillac edition, at double that price. But XenServer already has storage management; granted, it's not anywhere near as powerful or feature-rich as the Essentials technology promises to be, but does it pass the "good enough" test? Can you get by for a year or two or more without it? And if you can, why upgrade at all?

That's the scenario all those Citrix reps do not want you to envision. That's why this is so risky for Citrix, and so fascinating for us virtualization watchers. It's clear that hypervisors are commodities; are things like live motion, distributed resource scheduling and P2V going to be next? If so, for what capabilities, exactly, will a vendor be able to charge? I don't know if this is a slippery slope or not, but it sure is exciting.

What say you? Comment below or e-mail me and tell me if a) this will convince you to give XenServer a whirl, and b) if Citrix is making a good or bad move for the long haul.

Posted by Keith Ward on 02/24/2009 at 12:48 PM


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