It's Novell, Microsoft & Citrix vs. VMware with free XenServer

Now that Red Hat has shown its KVM cards in the great virtualization Texas Hold'em poker game, you can safely bet that Novell will soon be joining up with Microsoft and Citrix to try to shove VMware out of the game with Citrix's free XenServer.

I saw this virtualization shoot-out coming, and I'm not surprised to see Novell on the Microsoft and Citrix side. I'm a little puzzled that Red Hat, after its recent Microsoft partnership, has decided to use KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine) to support Windows Server instead of the ready-to-go XenServer. After some thought, though, I think it's both that Red Hat wants to steer clear of getting entangled with Microsoft and that the Raleigh, NC-based company wants to deliver its own independent top-to-bottom enterprise operating system stack.

So, exactly what will the XenServer trio end up doing? Well, first, of course, XenServer is an outstanding virtualization program and virtualization manager in its own right. With a price-tag of zero, Citrix hopes to be in an ideal position to blow out VMware's market lead, while making money from its new management tools, Citrix Essentials.

As virtualization analyst Dan Kusnetzky said, since "Citrix realized some time ago that hypervisor technology was quickly becoming a commodity … and that this commodization process would pit the Xen community against VMware, Microsoft and the KVM," the best thing Citrix could do would be to "1) lead the charge towards offering full production-class hypervisors available freely and 2) develop a cross-platform, independent management layer that would allow the entire virtualized environment to be orchestrated and managed using a single set of tools."

This seems like a smart bet to me. I've said for a while now that virtualization is easy, and that the real trick is how you manage VM (virtual machines). By enabling users to manage both Xen and Microsoft's Hyper-V VMs, Citrix should be well placed to move into enterprise virtualization's next stage.

As for Microsoft, they get a better way to manage Hyper-V. I happen to like Hyper-V. Yes, that's me, the Linux guy saying something nice about a Microsoft product. Remember this day. They don't come very often. Seriously, Hyper-V is pretty darn fast not just on testbeds but in the field. However, and it's a big however, it really lacks serious management tools. Citrix should be able to nicely fill in that gap for Microsoft.

Novell, of course, gets the benefits of XenServer for its SLES (SUSE Linux Enterprise Server) without spending a dime. Since Red Hat won't be selling RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) with KVM until the late summer, Novell may have a chance to get their enterprise Linux with an improved virtualization stack before Red Hat does.

The only real loser in this is VMware. Despite being the king of virtualization, VMware has been slipping for some time now. I really don't know how much longer VMware can stay in this no-limits virtualization poker game.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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