Open Source Enters VM Space

Updated: Open-source technology is ready to take a major step forward into the competitive virtual machine space, a move that could help drive down costs for users.

Open-source technology is ready to take a major step forward into the competitive virtual machine space, a move that could help drive down costs for users.

The Xen project this week expects to release Xen 3.0, an open-source hypervisor technology offering features aimed at large SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) environments. At the same time, XenSource Inc., a company founded earlier this year by the initial developers of Xen, will release its first commercial product, called XenOptimizer, designed to help manage environments using Xen.

The growth of Xen will help drive down the cost of virtualization, according to XenSource officials and analysts. "Here is a free hypervisor," said Simon Crosby, chief technology officer for XenSource, of Palo Alto, Calif. "[Hypervisor technology] is something that people have been charging a lot of money for."

XenSource officials hope upgrades in Xen 3.0 will drive customers to adopt the open-source technology and that customers will turn to XenOptimizer to manage those environments.

However, the VM field is a competitive one, populated with vendors such as VMware Inc. (which, in October, rolled out VMware Player, a free product), SWsoft Inc. and Scalent Systems Inc.

In addition, systems vendors, including IBM, continue to build their own virtualization technology. IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., later this month will start shipping Virtualization Engine 2.0, which will add features well into the first quarter of next year, said Rich Lechner, IBMs vice president of virtualization. "By the end of the first quarter, well have the ability to virtualize 80 percent of our customers infrastructures," Lechner said.

XenSource as a company also has challenges, said Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst with IDC, in Framingham, Mass. Linux vendors Red Hat Inc. and Novell Inc.s SUSE Linux unit are incorporating Xen 3.0 into their operating systems, and systems vendors such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co. have said they will offer support for the VM technology. XenSource must persuade enterprises already looking to scale down the number of their suppliers to choose it instead of more established companies.

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Xen 3.0 supports 32-processor systems and offers more than 4GB of memory in 32-bit computing environments and up to 8TB in 64-bit situations. It also supports Intel Corp.s on-chip Virtualization Technology.

XenOptimizer offers a console for managing, monitoring and provisioning servers running Xen.

Matt Ayres, founder and president of, a service of TekTonic Inc., offers hosted VMs running Xen on homegrown Opteron-based systems. He said Xen 3.0 will be key for customers looking for enterprise-ready VMs. "Its going to be a major player in the market," said Ayres in Shippack, Pa. "Once Xen supports 4GB of RAM, its going to effectively double the RAM available in our site."

For its part, IBM will ship Virtualization Engine 2.0 in mid-December, which will extend IBMs ability to manage both its own systems and those of competitors.

New features will better define relationships between users, resources, applications and networks, as well as simplify the creation and configuration of virtual systems.

Enterprise Workload Management will offer the ability to shift system resources in a heterogeneous distributed environment based on business demands, and a new version of IBM Director 5.1 will give users a holistic view of both their physical and virtual environments, Lechner said.

Over the next two months it will support HP-UX and Linux distributions, to go along with support for IBM systems and those running Solaris.

In addition, Resource Dependency Services will enable users to automatically discover resources on the network and the ability to map business processes to the available IT resources.

Lechner said IBM will continue to focus on virtualization as it becomes more widely adopted in enterprises. "Its not only being used for development purposes, but also being used in production environments very heavily," he said.

He said Xen will be a key part of that environment going forward, and will be used to add value to IBMs virtualization technology in the future.

Editors Note: This story was updated to include more information about IBMs virtualization products.

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