Windows Goes Xen—by Proxy

Opinion: Citrix's XenSource deal could help both Microsoft and open source.

When Microsoft announced its plans to build a brand new hypervisor into a future version of Windows Server, it seemed to me that a much simpler path to baking virtualization into Windows would be to join the ranks of vendors developing and shipping products around the open-source Xen hypervisor project.

Microsoft must have judged that relying on an outside source—and a General-Public-Licensed one, at that—for a piece of technology as central as a hypervisor would be too risky or uncomfortable, leading the Redmondians to opt instead to go it alone.

However, as the slipping ship dates for Microsofts home-baked hypervisor, "Viridian," demonstrate, rolling a new hypervisor is no small task. Whats more, once Viridian does go live, the difficulty of convincing customers to entrust production machines to an unproven new technology threatens to unacceptably stall Microsofts virtual ambitions.

Enter Citrix, which followed in a long tradition of making technology bets on Microsofts behalf by announcing an acquisition of XenSource, the company started by the founders of the Xen project to commercialize the technology.

While I typically associate Xen with Linux—since Linux is the platform on which Xen was born and on which Xen is most often deployed—the folks at XenSource have their aim focused most keenly on Windows. On the Citrix investor call Aug. 15, XenSource President and CEO Peter Levine summed up that focus well. "Our product focus is to provide the best Microsoft Windows virtualization experience on the market," he said.

For Citrix, the move means entry into the server virtualization space, as well as a rather prominent seat at the open-source community table. The XenSource purchase is akin to the big leap into the Linux community that Novell undertook when it purchased Ximian and SUSE back in 2003.

As with Novells Linux pickups, the biggest impact of the Citrix deal for XenSource will be the broadened customer reach that the companys Xen-based products will enjoy as they tap into the Citrix network of some 5,000 channel partners.

Also like the Novell-Linux deal, the Citrix move will probably spur concern from some that the open-source Xen might start moving in a less open direction. So far, however, the new partners seem to be saying the right things.

For now, I dont see a reason to doubt Citrixs intentions, as its the ecosystem thats sprouted up around Xen that has built the open-source project into the promising rival to virtualizations current king, VMware, that it is today.


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