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Is Xen ready for the data center?

A new management tool from XenSource Inc. promises to deliver open source Xen virtualization to the masses, but experts say the technology still has hurdles to overcome.

Open source software firm XenSource Inc. is hoping to make inroads against virtualization giant VMware Inc. by making Xen more accessible to IT pros.

Founded by developers of the open source virtualization technology Xen, Palo Alto, Calif.-based XenSource has unveiled its first commercial product, a virtualization management tool called XenOptimizer, which makes it easier to deploy and manage Xen on hardware.

Previously, IT pros who wanted to try the open source virtualization technology had to manually install Xen under the operating system because of the technology's paravirtualization design, a complex task for someone not familiar with the technology.

But according to Simon Crosby, chief technology officer at XenSource, this new tool will fix the problem. XenOptimizer automates the transformation from physical to virtual servers on Linux; provides a dashboard for monitoring control of computing resources; and allows drag-and-drop provisioning of virtual machines.

Crosby said the people currently experimenting with Xen are open source experts and enthusiasts, but the launch of XenOptimizer will bring Xen to a much wider audience.

Charles King, principal analyst with Hayward Calif.-based Pund-IT Research, agreed.

"This tool set and graphical interface makes installation of the hypervisor a lot easier, as opposed to getting under the hood," King said. "Companies deeply involved with Linux have the IT staff to make Xen work. But as Linux gains in popularity, it's radiating out to companies that have more use for an out of-the-box product."

Despite the advances this new tool might bring, experts said Xen is limited because it doesn't operate with Windows.

For more information:

Red Hat to include Xen virtualization in next Linux release

Chip makers move to boost virtual machines

According to IDC's most recent server tracking report, Windows is the dominant environment in the data center. If Xen can't interoperate with Windows, experts said it's at a huge disadvantage to VMware's and Microsoft's own virtualization offerings.

But, according to Crosby, that may soon change.

Intel opens a window

Coinciding with the launch of the Xen installation and management tool is the release of Xen 3.0, the first major revamp in over a year. This new version supports Intel's hardware-based virtualization technology, Intel-VT, which Crosby said is key to Xen's ability to virtualize all operating systems, including Windows.

According to Crosby, XenSource is not offering commercial support for Windows on Xen yet, but plans to once servers start shipping with Intel's virtualized hardware. Xen will also support AMD's Pacifica hardware virtualization early in 2006.

But even if Xen can sneak into the Windows operating system via hardware, King is hesitant to call it a victory yet.

"If it works, it could be an opportunity, but they're going to have to wait for the Intel-VT machines to ship, then wait for an Intel hardware refresh and then overcome competitors already in the space, such as Microsoft and VMware," King said.

Xen 3.0 will be distributed by the leading enterprise Linux distributors, in forthcoming releases from Red Hat (RHEL 5) and Novell (SLES 10). XenOptimizer is currently available in beta form, with product availability scheduled for early 2006.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, News Editor

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