Citrix XenServer's Orlando update on the way and chock-full of features

Citrix Systems' CTO gave a preview of some of the 100 new features packed into the upcoming version of XenServer, which hits the market sometime in September.

Simon Crosby, the chief technology officer at Citrix Systems Inc., gave a preview of some of the 100 new features in the upcoming version of Citrix XenServer, which is due out sometime in September. It is currently available in beta.

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With this upcoming release of XenServer, code-named Project Orlando, Citrix seems poised to continue to co-exist and compete with Microsoft's Hyper-V and VMware. The upcoming iteration of XenServer will be even more compatible with Hyper-V and more interoperable with storage products, XenServer's central differentiator from VMware.

The storage industry is really fed up with VMware, and we are far ahead of them in this area.
Simon Crosby,
CTOCitrix Systems Inc.

Cautious not to pre-announce too many features of the next version, Crosby has offered up some general information on a few major features, including performance trending, improved Fibre Channel support, high availability and more.

XenServer's Orlando chock-full of new features
VM performance trending. In the most recent XenServer (version 4.1), performance metrics are not saved for very long, so performance trend data isn't available. The new version will cache performance metrics for a longer period of time for better VM trending data, Crosby said.

VM grouping, searching and tagging. A new VM tagging feature enables administrators to tag VMs running applications they need to watch and can base their user interface display on a search of the tags. So instead of seeing every VM in a large server farm on their screen, an Exchange administrator can tag Exchange-related VMs and see only those on their interface screen. This will be useful in large-scale XenServer projects with hundreds of thousands of VMs, Crosby said.

"You can also base the tags on lifecycles, locations, anything, and the tagging works for both physical and virtual environments," Crosby said.

Automated high availability. Crosby said that XenServer customers have moved from basic server consolidation to using virtualization for high availability in disaster recovery, so there are numerous features focused on those areas as well.

Xen Convert. The new edition of XenServer includes a physical-to-virtual (P2V) migration tool that moves existing server workloads to the XenServer platform without using a third-party P2V migration tool.

Users can run Xen Convert on a Windows server or desktop systems and export the workload as a VHD format file or as an XVA appliance file, or they can directly import it into a running XenServer instance. Registry and device conversions are handled in the process, according to Roger Klorese, the senior director of product marketing for Citrix XenServer.

On his blog, Klorese wrote that "for production migrations, many customers may find that the capacity planning features, greater release support, etc. that existing partner products (such as PlateSpin's PowerRecon and PowerConvert, or HP's ProLiant Essentials Server Migration Pack) offer may be an even better solution. But XenConvert makes it easier to get started and is a great solution for many users."

Recent posts on the XenServer Orlando beta site indicate that users have issues like long convert times with the beta version of Xen Converter.

Improved Fibre Channel support. The upcoming version of XenServer includes multipathing support for Fibre Channel and iSCSI storage back ends. Joel Stocker, a technical product manager for XenServer, said on the Orlando beta forum, "By default, [Orlando] uses round-robin mode load balancing, so both routes will have active traffic on them during normal operation. Multipathing can be enabled in XenCenter or on the command line."

Stocker also reported that Citrix added support for QLogic and Emulex 8 GB Fibre Channel host bus adapter devices.

XenServer's storage interoperability. The new version of XenServer will also be interoperable with a greater number of storage products, which Crosby said is the key differentiator between XenServer and VMware Inc.

"We are naturally aligned with storage vendors because we use the features they build into their products and give users visibility of VMs from the storage domain. And wherever storage vendors offer management features, we use them with XenServer. This is the exact opposite of what VMware does," he said. "The storage industry is really fed up with VMware, and we are far ahead of them in this area."

Some storage vendors have issues with VMware because VMware's most commonly used option for storage deployment is its proprietary virtual file system, which competes with other storage products.

Competing against VMware and Hyper-V
The upcoming release of XenServer comes at a time when questions about XenServer's lifespan have swirled around the industry.

According to initial results of SearchDataCenter.com's 2008 Purchasing Intentions Survey of more than 600 IT administrators, 38% use VMware ESX 3.5 as their primary virtualization platform, while only 3% use Citrix XenServer as their primary platform. More than 50% of respondents said they planned to deploy VMware ESX 3.5 over the next 12 months, while a mere 8% plan to deploy Citrix XenServer during that time.

Still, there is a huge vendor ecosystem being built around Xen, and XenServer in particular. Hewlett-Packard Co., Symantec Corp., Marathon Technologies, Stratus Technologies, Hyperic Inc.and many others have made substantial investment in integrating their products with the XenServer platform, according to Burton Group virtualization analyst Chris Wolf.

"Citrix's public proclamations that they will fully support Hyper-V have caused some to question their commitment to XenServer, so I understand the concerns," said Wolf. "Still, Citrix has poured a ton of effort into the upcoming XenServer 4.2, and I think the 4.2 release will mark the moment organizations start looking seriously at XenServer for production workloads. Keep in mind that XenServer has features that Hyper-V doesn't have today, such as live migration."

"Combine that with the fact that Citrix and Microsoft have worked closely to allow VMs to be easily migrated from a XenServer to Hyper-V platform. So it's conceivable that organizations with a long-term eye on Hyper-V and short-term requirements for live migration may view XenServer as a good platform to start their path toward virtualization, knowing that they could always move to Hyper-V in a year or two" Wolf said.

During the August 2008 LinuxWorld/Next Generation Data Center conference in San Francisco, Crosby emphasized that XenServer is here to stay.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer. And check out our Server Virtualization blog.

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