Citrix Systems closes in on VMware with XenServer 5 release

Citrix Systems' new version of XenServer now offers high availability, fault tolerance, virtual machine tagging and enhanced management features. One analyst deems it a significant improvement over past versions.

LAS VEGAS -- The new version of Citrix Systems Inc.'s XenServer, code-named Project Orlando, is packed with more than 130 new features. On Monday, Sept. 15, the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based Citrix announced XenServer 5 at VMwworld 2008 in Las Vegas.

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Adding to the list of existing features such as live migration, resource pooling, and workload provisioning, XenServer 5 features high availability and disaster recovery capabilities, trending data, a physical-to-virtual (P2V) machine converter tool (XenConvert) and virtual machine (VM) tagging capabilities.

According to Simon Crosby, Citrix's CTO, XenServer 5's sweet spot is in the area of storage interoperability. Citrix has collaborated with many storage partners to give XenServer 5 an expanded list of network-attached storage, direct-attached storage and storage area network (both Fibre Channel and iSCSI) storage array support and support for 8 GB host bus adapters from both QLogic and Emulex, so XenServer can be deployed in virtually every storage environment.

"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," Crosby said.

XenServer's open storage application programming interfaces (API) offers access to arrays' storage functions, like snap-shotting, cloning, replication, deduplication, storage provisioning and thin provisioning, which can be accessed and controlled from within XenCenter. With XenServer 5's open storage API, Citrix has also added Dell's EqualLogic storage adapter.

XenServer 5 goodness
Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group virtualization analyst Chris Wolf said that this is a major release and marks a milestone for Citrix.

"XenServer 5 now fully supports VM high availability, which was a critical feature needed for nearly all production deployments. This release will place Citrix in the conversation with other vendors that offer production-ready virtualization solutions," Wolf said.

The P2V conversion tool is also a big plus. "The XenConvert feature will let you migrate physical systems to XenServer VMs," Wolf said. Further, "Citrix has done a nice job rounding out their management APIs. For example, it's now very easy for third-party storage and backup vendors to coordinate application-consistent snapshots with XenServer VMs." he added.

Another bonus is that IT can build a VM on XenServer 5 and then run it on Hyper-V, Wolf said. "If an organization has long-term plans to move to Hyper-V and wants a stopgap solution with no exit costs, XenServer 5 is very compelling," Wolf said. "You can take advantage of features such as live migration in XenServer today and will always have the option to switch to Hyper-V whenever you want."

Citrix has also worked with Marathon Technologies to add fault tolerance to XenServer 5 including high availability, auto-restart and failover technologies.

With XenServer 5, XenCenter features a new VM tagging and searching capability, so IT can assign metadata and virtual tags to workloads to keep track of VMs and avoid sprawl. Once tagged, VMs can be located using searching and sorting capabilities within XenCenter. An Exchange Server administrator, for example, can tag Exchange-related VMs. The metadata tagging capability is also useful in creating lifecycle policies.

XenServer 5 also includes persistent performance monitoring, reporting and alerts within XenCenter. Now, administrators can see VMs in real time as well as historical views of VMs and physical host performance. New data sampling and retention policies in XenServer 5 allow performance tracking over long periods of time (e.g., one year or more) with negligible storage and virtually imperceptible overhead, according to Citrix. XenServer 5 also allows custom and third-party management software to access and report using this information.

It still needs a couple of more release cycles to fully catch up to VMware's current ESX feature set, but it's clear that Citrix is working fast to close the gap.
Chris Wolf,
senior analystBurton Group

The XenCenter Management System is included in all editions of XenServer at no additional charge.

XenServer 5 is based on the most recent Xen hypervisor technology and supports Microsoft Windows Server 2008, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.2 (32- and 64-bit), SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 (32- and 64-bit), CentOS 5.2 (32- and 64-bit), and several other OSes.

Citrix has also qualified XenServer with every available virtual server compatibility program from tier-one application and OS vendors, including Oracle and Microsoft's Server Virtualization Validated Program (SVVP).

Not quite VMware-grade
While all these enhancements to XenServer make it more attractive, XenServer 5 still falls short of the industry leader, VMware, Wolf said.

"It still needs a couple of more release cycles to fully catch up to VMware's current ESX feature set, but it's clear that Citrix is working fast to close the gap."

Citrix XenServer 5 is available immediately through Citrix's Solutions Advisors Program and channel partners. The cost of XenServer is based on a per-physical-server pricing model starting at U.S. $900 per server. Citrix does not charge for XenCenter management technologies or for product maintenance during the first year. A single-server version of XenServer is available for free with unlimited VM and memory support capabilities. Not-for-resale versions are available free of charge to certified Citrix resellers.

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Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

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