Microsoft's VMware assault: New Citrix management tools for Hyper-V

Citrix is due to release a suite of management tools for Microsoft Hyper-V that can compete with the sophistication of VMware Virtual Infrastructure and address a void in Hyper-V.

No live migration? No problem. Courtesy of Citrix Systems Inc., Microsoft's relatively rudimentary Hyper-V virtualization offering is due to gain valuable new management capabilities, which could catapult Hyper-V into the same league as VMware Virtual Infrastructure.

For more on Citrix:
Citrix's Xen won't cede to VMware or Hyper-V

Virtualization pricing wars: The future of VMware, Hyper-V and Xen

Xen hypervisor here to stay, says Citrix CTO
In the first quarter of 2009, Citrix will release its XenServer suite of management tools that works with Microsoft Hyper-V rather than its own XenServer hypervisor, said Lou Shipley, general manager and group vice president of Citrix's XenServer unit, the Management Systems Group.

Dubbed Citrix Essentials for Hyper-V, the offering will likely include several XenServer management features for Hyper-V, such as live migration, multiserver management and creation of resource pools. All these features are included in XenServer Enterprise Edition.

Microsoft views anything between them and the hardware as competition.
Gordon Haff,
principal analystIlluminata Inc.

Of those, the ability to live-migrate virtual machines (VMs) would be the most welcome. Microsoft has said that in 2010, it will provide live migration for Hyper-V with Windows 2008 R2, but to date its absence has been seen as a hindrance to enterprise-level adoption of Hyper-V.

Certainly, VMotion, the live-migration capability in VMware's Virtual Infrastructure 3 offering, is considered central to the product's appeal. With its ability to move VMs from one virtualization host to another without downtime, VMotion is the basis of numerous other VMware tools, including Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS) load balancing and Distributed Power Management (DPM) power-reduction tools.

Microsoft-Citrix co-opetition revisited
Internally, Citrix refers to its Essentials for Hyper-V by the code name Encore. That's a reference to Citrix's other long-standing business arrangement with Microsoft, whereby Citrix offers Presentation Server, now XenApp, as a value added layer on top of Microsoft's core Terminal Services software.

Over the years, that's been a powerful model, Shipley said, and one that Citrix hopes to replicate with Citrix Essentials for Hyper-V. However, Citrix also intends to compete with Microsoft by keeping its own product 18 months ahead of Microsoft's, he said. For instance, Shipley said Citrix is at work on memory ballooning, akin to memory overcommitment in VMware environments, which will ship in XenServer 6 next year. In 2009, Citrix will also tackle lab management and workload-balancing technologies, he said.

Meanwhile, the relationship works for Microsoft, because it helps Redmond meet one of its key goals: preventing VMware from getting into accounts, said John Humphreys, the senior director of product marketing for Citrix.

"If you think about what the operating system does, it only does three things. It provides an interface to the hardware [and] to the software and provides middleware," Humphreys said. "If the hypervisor is doing one-third of that job, that's a potential price cut for [Microsoft]."

In short, "Microsoft views anything between them and the hardware as competition," said Humphreys.

That's a quintessential Microsoft position, said Gordon Haff, a principal analyst at the Nashua, N.H.-based research firm Illuminata Inc. "They have this historical pugnaciousness that they have to own everything, or—good Lord—the sky is going to fall."

Haff believes Microsoft's attitude is misguided. Rather than "stress out" about delivering a hypervisor, it "could have done more in the partnering arena and saved the world 75% of the 'Microsoft doesn't get virtualization' stories' and never lost a penny."

At the same time, Microsoft could have dedicated resources to getting its App-V and Kidaro technologies online, he said, examples of where Microsoft's true value lies. "The general direction that these hypervisors are taking is as sort of super BIOSes – an abstraction layer on top of hardware. At the end of the day, the higher-level stuff will work with all of them." In other words, it's not so important for Microsoft to win the hypervisor war; "Microsoft's virtualization play is primarily about management."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director. And check out our Server Virtualization blog.

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