With XenServer 6.0, Citrix takes another stab at VMware

Citrix will release the XenServer 6.0 beta in the run-up to its annual user conference, but some say it’s too late in the game to catch up to VMware.

Citrix XenServer 6.0 is on its way.

I have more reasons to stay with VMware than I do to jump on XenServer.

Phil DeMeyer, systems administrator

As Citrix Systems prepares to host its Summit partner conference and Synergy user conference later this month, the company will make the beta version of XenServer 6.0 available next week, according to a tweet from its product marketing team and a company blog post.

"The beta release of XenServer 6.0 is currently scheduled for mid May," Citrix engineer Deane Smith wrote.

XenServer 6.0 vs. VMware
The XenServer 6.0 news comes as Citrix continues to carve out a niche in the server virtualization market. XenServer is a popular platform for the company's XenApp and XenDesktop products, as well as other specific use cases.

An executive with a Citrix partner on the East Coast said he expects XenServer 6.0 will add features that will make it easier to move and manage workloads across private and public cloud computing infrastructures.

The message from Citrix should be, "(Cloud) is a force that's going to be around for a while," this partner said. "And the better you play with that force, it's better from our standpoint and I think from the customer standpoint. It makes it easier for everybody.

But some users say it may be too late for Citrix to make any real gains against VMware.

"They made some really big strides in version 5, especially around networking and storage, that have really started to make me think I can start looking at it a bit more seriously as my full-time hypervisor," said Phil DeMeyer, a systems administrator with a Midwestern preschool program that runs some XenServer but mostly VMware. "But I'm really comfortable with VMware and where I'm at with that, and frankly I don't have a lot of trouble. … I guess I have more reasons to stay with VMware than I do to immediately go jump on XenServer, no matter what they do."

DeMeyer's department actually runs XenApp, Citrix's application virtualization software, on VMware and uses XenServer for some specific virtual appliances that "just seem to run better" on that platform, he said.

"Hopefully now XenServer, if they make a full version jump, they'll be maybe considered a bit more mature, and people will start to take it more seriously," he said.

Unfortunately for Citrix, some organizations may not give XenServer a second chance. That was the case at a XenApp and XenDesktop shop in the Midwest.

"The business liked (XenServer) but did not understand that it was not just a new product that Citrix came up with overnight, but something that had been around for a long time," said an IT professional at this organization. "The idea was, 'Well, VMware has been doing this for long enough that we are comfortable with them. Let Citrix iron out the bugs and we can take a look at it in a few years.'"

Executives chose VMware over XenServer and haven't looked back, the IT pro said.

But the East Coast Citrix partner said there are opportunities for XenServer to make strides against VMware. He cited the high cost of many advanced VMware features, such as Site Recovery Manager, that smaller shops just don't need.

"VMware has become so bloated with features … that it makes no sense," he said. "What are you paying for? What do you need to accomplish?"

This partner also said Citrix needs to be more aggressive in the server virtualization market and be less afraid of stepping on Microsoft's toes.

"If they grow a pair and … come out and attack the marketplace, it'll make an absolute difference," he said.

XenServer 5.6 Feature Pack 2
Meanwhile, Citrix this week also released XenServer 5.6 Feature Pack 2, which brings changes to some of its advanced features, making them easier for admins to deploy and configure.

A project manager with a Citrix partner in the Southeast said the goal with these changes is to make XenServer feel more like an integrated product and less like a hypervisor that you have to add a bunch of extras onto.

"They added some complexity, but now they're smoothing it back out," he said.

One of the changes has to do with StorageLink Gateway, which allows XenServer to make storage calls and offload storage management to the array controller. StorageLink Gateway currently has several different components and its own graphical user interface, and it requires separate configuration. In XenServer 5.6 Feature Pack 2, StorageLink Gateway will simply be part of the server configuration process, accessible via a drop-down menu.

In addition, Citrix is changing the deployment model for XenServer Workload Balancing, Smith wrote on The Citrix Blog. Workload Balancing will be available as a Linux-based virtual appliance that will eliminate the need for a separate installer or separate licensing. To get the new Workload Balancing up and running, users will only have to "download the virtual appliance from Citrix.com, import it to a XenServer pool, start the appliance and answer some basic questions," Smith wrote.

Citrix Synergy takes place May 25-27 in San Francisco, preceded by the Citrix Summit partner conference May 23-24.

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