Citrix Systems released XenServer 5.6 this spring, incorporating several new management features and offering four editions for more customer choice.
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Which XenServer 5.6 edition is right for you?
XenServer 5.6 comes in four editions: free, advanced, enterprise and platinum. The free edition contains everything you need to run a complete (but basic) virtual infrastructure, including XenMotion for live migration, virtual machine (VM) disk snapshot and revert capabilities, the XenCenter management environment and VM conversion tools. It is fine if you don't need advanced features that are typically used in larger infrastructures.
Most organizations want high availability as well. This feature -- along with memory optimization and performance alerting and reporting -- is included in the new XenServer 5.6 Advanced Edition. This offering is good for small and medium-sized businesses that are interested in setting up a fault-tolerant infrastructure with a few XenServer hosts. The price for this high availability -- XenServer 5.6 Advanced costs $1,000 per server -- is significantly lower than the price that you had to pay per node for Citrix Essentials. If, however, you need more automation because you are running more than just a few VM hosts, you'll be more interested in the XenServer 5.6 Enterprise Edition.
XenServer 5.6 Enterprise Edition, which costs $2,500 per server, offers more features, of which the most interesting is automated workload balancing. This feature allows you to implement a greener IT infrastructure that consolidates more VMs on fewer hosts and automatically turns off the physical servers you don't need, thanks to the the host power management feature. Other features include heterogeneous resource pools and Citrix StorageLink technology, which connects your virtual infrastructure to your storage platforms.
At $5,000 per server, XenServer 5.6 Platinum Edition is the most expensive offering. This edition is targeted at large companies that run XenServer infrastructures across multiple sites. The most eye-catching feature is StorageLink Site Recovery, which allows you to configure an automated disaster recovery plan for XenServer VMs. Other features are automated lifecycle management and dynamic provisioning services, which make it easier to deploy and manage workloads on both VMs and physical servers.
New XenServer 5.6 features
With the release of XenServer 5.6, Citrix has added some interesting new features. One is support for enhanced VM snapshots, which is available in the enterprise and platinum editions. This feature allows users to create a full VM snapshot that captures disk and memory states, and provides an easy way to roll back a VM to its prior state.
Another interesting new feature is Dynamic Memory Control, which compresses a VM's memory utilization, freeing up resources to run more VMs on the same host. Dynamic Memory Control is available in all XenServer 5.6 editions except for the free edition.
Citrix has also added new management features. The enterprise and platinum editions now offer role-based administration, a very useful feature for large organizations. It lets you assign different rights to groups of users in different administrative roles. Another related feature is administrative logging and auditing, which allows you to track exactly what your administrators have done while managing the virtual infrastructure.
XenServer 5.6 evaluation downloads
You can still download the free version of XenServer 5.6 on Citrix's website. If you're interested in the advanced features, Citrix offers a 45-day evaluation version of the platinum edition. The easiest way to get this evaluation version is to download the 2.9 GB XenServer Platinum Evaluation Virtual Appliance, a ready-to-run appliance that includes workload balancing and StorageLink. If you don't want to work with the appliance, you'll need to download the individual components, which require separate installations: Citrix License Server for Windows, workload balancing, advanced StorageLink technology, dynamic provisioning services and Lab Manager.
Greg Shields is an independent author, instructor, Microsoft MVP and IT consultant based in Denver. He is a co-founder of Concentrated Technology LLC and has nearly 15 years of experience in IT architecture and enterprise administration. Shields specializes in Microsoft administration, systems management and monitoring, and virtualization. He is the author of several books, including Windows Server 2008: What's New/What's Changed, available from Sapien Press.
This was first published in July 2010