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XenSource ups the ante with XenEnterprise V4

With version 4.0 of XenEnterprise, XenSource is bringing its virtualization platform in line with VMware's VI3, but analysts say it's the company's recent Symantec Storage Foundation integration that's the real standout.

The releases of XenSource Inc.'s XenEnterprise are coming fast and furious, with V4 of the virtualization platform arriving this week, only four months since the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company released its last interation, version 3.2.

With XenEnterprise V4, "we're stepping into the [VMware] VI3 category," said XenSource CTO Simon Crosby, "albeit with a different architecture."

Among the new features of V4 that are availablein VMware are XenMotion, akin to VMotion, for the live migration of online guests between hosts. XenEnteprise has supported live migration in the past, but only for Linux guests. Now, Crosby said, the live migration works for both 32-bit and 64-bit guests, and "we now have parity for all the different [operating systems]."

The XenEnterprise hypervisor now also runs in 64-bit, supports up to 128GB of RAM per box, and can assign up to 32GB of RAM per virtual machine (VM), and eight virtual CPUs. A new management user interface, XenCenter, is included and can be exposed by the new XenAPI, with language bindings in C#, C++ and Java.

The new version also supports the concept of XenResourcePools, the ability to automate the addition of new server and storage hardware. But according to Crosby, there's one major feature of VMware VI3 that XenEnterprise does not -- and will not --support: Distributed Resource Scheduling, VMware's automated load balancing software built on top of VMotion.

"We will explicitly not support DRS, and we are looking to other partners to provide that," Crosby said.

In fact, partners are becoming increasingly important to XenSource, as it seems to have relinquished the fight against VMware directly. "In all humility, we're way behind VMware, and the way we build [the company] has to be a partner play," Crosby said

Recent XenSource partners include NEC Corp. and Marathon Technologies, and the company lists another fifty-plus technology partners on its Web site.

Crosby said that a lot businesses out there that are eager to partner with XenSource, as "VMware's approach is to focus on integrating everything into one proprietary feature set," thus locking other vendors out of the virtualization market's promise. That has left the industry to wonder, "How does the other 90% of the market succeed with virtualization?" Crosby said.

Chris Wolf, senior analyst with Burton Group, dismissed Crosby's view of how VMware treats its partners. "I think [VMware] has treated their partners pretty well, actually," Wolf said. "They've never gone after their partners and tried to duplicate their product," he said. But XenSource, as a newer, younger company, has "since their inception had to rely on their partners."

The most notable partnership XenSource has struck in recent months is Symantec, whose Storage Foundation XenSource will integrate into XenEnterprise. Storage Foundation includes the Veritas File System and Veritas Volume Manager.

By OEMing Storage Foundation, XenSource is relieved from having to develop its own file system akin to VMware's VMFS, Wolf said, and immediately gives XenEnterprise access to all the storage devices certified and supported for Storage Foundation. With the integration, XenEnterprise also gains a capability that VMware cannot claim – what Wolf dubs 'storage transparency' – the ability to migrate a virtual machine's storage while maintaining the VM's online status. This feature will be very useful when performing maintenance or upgrading a storage array, he said.

XenSource also has a leg up on VMware with its ability to cluster XenCenter, unlike VirtualCenter. "That's a real bone people have picked with VMware," Wolf said. "I can't have central management and have it be a single point of failure."

Perhaps all the new features in V4 will help combat the persistent sore spot for XenSource: the lack of customers using XenEnterprise in production, said James Staten, principal analyst at Forrester Research. "From a feature/function point of view, saying [XenEnterprise] is in the VI3 range is roughly true," he said. "Where they're perhaps still behind is in terms of the ecosystem, certification, and not having enough customers to prove to the market that they're truly hardened," Staten said. However, he added that as of late, he'd encountered a few "very large customers" using the open-source Xen in production.

Pricing for XenEnterprise V4 is set at $1,599 for an annual subscription license per dual socket server, or $2,499 perpetual license per dual socket server. XenSource also offers the XenServer, which is limited to eight VMs with up to 8GB of RAM, at $495 for an annual subscription license per dual socket server, or $750 perpetual license per dual socket server. A free version, XenExpress, is available as well, with support for up to four VMs and 4GB of RAM.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director.

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