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Free Citrix XenServer missing advanced features

The free version of Citrix XenServer now includes live migration and centralized management, but users still have to pay for high availability, workload balancing and other Enterprise Edition features.

Citrix plans to steal some of VMware's thunder next week with news that it will give away the meat of what was XenServer Enterprise Edition for free. But, it will also remove some features from the base package and move them into Essentials for XenServer, an add-on pack priced between $1,500 and $5,000 per server node.

For more on XenServer and Hyper-V:
Free XenServer virtualization helps Citrix, partners say

Citrix's Xen won't cede to VMware or Hyper-V

Xen hypervisor here to stay, says Citrix CTO

Microsoft's VMware assault

At VMworld Europe, Cannes, France, Citrix Systems Inc. will also  unveil a version of Essentials for Microsoft Hyper-V, layering Citrix's management capabilities on top of Microsoft's base hypervisor. Citrix has also elicited promises from Microsoft that System Center will manage XenServer in its next release, which is scheduled for 2010, and that Microsoft will push Essentials for Hyper-V through its worldwide partner network. These efforts may  give XenServer a boost in the marketplace and in its competition with VMware.

XenServer's feature shell game
Features in the free XenServer package include the hypervisor with support for Windows and Linux guests, live migration and resource pooling, and unlimited multiserver management. Simon Crosby, Citrix's CTO, compared the features in the newly free XenServer to those in VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3 (VI3) Enterprise Edition, which lists at $5,750 per dual-socket system.

Ultimately, you need to consider the features you need for the company and which platform gives you the best bang for the buck.
James Duffy,
VP of enterprise infrastructureAdvanced Health Media

But that isn't an accurate comparison, said Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf, since VI3 Enterprise Edition also includes high availability (VMware HA) and workload balancing (Distributed Resource Scheduler), which Citrix includes as part of Essentials.

"HA is the biggest thing that's missing," Wolf said. "If I'm an enterprise and I'm going to deploy in production, [the virtualization platform] has to include HA."

Other features of the erstwhile Enterprise Edition not included in the free edition include Workflow Studio orchestration, for automating common tasks, and StorageLink, a set of storage integration modules that enable administrators, among other things, to provision virtual machine storage directly from the XenServer management console. Both Workflow Studio and StorageLink will be included as part of Essentials for Hyper-V and XenServer.

Also included in Essentials for XenServer and Hyper-V will be new automated lab and lifecycle management software, plus, in XenServer's case, high-availability and workload-balancing capabilities akin to VMware HA and DRS.

Not free, but useful
Nevertheless, Burton Group's Wolf said news of a free version of XenServer will appeal to small and medium-sized businesses starting out with virtualization.

James Duffy, the vice president of enterprise infrastructure at salesforce logistics vendor Advanced Health Media in Bridgewater, N.J., already uses Citrix XenServer as part of a 100-seat XenDesktop virtual desktop deployment. Duffy is just starting to think about virtualizing his servers. Citrix XenServer will be on his short list of virtualization platforms to consider, and the price is one of his selection criteria, he said.

"In these economic times, price will be a large part of the discussion. But ultimately, you need to consider the features you need for the company and which platform gives you the best bang for the buck," Duffy said.

Even in established VMware shops, a free Citrix XenServer may have a role to play, said Rick Vanover, Windows server administrator for vehicle glass repair and replacement firm Belron U.S. in Columbus, Ohio. Vanover currently uses VMware ESX in production, and VMware's free ESXi in test and development. At the same time, he's seen good performance from both Hyper-V and Citrix XenServer and has not ruled them out for future environments. "There's nothing magic about VMware or XenServer or Hyper-V" he said. "It's all about what it can do for you."

And for Microsoft shops eyeing Hyper-V, Citrix Essentials for Hyper-V gives them the ability "to move to XenServer today and move their VMs over to Hyper-V whenever they want," said Wolf. Plus, Essentials' storage integration will be key for getting Hyper-V in to larger accounts, he said. Meanwhile, many enterprise shops are "already too far along the VMware path" to seriously consider XenServer and Hyper-V today, Wolf said, except perhaps "to beat VMware up on price."

Check out the rest of our VMworld Europe news coverage.

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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