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IT shops show interest in loaded XenServer 5.0

Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware ESX may have tougher-than-expected competition in the virtualization market. With its fat bundle of features, XenServer 5.0 has gotten second looks by IT shops low on funds.

LAS VEGAS - Though VMware ESX and Microsoft Hyper-V grab the bulk of attention in the server virtualization market today, growing evidence suggests that IT shops are giving much stronger consideration to Citrix's XenServer than previously.

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At the Citrix Synergy 2009 conference this week, IT managers and partners said they see surging interest in XenServer, the hypervisor that Citrix Systems Inc. acquired when it bought XenSource in late 2007. At that time, VMware owned the hypervisor market with ESX, as Microsoft began shipping Hyper-V only in mid-2008. And XenServer's market share was miniscule. According to a late-2008 market share snapshot from Gartner Inc., VMware enjoys 89% of the market, Microsoft has 7% and Citrix has 2%.

XenApp paves way for XenServer adoption
Citrix shops are mainly enterprises that use XenApp, the application virtualization platform. That, gives Citrix a foot in the door. Compared with VMware, XenServer is roughly one-fourth the cost because of its less expensive licensing costs and the large number of freebies that are built into the product, said Andrew Mercantini Sr., the director of IT services at Ravago Shared Services Ltd., an Orlando, Fla.-based plastics manufacturer.

In February, Citrix made XenServer 5.0 free. The software included many components that are sold à la carte in other platforms. Among them are XenMotion, a feature that is roughly analogous to VMware's VMotion. Both tools allow IT admins to move a virtual machine from one host to another without incurring downtime and provide shared storage and a central management console.

Currently in beta and due out in June, the XenServer 5.5 release will add backup options, improved search and Active Directory integration.

Compared with VMware, XenServer is roughly one-fourth the cost.

At Synergy this week, Citrix also released Citrix Essentials 5.5, which adds more features to both the XenServer and Microsoft Hyper-V platforms. Among the new perks are the ability to fast-clone and provision virtual machines, automated stage management, which improves the building and streamlining, sharing, and delivering of applications on demand. Citrix also made improvements to dynamic workload balancing of virtual machines. The Essentials package costs $2,500 per server regardless of the number of processors.

Conditions ripe for XenServer advance?
Partners that sell all three hypervisors report growing interest in the open source-based software. Peter Cresswell, the portfolio lead for data centers at Bell Canada in Toronto, said customers assess products in stages before they decide to buy. "About 30% to 40% of our company's accounts who are nearly halfway through the process have become interested in learning more about XenServer," he said.

Everyone is thinking about cost, and users are surprised when they compare the platforms. "They are also finding that the XenApp and XenServer combination is a good one," he said.

Roughly 60% of Accelera Solution Inc.'s customers use ESX but because of word of mouth, but more are willing to check out XenServer, said Russ Williams, a sales manager at the Falls Church, Va.-based integrator, which resells all three hypervisors. "We see more customers who have adopted XenApp now looking closely at XenServer."

Small and-medium sized businesses (SMBs) have only just begun to look at VMware, so they too are checking out XenServer. "I see it more with the SMBs, but only because many enterprises jumped on VMware earlier," Williams said. "But it's going to be a war."

For its part, Citrix started tracking XenServer 5.0 activations on April 1. During activation, a customer gets a license key and when that key is used, Citrix knows the bits are live, said John Humphreys, the senior director of virtualization marketing at Citrix. In one month's time, some 11,000 new customers have activated at least one server.

"These are new customers who have never touched XenServer," Humphreys said. "A handful of those activated over 100 servers and, in a few cases, over 1,000 servers."

"This puts us north of 80,000 to 100,000 new servers for 2009," he added.

Humphreys said he was surprised by how quickly IT shops latched onto XenServer, just after Citrix made it available for free. He said many customers activated not one or two servers, but 50, 60 or more. And many customers actually asked for salespeople to call them to get more information about the Essentials product.

"I don't think this is just tire kicking," he said. "It comes at a time when the economy is in shambles, people are looking to cut costs, and 75% of servers are not virtualization."

Humphreys said IT shops can expect to see more features built into subsequent versions of the free server.

Margie Semilof is the executive editor of and Write to her at

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