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Citrix closes the gap with XenServer 5.6

Citrix has added a raft of new features to XenServer 5.6 but made no mention of improvements to its XenCenter management console.

Despite nominal market share, Citrix keeps plugging away at its hypervisor XenServer; the new release that adds important features for enterprise deployments, and offers an edition at a midrange price.

For more on Citrix XenServer:
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That's all well and good, but existing XenServer users hope the company sets its sights on making existing management tools easier to use.

"It'd be great if they put a little bit more meat into XenCenter [XenServer's management console]," said Bill Kleyman, the director of technology at World Wide Fittings, a manufacturing firm in Nile, Ill. The company runs four XenServer hosts to run standard server applications. Specifically, Kleyman said he'd like XenCenter to get a better event viewer and logging capabilities, in order to troubleshoot issues on the physical hardware.

Despite these issues, Kleyman maintains that XenServer was a solid choice for his organization because of its low cost and because he knew up front what it could and couldn't do. "You have to plan your virtual environment from the get-go or you're going to get false hopes," he said.

Enterprise 'ready-er'
Released today at the Citrix Synergy show in San Francisco, XenServer 5.6 includes a raft of new capabilities that target the enterprise crowd and strive to close the feature gap with market leading VMware vSphere.

In the free version of XenServer, performance and scalability improved with support for up to 256 GB of RAM per host and up to 64 logical processors. Networking capabilities are expanded with support for single-root I/O virtualization, or SR-IOV.

It'd be great if they put a little bit more meat into XenCenter.
Bill Kleyman,
director of technologyWorld Wide Fittings

In addition, XenServer Enterprise, Platinum and the new $1,000 per server Advanced editions gain dynamic memory control that automates sharing and reallocation of memory between guests. Also, a new Host Power Management feature extends existing workload-balancing capabilities by consolidating virtual machines (VMs) onto fewer hosts in off hours and reactivating them as demand increases.

Akin to VMware Distributed Power Management, XenServer's Host Power Management is designed to help organizations save on power and cooling costs, said John Humphreys,Citrix's senior director of XenServer product marketing.

Version 5.6 also increases the number of administrator types, which enables more granular access control and role-based administration, and extends snapshot capabilities to support not only disk image snaps but also memory snapshots. Further, managing snapshots is now available from a graphical user interface rather than just the command line, Humphreys added.

The ability to snapshot a VM's state in memory rather than just its saved disk is important in day-to-day system administration, said Humphreys. "It's a good operational practice to make sure you've captured things before making changes." Administrators might use the new snapshot feature before making an update to a VM, to have something to go back to if the change doesn't work out as planned.

In XenServer 5.6, Citrix has also delivered on a promise to give the hypervisor a disaster recovery automation feature that it already offers for Hyper-V. Announced in December, Citrix Site Recovery automates the disaster recovery process, including replication, failover and failback.

Finally, with XenServer Platinum Edition customers gain a new self-service portal through which application owners can configure a VM and then submit the request to IT for approval and buildout. The self-service portal enables IT to maintain control, while simplifying and automating the provisioning process, Humphreys said.

Preparing for liftoff?
Citrix XenServer has lagged VMware vSphere and even Microsoft Hyper-V and Virtual Server in terms of market share, but recent adoption trends give the company new hope.

The number of customers that have downloaded and registered at least one free XenServer license key now stands at 45,000, Humphreys said, and the company has delivered 150,000 license keys in the past 12 months. In addition, Citrix now bundles XenServer with its XenDesktop virtual desktop offering, and claims that more than 50% of XenDesktop deployments are now hosted on XenServer. "That's up pretty significantly from where we were," Humphreys said.

"I think our timing is working very well. A lot of VMware [enterprise license agreements] are coming up for renewal, so its good to get ready for that."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, News Director at, or follow @aebarrett on twitter.

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