Free XenServer virtualization hypervisor helps Citrix, partners say

By giving away XenServer and several advanced features, Citrix is putting the pressure on VMware in the virtualization hypervisor market, Citrix partners say.

The server virtualization hypervisor wars are heating up. Citrix plans to give away XenServer 5 -- its Xen hypervisor, along with live migration, native Windows and Linux support and other advanced features -- for free.

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Citrix Systems Inc. will announce the news Feb. 23 at VMworld Europe 2009 in Cannes, France. It comes as some Citrix partners have grown frustrated by the vendor's seeming lack of interest in taking on VMware in server virtualization -- particularly in light of the $500 million XenSource acquisition in 2007.

A Citrix partner on the East Coast, who just last week said the company has "chosen not to aggressively attack the marketplace," said this news will give Citrix a boost in the server virtualization market.

"What the hell does VMware do?" this partner asked. "It's definitely disruptive. If nothing else, it will cause a lot of projects to be halted."

VMware and Microsoft, the other big-name player, both offer basic versions of their server virtualization hypervisors for free. The commoditization of the hypervisor is an accepted trend in the market, but Citrix is pushing it forward by giving away advanced features.

To get into virtualization, there's a steep entry price from our competitor. We aim to significantly increase the volume of business for partners and provide up-sell opportunities.
Simon Crosby
chief technology officerCitrix Systems

"It just might be a strategic move," the East Coast partner said.

Shannon Snowden, associate consulting partner for Citrix partner New Age Technologies Inc. in Louisville, Ky., agreed.

"It's not really a stripped-down version," he said. "It's basically an enterprise version. It just doesn't have high availability. That's it."

(It's important to note that the free XenServer doesn't include Workflow Studio orchestration or StorageLink either, which could limit its appeal among enterprise-class customers.)

In an interview this week with SearchSystemsChannel.com, Citrix Chief Technology Officer Simon Crosby said the company's strategy is to attract more customers with the free hypervisor and additional features, and Citrix partners can offer them even more advanced services.

The VMware equivalent of the features offered in the new, free XenServer would cost $5,000 per server, Crosby said. He described VMware's free ESXi hypervisor as "a toy" and said that VMware's claim that its products are cheaper is "bulls---."

"To get into virtualization, there's a steep entry price from our competitor," he said. "We aim to significantly increase the volume of business for partners and provide up-sell opportunities."

The East Coast Citrix partner said he expects other virtualization vendors to follow suit and give away more features for free. But he acknowledged that the move could open Citrix up to criticism.

"VMware's reaction is going to be, 'They have to give it away, because nobody's buying it,'" he said.

Citrix, on the other hand, could say it's trying to help customers dealing with the recession, and that it's giving back to the open source community that built Xen in the first place.

"That's an interesting play," the partner said. "It might gather some sentiment."

The recession could also create an opportunity for Citrix and partners, Snowden said.

"Everybody's looking for something cheaper these days, and free is as cheap as you can get," he said. "And a free enterprise-level version is the second shoe that drops here."

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