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VMware vs. XenSource: Differentiate service offerings

Industry giant VMware is the virtualization product of choice these days. But XenSource could have its own perks to offer. This tip talks about XenSource's pros and cons.

VMware is the current market champion in server virtualization; however, you may be looking to differentiate your service offerings with server virtualization alternatives like XenSource. It is important to weigh the pros and cons of the underdog in the server virtualization market before building a business out of servicing XenSource customers.

In order to understand the pros and cons of XenSource, you need to take a look at the current market leader, VMware. VMware is a mature virtualization product. Features like vmotion, high availability and consolidated backup have become staples in the virtualized data center. The other players in the server virtualization market are just starting to offer features that are comparable to VMware. However, as companies like XenSource gain presence and feature parity with the likes of VMware, the "nice to have" vs. "good enough" decisions of many information technology shops may be easier. The XenSource brand will also have more credibility with many information technology decision-makers now that it has been purchased by Citrix.

Some of the pros of XenSource are:

  • Price: A XenSource XenEnterprise v4 license is around $2,499 plus $500 a month for support. The VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3 license is around $5,750 plus $1,200 a month for support. If companies decide that XenSource is "good enough" then the price will play a major role in the choice of virtualization platform.
  • Open source: The Xen hypervisor itself is open source. This might be a selling point for companies that would prefer open source solutions for philosophical reasons.
  • Small customer base: XenSource has around 100 customers. While this may not seem like a benefit, it does provide an opportunity for an enterprising VAR to get in on the ground floor if XenSource takes off. There is a better chance of this now that Citrix has purchased XenSource.

Some of the cons of XenSource are:

  • Age of company: XenSource has only been around for about three years. This is a young company with an unproven product compared to VMware, which has been around since 1998. VMware has almost 10 years of virtualization experience, and their product shows it.
  • Lack of third-party support: Since VMware is the current virtualization market leader by a long shot, there are plenty of third-party vendors that work with VMware to bring added value to VMware's product line. However, this is changing with XenSource's recent partnership with Symantec and Citrix's acquisition of XenSource.
  • Small customer base: Yes, this is a pro and a con. The small customer base means that a VAR looking to get into a XenSource specialization may think it is difficult to find customers. The VMware "about us" page lists the company as having 20,000+ customers. While no such information can be found on XenSource's Web site, the word is that XenSource has around 100 customers. You are much more likely to find a customer that wants VMware over a customer that wants to try XenSource.
  • Mind share: VMware simply has more mind share than XenSource. VMware composes about 85% of the virtualization market. Where does this leave other companies like XenSource? The average information technology manager probably perceives server virtualization to be synonymous with VMware. Only analysts and those who specialize in the virtualization field probably know the smaller virtualization vendors. Right now VMware is to server virtualization what Xerox is to copying machines.

Now that you've weighed the pros and cons of becoming a XenSource service provider, how do you get started? The first step is to learn about the platform and find employees that are willing to learn about the platform. I think that you will probably have a better chance finding someone who is willing to learn and fits in with your company than finding someone who already knows the XenSource platform. You can get training if you are a XenSource solution provider partner. You can apply at the XenSource partner page. XenSource also offers XenSource certified professional training.

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Where do you find customers? Potential XenSource customers will not be as easy to find as VMware customers. You might try trade shows or small business conferences. Even though the VMWorld conference is hosted by VMware it is still is a good place to find businesses that are already open to the idea of virtualization and might be willing to try other products such as XenSource. Perhaps you can help bring XenSource into their mind share by explaining your XenSource service offerings.

XenSource is the underdog in the server virtualization market. However, that can be an advantage for a VAR looking to win over customers with XenSource solutions. There will not be much competition yet in the XenSource specialists category. If you can manage to start with XenSource early and build a solid customer base, if XenSource takes off, you will be on the customer's mind.

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