Monday, February 23, 2009

Citrix slaps VMWare in the face, releases XenServer for free.

In a bold and unexpected move, Citrix today announced that it will be releasing the enterprise version of its virtualization management platform free of cost. This aggressive strike against VMWare, the incumbent 800 lb gorilla in the virtualization space, comes just a day before VMWare's 2009 European Conference.

Over the last 2 years Citrix has been catching up with VMWare in terms of features. VMWare has managed to stave off the XenServer threat by releasing some of its lower end products for free but it seems very unlikely they would be willing to match Citrix's latest move.

XenServer is Citrix's proprietary virtualization platform that is built on top of the open source Xen hypervisor. Previously a cut-down, single server product (XenServer Express) was available for free, but today's announcement means that features like centralized multi-server management, resource pools and live migration will also be free of charge (but not open source). See below for a feature comparison between the free offerings from each company. It is provided by Citrix so it should be taken with a grain of salt:

Citrix Essentials

Releasing XenServer for free is the strategy for getting their foot in the door, Citrix plans to continue to make money by moving up the vaule chain. Their new Essentials for XenServer product provides additional functionality like High Availibility, Dynamic Resource Management, Advanced Storage Management, Workflow, Automation and Provisioning. Establishing XenServer is the main virtualization technology in the datacenter will make it easier for them to push their application virtualization (XenApp) and desktop virtualization (XenDesktop) products as well.

Where are Sun and Red Hat?

So with all this activity going on, where are the open source players? While both vendors have been working on their own virtualization stacks, neither has managed to mount a comparable virtualization offering to date. Today's announcement is likely to have a big effect on them as well, we'll see how they respond.

The Microsoft Deal

Citrix also announced that it will be partnering with Microsoft to sell Essentials for Hyper-V, a product which provides some of the same advanced management functionality to Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualization platform. Citrix and Microsoft have long had this bizarre co-operation/competion model where you are never quite clear on who is benefiting most. Despite the fact that Citrix has worked closely with Microsoft to develop and sell its XenApp product (formerly Citrix Presentation Server), over time Microsoft has added more and more competing features to their core server product, and today Microsoft has a full product suite that competes directly with XenApp. Nevertheless, the two still collaborate around the product. The same thing can be expected to happen with their server virtualization products, but at the end of the day, one thing is for sure, VMWare is the one that will be hurt the most.

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