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XenSource tests door to Windows and profits

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IDF Open source darling XenSource took a couple of steps toward a more serious future this week by showing the public that it can run Windows without modification and by previewing one of its first for-profit management packages.

The developers behind the Xen partitioning/virtual machine project worked long and hard to boot Windows XP SP2 - instead of Linux or even Solaris x86 - on their software. Such a feat required dealing with old 16-bit code and a host of other issues. Simon Crosby, a co-founder at Xen's corporate face XenSource, told us that plenty of Windows work remains before the OS can run bug free on the upcoming Xen 3.0 release.

Nonetheless, the Windows support helps bring Xen closer to competing against virtual machine leader VMware, which works well with Linux and Windows across its workstation and server product lines. XenSource plans to have a much more stable Windows-ready package by year end and to pull off its main goal of supporting Windows Server 2003.

In the meantime, XenSource can claim one edge over VMware. It has tapped into Intel's VT - or virtualization technology - tools that should appear in server chips by year end. The use of the VT technology makes it possible to run operating systems and Xen without modification. VMware's high-end software design makes similar work more difficult, Crosby said.

VMware officials, however, say such charges are incorrect and note that the company will ship its GSX and ESX Server products for Intel VT-ready Xeon server chips as soon as Intel starts shipping the processors next year.

XenSource demoed the Windows/VT accomplishment at the Intel Developer Forum here and also showed off the XenOptimizer SE package. The company hopes customers who enjoy Xen for free will buy this management software. The XenOptimizer code works as a basic console showing all the servers running Xen, their workloads, their CPU usage, memory usage and bandwidth. Administrators can then drag and drop workloads from one server to another with a minimal hit to performance, if they choose, or set up policies for different applications to make sure the right type of server is handling the right type of software. The package also has some load balancing tools and a simple GUI.

XenSource hopes to sell XenOptimizer later this year.

Every little milestone counts for XenSource as it tries to become a serious virtual machine player in the x86 market. It has enjoyed backing from large vendors such as Intel, Sun Microsystems and IBM but has yet to announce a single, major customer. By contrast, VMware - part of EMC - claims thousands of large customers. Meanwhile, Microsoft hopes to secure its own place in the virtual market with the underwhelming Virtual Server product and future technology for the Longhorn Server operating system.

The next major releases of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SuSE Linux Enterprise Server will include tweaks that support Xen's paravirtualization technology.

Or as the company puts it, "A Xen 3.0 community release is targeted for availability at the end of the third quarter of this year. Hardened, enterprise-ready Xen distributions will be available from enterprise Linux distributors in early 2006. Xen 3.0 features support for SMP guest operating systems, and can take advantage of 64-bit processors as well as supporting Physical Address Extensions (PAE) for 32 bit servers with more than 4 GB of memory."

Xen backers claim its approach to virtual machines consume far less system resources than VMware's approach and that Xen is better able to make use of technology being rolled out by Intel and AMD. ®

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