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Citrix gets around to XenServer update

Missing Symantec love and price war

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A few months ago Citrix told us it would use XenSource as a weapon, pushing prices of virtualization software down far below what VMware currently offers. Now we're wondering what happened to Citrix's guts.

Citrix this week issued a fresh release of XenSource's old flagship code. It's now shopping a beta for Version 4.1 of Citrix XenServer, which comes in a variety of flavors. A finalized version of the package should ship next month, marking the first upgrade to XenServer since way back in August.

Did the Citrix acquisition slow XenSource down? Looks that way to us, since XenSource used to say that 4.1 would arrive in the fourth quarter of 2007.

Version 4.1 boasts 50 fresh features, although Citrix seemed most proud of two items.

The first comes in the form of a NetApp partnership, which makes it possible for XenServer to tap right into some of the fancier features provided by the Data OnTap operating system. XenSource uses "very simple scripts" to activate NetApp tools such as data snapshots, cloning, replication, back-up and thin provisioning via the XenCenter management console. "Instead of doing it in software, we just throw out a command and do it in the array," said Simon Crosby, a CTO at Citrix.

Also with 4.1, Citrix has renamed and improved Presentation Server, which now sells under the XenApp brand.

MetaFrame Server - sorry Presentation Server - sorry XenApp performs that special Citrix magic by letting users tap into centrally managed/hosted client and server software. Are you at an airport kiosk in Lagos with a desperate need to play Minesweeper on that Solaris SMP? No problem.

Thanks to some engineering efforts XenApp will now fly when used in conjunction with XenServer and Xen virtual machines. "We've added optimizations for a variety of different workloads," Crosby said. "This dramatically enhances the performance over what you'd see as a default or with VMware."

And Version 4.1 "also includes many other new capabilities, including support for NIC bonding, 10Gb/s networking, and 64-bit enterprise Linux guests."

What you won't find in Version 4.1 is the support for Symantec/Veritas' Volume Manager software that the pre-acquisition XenSource folks promised last year to customers. Many of you were told that the Volume Manager would become a standard part of XenServer when 4.1 arrived. Not so.

"The Symantec stuff is a work in progress for us," Crosby said.

All of the "integration" work with Symantec's Storage Foundation software is completed, according to Crosby. The problem is getting that software to customers - apparently. XenSource used to talk like customers would receive the storage management goodies for free, but it now sounds like you'll end up paying.

"We said we would bundle it as part of the product," Crosby said. "It turns out that not all customers wanted us to do that. It is becoming an add-in option for the customer."

Translation: "Citrix decided to see if we can make some coin off this deal, and now we have to rework the Symantec arrangement. We'll give you a ring-a-ding when the lawyers are done."

But we started this exercise hitting on price and not features, so it's to price we return.

The Platinum Edition of XenServer, which includes Citrix Provisioning Server, will start at $5,000 per two-socket server and won't ship until the second quarter. The Enterprise Edition, which includes some management add-ons, will start at $3,000 on two-socket systems. Then the Standard Edition, with no physical or virtual server limits, starts at $900, while the Express Edition, limited to four virtual machines and a single server, remains a free download. You'll struggle to compare like-to-like against VMware with these prices.

For example, VMware does not offer a direct competitor to Provisioning Server at this time, so that knocks out Platinum Edition vs. ESX Infrastructure compares. As a result, Citrix likes to stack XenServer Enterprise Edition against ESX Infrastructure Enterprise, which costs $5,750. VMware's top package, however, includes a host of add-ons such as high availability, clustering, backup and VMotion software. Citrix offers most of those as additional packages.

Based on past statements, we expected Citrix to be far more aggressive on price, using a low-cost as a means of slowing VMware's success.

"We do not experience price pressure from the customer," Crosby said. "We aim to be around 30 to 40 per cent of the price of VMware."

Oh well.

Instead of doing large bundles, Citrix wants to sell its own additional management packages and offer software from partners.

"We much more equitably divide the stack of dollars between ourselves, resellers and other go to market partners," Crosby said.

The Citrix executive admits that this partner-friendly approach is a must given VMware's substantial head start.

So, Citrix - with its good chum Microsoft - will continue to present VMware as the proprietary overlord of the virtualization game. But last time we checked at the VMworld conference, just about software vendor on earth was looking to speak of its oh-so strong VMware ties. ®

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