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Citrix rides virtualization into 2009

Nonexistent machines cut costs

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You might be thinking that Citrix is bummed out by the Meltdown. Little more than a year ago, it shelled out a whopping $500m for open source hypervisor startup XenSource. But Citrix sees virtualization as just thing a slumping economy needs. As 2009 gets going, however slowly, Citrix is planning on using virtualization as a lever to try to help companies cut costs - while lining its own pockets.

"It is really tough to come up with new ways to save money," explained David Roussain, group vice president of the application virtualization group at Citrix, in an interview. "And typically, IT departments make the wrong move by cutting innovation because this is where they can cut costs quickly and easily. But what they really need to do in 2009 is zero in on infrastructure costs. And with end user expectations on the rise as well, if there was ever a time to accelerate virtualization plans, it is now."

As you might expect, the foundation of the Citrix sales and marketing strategy this year is the XenServer virtual machine hypervisor that is based on the open source Xen project controlled by Citrix. (As much as you can say a vendor controls an open source project, that is). "Xen is free, and virtualizing servers will free up existing capacity to support new workloads," says Roussain.

While many companies are doing a planned upgrade to new hardware to move to virtualized operating systems, not everyone is going to be able to afford that this year. And many companies will be looking to virtualize the servers they have to gain the benefits that virtual environments bring, such as higher server utilization, more flexible infrastructure, and resilience for applications thanks to features such as live migration.

Of course, the latest Xen hypervisor needs a fairly modern chip from Intel or Advanced Micro Devices, with their respective VT or AMD-V hardware-assisted virtualization electronics; VMware's entry VMware Server (which is not a bare-metal hypervisor, but a hypervisor that runs atop Windows or Linux and then hosts these and other operating systems) does not require these features, and neither does its ESX Server bare-metal hypervisor. (However, VMware Server and ESX Server can make use of these features).

While Xen needs these features, the commercially supported and more fully featured versions of XenServer are generally less expensive than the Virtual Infrastructure 3 alternatives from VMware. Either way, companies with slightly old servers (Xeon and Opteron machines that predate VT and AMD-V technology) are facing either a hardware upgrade or a software fee if they want to virtualize, unless they get smart and use virtual private server (VPS) virtualization (which has a single operating system kernel and file system supporting multiple operating system images on a single machine) such as Parallels' Virtuozzo or Sun Microsystems' Solaris containers.

Because this is 2009, Roussain can't help but toss in a reference to cloud computing. He says that Citrix will do the cloud thing through its Citrix Cloud Center (C3) software stack (which includes a tweaked version of XenServer), its Workflow Studio management tools (for orchestrating XenServer VMs on the network), its NetScaler load balancing and caching software, its WANScaler network traffic shaping software, and a bridge to server infrastructure.

As far as Citrix is concerned, cloud computing is just another twist on the kind of host-based computing that the company has made lots of money on since the days of MetaFrame and still makes with Presentation Server (known as XenApp for the past year).

Citrix is, as you might expect, talking to the current commercial cloud computing providers and pitching C3 as an integrated, supported stack that does what they need to do, and what in most cases cloud providers have built by hand. For instance, while Amazon's EC2 cloud is based on a Xen hypervisor, it is the open source version and Amazon has done a lot of work to make it cloud-friendly and easier to manage. But the real money with C3 might not be with the relatively few commercial cloud providers like Amazon, but with internal IT departments who want to do their own clouds.

"We see very high interest in internal clouds," says Roussain. "A lot of people want to build their own cloud-like infrastructure. Customers will want to build their own clouds first and then have a bridge to public clouds. Once these bridges are easy and secure, then the economics is going to make this happen."

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