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Citrix undercuts VMware with XenServer giveaway

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IT vendors like to try to steal each other's thunder when they know their rival is making announcements. But Citrix Systems today might have stole some lightening too as it revamps its XenServer stack and announces a deep partnership with Microsoft concerned with server virtualization.

Tomorrow, VMware will open up the VMworld Europe virtualization extravaganza at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, on the French Riviera, and it's expected to make some announcements of its own. But the company will probably be fielding a lot of questions relating to Citrix' repacking of the XenServer tool stack, where it is now giving away the core management tools as well as the hypervisor.

And still more questions will come concerning the partnership with Microsoft, which will see the Xen tool stack integrating with and managing Microsoft's Hyper-V server hypervisor as well as Microsoft's Virtual Machine Manager plug in for its System Center management tool eventually being able to manage XenServer and its virtual machines.

Dubbed "Project Encore," the Microsoft-Citrix effort seeks to repeat the pattern of collaboration and financial success that the two companies enjoyed with host-based computing in their respective Terminal Services and Presentation Server (formerly MetaFrame and called XenApp since last year) products. Rather than try to take both Microsoft and VMware on in a head-long fashion, Citrix would prefer the repeat the success it has had as a Microsoft partner for host-based computing, driving $1.6bn in annual sales in the nascent server virtualization market on x64 iron.

Simon Crosby, the chief technology officer at the Virtualization and Management division of Citrix, pulls no punches about what the goal is of the partnership. "VMware gets hurt by Hyper-V a lot more than we can hurt VMware alone," he explains, adding that none of this means even for a second that Citrix doesn't want IT shops to use the XenServer hypervisor instead of any alternative, including Microsoft's Hyper-V and VMware's ESX Server, among a few others.

And while Microsoft is giving the nod to the Citrix hypervisor and virtual machine management stack today, by helping create what will be sold as Citrix Essentials for Hyper-V, neither Microsoft nor Citrix has any pretensions that this current configuration of products and revenue sharing will be static. "We're always building the platform, with partners building on top," says David Greschler, director of virtualization strategy at Microsoft. "We don't freeze dry technology. We provide a core platform that we keep improving."

And that means that the so-called lab manager features (for VM image jukeboxing and management) and storage management and disk array integration features that Citrix has created for XenServer and now tweaked for Hyper-V will in all likelihood see Microsoft alternatives in the future. Just like Terminal Services is an alternative way to get the functionality in Presentation Server.

"Microsoft, in the fullness of time, will do everything," says Crosby flatly. "That is just the way it is. Technology moves forward, and Citrix moves forward."

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