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Citrix: Novell's only option for virtualization marriage

Rush to beat Red Hat, repent at leisure

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What is commercial Linux distributor Novell going to do about server and desktop virtualization?

It's a good question, and one that the company's top brass has not really addressed.

In July 2006, with the launch of SUSE Linux 10, Novell was the first commercial Linux vendor to ship a Xen hypervisor tuned for Linux. And it is arguable that Novell probably jumped the gun, given the state of Xen, its management tools, and Novell's support of other operating systems beside SLES 10 at the time with its embedded Xen product.

Red Hat certainly thought so. It delayed its embedded Xen support for its Enterprise Linux 5.0 distro until the following March, and then after further consideration, decided to chuck Xen in favor of the KVM hypervisor that it now controls thanks to its $107m acquisition of Qumranet last September.

Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization, a KVM-based, freestanding server hypervisor, has been in beta for two months and is on track to be announced by the end of the year.

What is Novell doing? Well, it has support for Xen in SUSE Linux 11, of course, which debuted at the end of March, and yes, SLES 11 includes a technology preview of a KVM hypervisor.

But nobody wants to use a Linux distro to host Linux and Windows images. If that were the case, Red Hat would have stuck with Xen and its Advanced Platform version of RHEL 5.0 and be done with it. Free-standing hypervisors are the order of the day. And Novell doesn't have one.

VMware does, and has made lots of hay - OK, probably well north of $1bn - with its ESX family of hypervisors over the past several years. The new ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor and related vSphere 4.0 management tools, which were launched in April started shipping a month later, are better than their predecessors that have garnered dominant market share on x64 servers so far.

And from the look of things, ESX Server is not under much of a threat from Hyper-V R2 and its related Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system, which was released to manufacturing in July and will ship later this year.

On the technical front, Hyper-V is not much of a threat to ESX Server, but the fact that Microsoft is giving away Hyper-V puts pricing pressure on VMware just the same because you can bet everyone is telling VMware how wonderful Hyper-V is gonna be. That must make VMware's president and chief executive, and ex-Microsoftie, Paul Maritz cringe.

The freebie XenServer 5.5 hypervisor from Citrix Systems, which was launched in February and started shipping in June, is also putting pricing pressure on VMware. With some tools from partners to help manage Xen-based VMs, XenServer 5.5 is probably the best iteration of Xen in the field to try to compete against VMware. And, considering Citrix shelled out $500m to buy XenSource, the commercial entity behind the Xen hypervisor project, it had better be.

While Citrix was last week crowing that it had more than 150,000 customers download the freebie XenServer, which is a full-featured, standalone hypervisor, it has yet to demonstrate that this will result in revenues.

Oracle is cranking up its server virtualization products, buying Virtual Iron and plotting a course to deliver a complete software stack including its ripoff of RHEL, called Oracle Enterprise Linux, and its take on the Xen hypervisor, called Oracle VM Server. As soon as Oracle is done eating Sun Microsystems, there will be Solaris and other virtualization technologies to throw in the mix.

Wedding bells?

Circling high above the server virtualization space here at El Reg, it sure looks like Novell and Citrix need each other. They need each other as much as Citrix needed to closely ally itself with Microsoft to put out its Essentials tools for managing both XenServer and Hyper-V hypervisors, and as much as Novell needed to make a pact with Microsoft to distribute $340m worth of SUSE Linux support contracts into Windows shops.

I would guess that it won't be long before we hear of a Novell and Citrix announcement debuting Citrix Essentials for SUSE Linux and that Novell - which still does not have a profitable Linux business and cannot afford to code its own standalone hypervisor - has endorsed the XenServer 5.5 hypervisor as its own standalone product.

Novell could endorse KVM, in theory, but that would only help rival Red Hat and it would still mean that Novell has to do something to create its own SUSE Enterprise Virtualization product. It could just pull an Oracle, of course, and change the logos on Red Hat's virtualization. But there is not much honor in that, either.

Citrix Essentials for SUSE and XenServer it is, then. ®

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