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Citrix previews bare-metal virt

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How much, then?

Wasson would not divulge when the free-standing XenClient hypervisor would be available or what it might cost, or what the feature might cost when bundled into XenDesktop. The XenClient Express test kit is free, and presumably when it is generally available and suitable for production use, it will remain free with subscriptions for support. Wasson didn't say precisely when XenClient would be ready for primetime, but said it would be ready "in the next couple of months."

None of the feeds and speeds for the XenClient hypervisor were announced as El Reg went to press. The hypervisor is tied heavily to the VPro virtualization and security features of Intel's Core desktop and laptop processors, so forget about using it on machines using Advanced Micro Devices' x64 processors. The last three years' worth of laptops and desktops that have VPro technology in them will be able to run XenClient, however. You won't need to be at the latest release of iron to deploy the bare-metal hypervisor - or at least that was the plan a year and a half ago.

Citrix will also talk a little bit about the upcoming 5.6 release of its XenServer bare-metal virt for servers. Wasson said the update would provide better virtual machine density and scale than the current XenServer 5.5, which shipped a year ago. The freebie XenServer 5.6 Express hypervisor will sport faster network performance too.

For those who want to pony up some cash for Advanced, Enterprise, or Platinum Edition licenses to XenServer 5.6, Citrix is cooking up some memory optimizations to improve performance, adding better host power management, putting in role-based administration, adding in a self-service portal for "lab management" or what a lot of people call VM jukeboxing and tossing in the ability to snapshot VMs and revert to earlier ones when something goes bonkers.

In February 2009, ahead of rival VMware's launch of its vSphere 4.0 tools, most of which are embodied in the ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor, Citrix decided to stop charging for the base hypervisor in XenServer 5.1 and continued this with the XenServer 5.5 release. And in that time, XenServer has grown to over 45,000 installations (and is in use at just under half of the Fortune 500).

That is not including the hypervisors that are driving the 1.5 million seats of XenDesktop that are installed. XenDesktop allows for any hypervisor to be used, including VMware's ESX Server, but XenServer is picked to drive about half of the XenDesktop seats. At 125 users per server and 750,000 users, that works out to around 6,000 more XenServer licenses. The number is probably twice that because earlier XenServer hypervisors could not drive as many VDI seats. Call it another 10,000 or so, by El Reg's estimates.

A few more things are going to be announced by Citrix at the Synergy show. A project called HDX Nitro will seek to improve the high-definition end user experience for virtual desktops. Wasson says that the current generation of HDX technologies already consume 80 to 90 per cent less network bandwidth to stream and support virtual desktops than competitive projects, but Citrix wants to make the performance three times better on every aspect of HDX. The goal is not just to make streamed desktops as good as local ones, but to make it so people can't tell. So that means getting virt PCs to start up twice as fast and allowing high-speed printing from anywhere to any printer, just to name two enhancements.

Citrix is also working with security software provider McAfee to embed its antivirus software in the Xen hypervisor itself, both the desktop and client version, to make antivirus scanning more efficient than deploying it on 80 to 125 clients running in a VDI setup. As Wasson pointed out, imagine the degradation if McAfee fired up 100 antivirus scans all at the same time on VDI images? The server would crawl, and the end users at the end of the VDI wire would be gnashing their teeth. The way the McAfee antivirus is being embedded into Xen will be done through open APIs and open source code, allowing other security product vendors to embed their wares into the hypervisor where appropriate. ®

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