Citrix undercuts VMware with XenServer giveaway
Repeat Redmond pact
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."
The rejiggering of the XenServer stack was necessary so it could mesh with the way Microsoft packages Hyper-V. Starting today, there are no longer four different XenServer stacks: the freebie XenServer hypervisor and its related XenCenter management console; XenServer Standard Edition, which added resource pools; XenServer Enterprise Edition, which XenMotion live migration, plus clustering and disaster recovery features; and XenServer Platinum Edition, which layered on dynamic workload provisioning.
Now, most of the elements of XenServer Enterprise Edition now just called XenServer, and it is all free. That includes a 64-but hypervisor that can scale to eight processor cores in a single VM, the XenCenter console, integration with Active Directory (the Windows authentication service), VM resource pooling, and XenMotion.
Before this announcement, XenServer Standard cost $990 per four-socket server, while XenServer Enterprise cost $3,300 and Platinum cost $5,500. (Those prices include a year of maintenance.) The VI3 stack from VMware, by contrast, costs $1,540 per two-socket machine for the base Foundation edition, while VI3 Standard runs to $3,624 and VI3 Enterprise costs $6,958. All of the VMware prices include one year of the cheapest tech support VMware. (You can pay more, and you can buy several years of support at a discount too.) VMware has been able to charge a lot more for its software, if list price is any guide, particularly if you normalize the prices for socket counts.
"The virtual infrastructure category is now free, not just the hypervisor, so we are again changing the game," boasts Crosby, with an obvious dig at VMware's Virtual Infrastructure stack.
So where is Citrix going to make money? On two editions of Essentials for XenServer, which move up the stack and, presumably, by getting a piece of the action when Microsoft and Citrix sell two similar editions of Essentials for Hyper-V. And it is going to make it up on volume, by spanning both XenServer and Hyper-V.
Essentials for XenServer Enterprise Edition, which costs $1,500 per physical server (regardless of the number of sockets), will include a stack of storage features that let XenServer take advantage of the thin provisioning, snapshotting, and other features inside disk arrays, which Citrix is lumping together as a feature set called StorageLink. Essentials Enterprise Edition will also have dynamic provisioning services for Xen partitions, workflow orchestration to automate when and where VMs are deployed on the network, interoperability features so workloads packaged up for Xen can be transformed and rebooted on Hyper-V (and visa versa), and integration with Microsoft's System Center console. (That feature is coming later this year, and neither Microsoft nor Citrix would say when).
The Platinum Edition of the Essentials for XenServer adds in "lab management" VM jukeboxing, and that extra feature doubles the price to $3,000 per system. It looks like there is another edition, which was not mention in the presentation, that adds high availability features atop the XenServer stack and which will boost the price to $5,000 per system. Details on this Essentials for XenServer edition were not available at press time.
The pricing and packaging for Essentials for Hyper-V are exactly the same, except that Microsoft's hypervisor is at the heart of the stack instead of XenServer and the $5,000 edition with high availability features is not available with Hyper-V.
The sales channels at Microsoft and Citrix are well acquainted with each other and are being authorized to sell either of the Essentials versions in their various flavors to their separate and shared customers. The companies will be doing a worldwide marketing push on the server virtualization tools and will collaborate to chase sales opportunities. Microsoft's sales channel has been trained to push the products as well, and any Citrix or Microsoft channel partner is authorized to sell the Essentials tools. ®