How Citrix rolls now: XenSource 101

LONDON, ENGLAND—Citrix entered the virtualization market a year ago via its acquisition of the open-source XenSource, a surprise move that many saw as somewhat strange for a below-the-radar company best known for Metafore. The company met with a global cadre of journalists this week to chat about what exactly they’re doing in the market, their relationship with Microsoft and to VMware, and taking virtualization “fast, free, and ubiquitous.”

“You might wonder what the heck I’m doing here,” said Simon Crosby, co-founder of XenSource and current CTO with Citrix. Now that the company has entered the virtualization market hardcore, he said, Citrix can be seen as simply an “application delivery company,” he said.

Crosby acknowledge the elephant in the room right away. “Let’s call a spade a spade. There is VMware. One thing they say is that you have to buy their virtual infrastructure. To us, virtualization is just a feature.”

Citrix aims to lure in users via the ease of use of XenServer 5, which decreases the skillset required and scary up-front infrastructure implementation. Pricing is jigged per server and ranges from free (Express) to $5,000 (Platinum, which allows users to virtualize workloads not running on a hypervisor).

XenSource’s open-source roots show through in the product’s interoperability—it allows virtual machines to run not only on XenSource, but on VMware and Microsoft HyperV. “That ‘any-ness’ means that XenServer can run on any virtual machines or bare metal,” Crosby said.

Citrix is not positioning itself as a cutthroat competitor in the virtualization market. Rather, it wants to be seen as more of a flexible option that plays well with others. Said Crosby: “We have no desire to control the fact that there’s other (virtualization companies) out there. If we really wanted to compete, would we have helped Microsoft with HyperV? We want fast, free, ubiquitous virtualization.”

Citrix has built a solid partnership with Microsoft, and is one of their star partners. Microsoft recommends Xen Virtual Desktop as well. “That does create a large upsell value for us; it doesn’t make us nervous,” said Crosby.

Citrix is banking on some of its features to help bring virtualization to a wider user base. This includes XenServer’s “virtual machine-aware” storage infrastructure, which offers thin provisioning and array-based snapshots. It is also integratable with NetApp FAS, Dell Equalogic, and SMI-S in the next release.

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The Demo: Citrix’s Xen Desktop

The company is also heading upwards into the cloud, due to the Citrix’s large number of NetScaler implementations with big-name Web companies. The company has even heard of many NetScaler companies using XenServer on the fly, such as Amazon and the New York Times. “We’ve seen a tremendous growth of Xen in the cloud,” said Crosby. “From here, the goal is to get enterprise-class adoption.”

The products seem like they would be an easy sell for time-strapped IT managers.

“We use the same virtual hard disk to boot a thousand guests at once,” Crosby said. “That means less storage and updates to manage. It’s a whole different architecture—much more scalable.”

This scalability came in handy with the Piraeus Bank, said its international IT manager Sotiris Koutouris, and its many recent acquisitions. The various outposts had scattered data (which made it difficult to enforce uniform security measures), and significant IT investments.

“We wanted a common application selection that would include centralized data centres, and a common blueprint that we could put in new locations, and gradually phase in at the old ones,” said Koutouris.

To put the plan in motion, Piraeus used XenServer Enterprise to virtualize its servers, and XenApp for application delivery via Citrix Presentation Server on thin clients. He said, “It gives you great flexibility in pushing your apps, and has reduced costs in hardware and software, and the disaster site.” Support costs have also gone down and security strengthened, courtesy of the centralization.

Virtualization can yield green benefits, too, according to Reed Specialist Recruitment IT services manager Sean Whetstone. The company started using quad-core blades to deliver applications via XenApp running on thin clients. “Instead of the 104 Watts a PC would use per day, the thin client would use 12.5 Watts, and lasts twice as long. Plus, there’s no hard disk, so there’s no data to lose,” said Whetstone.

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