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The Way of Xen

Posted by: Steve Hamm on June 10, 2005

Here’s an odd twist. Microsoft, the whale of software, is being bedeviled by a small fish, VMware, the pioneer of virtualization technology for PCs and PC servers. But, in turn, VMware faces a challenge from an even smaller fish—Xen, the open-source server virtualization package. Xen is a guppy that could grow up to be a shark.

It’s being built into the Linux and NetBSD open-source operating systems, and tech suppliers including Hewlett-Packard, AMD, Novell, and Red Hat are behind it. This is yet another example of how the foundations of corporate computing are being rebuilt with open-source bricks.

Xen was developed as an open-source project started in 2001 by a crew of University of Cambridge researchers. For the computer geeks among you, here's a scholarly paper they wrote on Xen. The software allows corporate techies to chop up a PC server running Linux into a bunch of virtual servers running different applications so they can make more efficient use of their hardware. It also allows applications to be moved from one server to another without stopping. While VMware supports Linux and Windows, Xen sticks to Linux.

Rather than basking in open-source glory, several of the Xen creators have co-founded a company, XenSource, to capitalize of their invention. Ian Pratt, the leader of the Xen project, is XenSource's XenMaster. I have no idea what that means, but it sounds cool.

XenSource is only 6 months old, but it has a handful of Wall Street firms using beta versions of its software. It distributes Xen for free, but will sell its own proprietary system management products--to be delivered before the end of the year. "We see a lot of pull for Xen in the utility data center," says Simon Crosby, XenSource's vp of marketing.

Venture capitalists anticipate a lot of pull for XenSource, too. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sevin Rosen Funds put $6 million into the company a few months back.

Reader Comments

Mark Williamson

June 11, 2005 11:23 AM

Btw, Xen will support running Windows on machines with Intel's Vanderpool extensions or AMD Pacifia. Intel and AMD are contributing support for these extensions (Intel's is already in the unstable tree right now, will be in the 3.0 release).


June 12, 2005 5:45 AM

Xen runs on Linux, BSD and a port to PLAN9 OS is being developed. Performance wise it's lot better than VMWare.


June 12, 2005 6:17 AM

That's a short article with not much information.

Anyhow, Microsoft were entitled to use Xen, and they still are under the appropriate open-source licenses. It worked with Windows. Microsoft simply stopped funding the project after they bought Virtual PC.

As you say: "sponsored in part".

The interesting thing is that Xen is so much better than VMWare and virtual PC. Probably because the people who designed it knew what they were doing.

yak yakyak

June 12, 2005 9:52 PM

Just started with Linux, have used VMWare for some time and looking forward to Xen

BW Reader

June 13, 2005 3:29 PM

Does it only run on Linux or BSD? Severe limitation when compared to VMWARE.

Jack Ryan

June 14, 2005 9:11 PM

I find it a bit funny that a comment was made that Xen is already better than VMware! How about the comment that the folks at VMware dont know what they are doing!

Your bias has clouded your practical and better judgment. VMware is here today and producing tremendous value TODAY. Xen has a long long way to go my IT brothers and sisters...


June 15, 2005 11:30 AM

Have looked at Xen. Shows alot of promise. Also looked at Microsoft's product. Currently use Vmware's ESX Server 2.5 with Virtual SMP and Vmotion. It's so far ahead of the others there really is no comparison. The ability to maximize your hardware investment and to be able to move virtual machines on the fly from one physical server to the other makes this product the only real one to use in a production environment.

Cole Cather

June 15, 2005 3:46 PM

VMware is, and continues to be, the one pushing the envelope. Microsoft and even Xen are playing the catch-up game. By the time they catch-up VMware will be moving on to new and better features and enhanced reliability.

Currently VMware is the most mature product available and I don't see this changing anytime soon.

Fred Ziffle

August 2, 2005 4:25 PM

VMware may be better now, and will never go away totally, but EMC should be nervous that the open source community might quickly take this market.

Sharath Babu

September 13, 2005 8:10 AM

I just saw somebody mentioning about migration in VMware ESX server, the same could be done in Xen much more faster. Xen is moving fast. There are already webportals offering online virtual private servers based on Xen. In my thoughts, Xensource would be the fastest growing company one might have seen. VMware has been there for a long time now. and I do agree that it will take long time for Xen to meet the market competency of VMware. But looking at the progress of xensource, Xen will attract lots of market.


February 12, 2008 9:20 AM

I have used a paid-for version of vmware at home for some while, and it is very neat. It installs easily, it's very easy to maintain and so on. Usability is a big issue, and they have come a loooong way since the first time I tried their product, about 2001.

I am trying to install and run xen now on a linux box. Now doubt it will run, but try booting and installing an OS from the vendor's distro CD (Debian, Redhat ...) - it isn't easy, and the docs aren't all that. Really, you need to prepare and finetune a distro and there is a learning curve, even for a good tech.

I use virtualised servers for various web sites, but it seems that many are still using user mode linux, but are cautiously migrating to xen.

I'm sure these Cambridge guys knew what they were at, and xen may turn out to become a world-beater. But there is still some way to go.


January 30, 2009 6:12 PM

retarded, why don't they port it to windows too?

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