Citrix cashes in and unites Xen, CloudStack investments in Project Windsor

Citrix this week unveiled XenServer 6.1 upgrade that is tightly integrated with (its formerly owned) CloudStack open source cloud platform as it sets it sights on a new architecture known as "Windsor" that will merge XenServer and CloudForms into one IaaS.
Written by Paula Rooney, Contributor

Citrix may appear to have an uphill climb with Xen and CloudStack, but the company is growing stronger in the increasingly competitive, constantly shifting virtualization and cloud markets.     

Some may say Citrix bet on the two wrong horses in the open source virtualization and cloud markets. And still others think they went about it the wrong way.

Citrix, after all,  chose to support the Xen open source virtualization hypervisor and CloudStack cloud open source projects by acquiring the lead commercial developers -- XenSource and Cloud.com -- and learned somewhat painfully that customers and developers sometimes don't want that close of a partnership between a vendor and an open source project.   

Still, it doesn't seem to be hurting the company any. Citrix's stock has soared almost 60 percent to $75 per share in the past year and its annual revenues are expected to reach $2.5 billion this year, up from $1.8 billion in FY10. Its market capitalization is close to $14 billion.

Citrix is now positioned as a direct rival of the hottest in the software industry -- VMware, Microsoft and Red Hat. Not a bad place to be, especially with the company's forthcoming Synergy 2012 in Barcelona planned for later this month and first CloudPlatform Conference in November.

Even as the long term prospects of Xen and CloudStack are questioned, Citrix is busy sewing its two technology stacks based on those open source projects together and focusing its attentions on delivering value added desktop and cloud services. 

Citrix's most ambitious aim centers on Windsor, a new open source Xen virtualization architecture that Citrix will use to marry XenServer and CloudStack. "The goal is to exploit the awesome capabilities of the xen hypervisor to make a next-generation platform for IaaS cloud computing," wrote one Xen blogger in May.

This week, the Ft Lauderdale company unveiled its first step in that direction with the release of XenServer 6.1, an enhanced version of its server virtualization platform that offers tight integration with the Apache CloudStack.

The platform also offers many catch up features to VMware including new VM migration capabilities (without the need for shared storage) and a batch conversion tool that converts VMware virtual machines into XenServer virtual machines.

XenServer 6.1, which is available now, comes in four editions -- free (which the company says has been downloaded more than one million times and runs in 100,000 customer sites), Advanced, Enterprise and Platinum, at a starting license price of $1000 per server.  Xen.org's Xen Cloud Platform is based on XenServer.

On the virtualization front, Citrix keeps the product line fresh with a special eye on the Windows desktop and will detail more at Synergy this month.

Within the last year, the company has released numerous other Xen product upgrades including Citrix VDI-In-a-Box 5.1, XenClient Enterprise (joining its XenClient XT and Express products), XenDesktop 5.6 and XenApp 6.5.

On the cloud front, Citrix shipped an OpenStack-compatible CloudStack 3 platform in February. After donating the CloudStack code to the Apache Foundation last spring, Citrix followed up with a renamed Citrix CloudPlatform based on Apache CloudStack with its own SDN controller leveraging XenServer 6.X. 

Citrix, which will sponsor the CloudStack Collaboration Conference in late November with The Apache Foundation, is a driving force behind the CloudStack 4 code initially planned for release in late September but expected shortly -- after some licensing issues are ironed out.  

Again, some claim Citrix bet on the two wrong horses in the open source virtualization and cloud markets and that it has failed at the open source game.  Or was it brilliant execution?

It's no secret that Citrix took a lot of heat and some major defections in the open source community for acquiring XenSource in 2007.  Although the Xen open source hypervisor was first in market, and initially backed by most top computer vendors, customers and developers backed away from Xen after XenSource was acquired by Citrix.

Notably, Linus Torvalds and the Linux.org embraced a rival open source hypervisor rival known as KVM, which is now built directly into the Linux kernel and heavily backed by Linux market leader Red Hat. Linux is used throughout the public cloud and sells neck and neck with Windows in the data center today.

Although many companies still say they back Xen, include No. 2 SUSE Linux, Xen's momentum has no doubt slowed. 

Last year, the two key developers of Xen and the top XenSource executives, Ian Pratt & Simon Crosby, left Citrix to form a startup virtualization security company called Bromium focused on Windows desktop security.

No open source project depends on two people, but if you look at the latest rev of the Xen hypervisor, version 4.2, Citrix contributed almost 50 percent of the code -- 47 percent to be exact -- with SUSE Linux next at 15 percent (501 commits) and Amazon with a mere three percent. According to a statement issued by Bromium, Ian Pratt continues to be actively involved in Xen and is still chairman of Xen.org, but that entity was responsible for just over 200 lines of code of Xen 4.2 -- compared to Citrix's 1,270 commits.

After acquiring Cloud.com, Citrix abruptly changed course last spring, abandoned its interests in OpenStack, and donated the CloudStack code to The Apache Foundation to establish it as a rival to OpenStack.

It is now in incubation and Citrix claims it is gaining adherents, although OpenStack -- with VMWare's recent backing -- is getting all the attention.

Missteps? Brilliant exploitation? Depends on the audience. Still, there's no doubt Citrix has executed on its strategy very well. By embracing open source more vigorously and quickly than other software companies, Citrix not only remained relevant but elevated the company's stature and market share.

And while some would argue that Citrix sullied the prospects of two emerging open source projects, there's no doubt that Xen and CloudStack are the strong No. 2 players in their respective markets.  And who wouldn't want to be allied with the No. 2 prospects in the virtualization and cloud markets?

Apache CloudStack's mailing list is growing, execs claim.

"It continues to gain traction in the enterprise. If you look at the type of cloud services exemplified by Amazon Web Services and CloudStack, the first wave of demand was service providers," said Sheng Liang, founder of CloudStack and CTO of Citrix's Cloud Platform group who manages a group of engineers contributing to CloudStack. "Once big enterprises see the benefits and get used to using hosted cloud computing services, they will look at their internal data center architecture and see they can manage it more efficiently if they build it like a cloud. That's what we're anticipating."

"It's still early, but quite real," said Liang in a webcast on the CloudStack web site.

 In the open source world, after all, there's plenty of room for two leaders --  in fact, a preference for at least two players -- in order to keep the power balance tilted in favor of customers.

Regardless of market perception, Citrix's strategy -- buying the leading commercial Xen and CloudStack vendors -- was a win, win for the company and its investors.

Citrix is listed alongside VMware and Microsoft in Gartner Group's Magic Quadrant of Server Virtualization and is now trying to position its server virtualization assets as a core component for more value-added desktop virtualization and the cloud, analysts note. 

"While server virtualization remains important to Citrix, the company's business focus is moving further up the stack and isn't reliant on winning at the hypervisor layer," according to the Gartner Group's June report, which names VMware, Microsoft and Citrix as the market leaders. "During the past year, we have seen less emphasis by Citrix in promoting and positioning XenServer as a stand-alone virtualization offering; rather, Citrix has positioned  XenServer as an ingredient to broader solutions specifically targeted at the desktop and cloud markets."







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