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Citrix strays far from XenSource's original open source mission

In 2005, hot new startup XenSource was positioning itself as the open source alternative to VMware and Microsoft Virtual Server.Then came a controversial pact in 2006 between the powers that be at the Palo Alto virtualization software company and Microsoft.
Written by Paula Rooney, Contributor

In 2005, hot new startup XenSource was positioning itself as the open source alternative to VMware and Microsoft Virtual Server.

Then came a controversial pact in 2006 between the powers that be at the Palo Alto virtualization software company and Microsoft. The mail goal, XenSource executives argued, was to ensure interoperability between the two platforms going forward and ensure that Linux virtual machines ran well on Microsoft's forthcoming "Viridian" hypervsior, now known as Hyper-V.

If that wasn't tough enough for open source fans to stomach, close Microsoft ally, proprietary software company, Citrix, bought XenSource, last October for $500 million, a whopping pricetag considering XenSource's modest run rate. Prior to the deal, Citrix had no presence or role in the open source community and was one of the last ISV holdouts not willing to support Linux.

And now, a quarter after the deal was closed, Citrix officials have indicated that they will use the hot XenSource branding, but de-emphasize its identity as a virtualization company. Citrix's flasgship Presentation Server has been renamed to XenApp Server, a fitting title considering its function as an application delivery platform. But it has no XenSource code.

“Citrix is not a virtualization company,” said Phil Montgomery, Senior Director of Citrix's Virtualization and Management Division. "We're not trying to be another VMware. Citrix is an application delivery software company."

In spite of that new positioning, XenSource is -- or was -- a virtualization company. But the competitive equation is now Microsoft + Citrix versus VMware, Montgomery told ZDNet last night.

Citrix's Xen product lineup -- XenDesktop, XenApp, XenServer-- does nothing else but virtualization, Montgomery acknowledges. Well before the XenSource acquisition, Citrix attempted to rebrand the company as a virtualization company ( I know because I sat in on briefings and saw the Powerpoint). Now, even with the XenSource deal, which gives Citrix the ammunition to become a full fledged virtualization company, Citrix has gone back to its previous marketecture as an application delivery platform with desktop and server delivery as new services.

While Citrix is using the Xen name for its individual products, it is positioning the entire stack -- including its NetScaler web accleration platform -- as the Citrix Delivery Center. From that, it appears that Citrix is diluting XenSource's core identity as a virtualization company in order to score points with Microsoft and catapult Microsoft's forthcoming HyperV hypervisor as VMware's chief rival.

And the XenSource key products -- XenDesktop, due in the second quarter, rather than the first quarter as planned -- will ship roughly as planned, and based on Xen. XenServer 4.1, a forthcoming upgrade code-named "Miami" and due this quarter, has 50 new features and functionality -- including open storage support, is planned to be released this quarter.

There are hurdles for Citrix to overcome. The newly named XenApp Server incorporates Citrix's legacy Presentation Server and "Tarpon" application virtualization technology , which not only competes head to head against Microsoft's Softricity software but uses no Xen code.

Citrix still has not said in detail how it will integrate the disparate products such as Citrix's XenApp and Netscaler -- with XenDesktop and XenServer, but opened the lid on a few new technologies and products designed to deliver and integrate virtual desktops, applications and servers.

For one, Citrix is going to ship a new product called the Citrix Workflow Studio, based on an acquisition of an unnamed Microsoft ISV that developed a graphical workflow tool based on the Windows Workflow Foundation. A technology preview is due in the second quarter. And the new XenServer Platiunum Edition, as it is named, incorporates desktop provisioning software Citrix acquired as part of its buy of Ardence.

The two tools will allow users to orchestrate, automate and provision virtual and physical desktops, applications and servers. But again, Citrix is not competing against VMware's VirtualCenter. It's funny, because I remember having discussions with XenSource two years ago and at that time it was all about Xen's advanced services in Xenoptimizer, then XenEnterprise, taking on VMWare's Virtualcenter.

Don't get me wrong. Citrix said it intends to continue to support the Xen open source project and will support the Xen hypervisor even as it embraces Microsoft's Hyper-V. Citrix spent good money on that acquisition and has every right to position the software in the way that it chooses. But open source backers will likely take another look at Xen and re-consider other open source firms embracing virtualization, including Red Hat and Novell's use of Xen, Virtual Iron's Xen platform, SWSoft's Virtuozzo hypervisor and Qumranet -- which is expected to launch a hosted virtual desktop product based on the KVM virtualization engine in Linux soon.

Time will tell if the M&A served to grow XenSource -- or kill the open source star. .

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