New XenEnterprise boosts virtual Windows

Virtualization software now can run multiprocessor Windows servers, but bigger changes are coming in June.
Written by Stephen Shankland, Contributor
XenSource has endowed its flagship virtualization product with better Windows support, the company announced Monday, but a new version due in June will bring greater changes.

XenEnterprise 3.2 now can run Windows Server 2000 as well as what the earlier versions could run, Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP. And for those latter two operating systems, the software now features support for up to eight processors instead of just one.

Virtualization, now arriving on mainstream x86 servers, lets a single computer run several operating systems simultaneously in different compartments called virtual machines. The technology allows computers to be used more efficiently and ultimately provides a foundation for server infrastructure to respond fluidly and automatically to changing work demands.

XenSource's software today is designed for use on a single server, but the changes in June will expand the company's products and ambitions considerably, said CTO Simon Crosby. At that point, the company's software will be able to move running Linux and Windows virtual machines from one physical machine to another, and management software will centrally coordinate groups of servers.

"The first time XenSource moves to federated multiserver product is in June. We'll have multiple XenEnterprise servers in a shared namespace and the ability to relocate virtual machines on the fly," Crosby said. "That's the basic building block for multiserver dynamic infrastructure."

XenSource, whose product is based on the open-source Xen software, is trying to win market share from VMware, the dominant company selling virtualization software for x86 servers. VMware already offers that higher-level virtualization software in the form of its Virtual Infrastructure 3 product.

Virtualization is a hot idea, and Palo Alto, Calif.-based XenSource faces plenty of other competition, too. Among others: Microsoft's forthcoming Viridian software, due to ship in 2008, from open-source versions of Xen built into Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Server and Red Hat Enterprise Linux, newcomer KVM, Virtual Iron, and SWsoft and its OpenVZ project.

XenSource now has a customer list "in the hundreds," Crosby said. Among them are ServerCave and PanAmerican Capital Partners.

Xen uses a form of virtualization called paravirtualization, which requires that an operating system be modified to run on the virtualization foundation. That works well for open-source Linux. However, newer x86 processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices permit proprietary operating systems including Windows to run unmodified on Xen.

"We don't want to have somebody do to us what Oracle did to Red Hat," Crosby said, referring to Oracle's clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux built from the Linux seller's publicly available source code.

Although Xen is open-source software, XenEnterprise also includes proprietary software for tasks such as speeding up Windows' network performance.

Soon, though, the Windows networking speedup won't be a proprietary-only option. Intel and Novell have written open-source software to fix Xen's virtual Windows network bottleneck, and Novell said it will release the software by the time it ships its SLES 10 Service Pack 1 in the first half of 2007.

XenEnterprise costs $488 per year for a dual-processor server, regardless of how many cores each processor has. The technology also is available for free in a version called XenExpress that has a limit of four virtual machines.

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