Hardware & Infrastructure
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Joe Hernick
Joe Hernick
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From Our Lab: XenSource's XenEnterprise Is A Virtualization Bargain

XenSource's XenEnterprise offers solid performance and ease of use, and handily beats VMware on price. We put the 3.2 version to the test.

Virtualization will inevitably shrink the bite hardware takes out of our capital budgets. But VMware has somewhat dampened IT's enthusiasm by charging $3,000 per socket for its enterprise-class VMware ESX. Doesn't, say, $750 per perpetual dual-socket license sound a lot better?

At that price, XenSource's XenEnterprise 3.2 is an easy-to-install bargain that takes advantage of the open source Xen 3.04 hypervisor. For many organizations itching to get going with virtualization, XenEnterprise will serve nicely thanks to its solid performance and general ease of use. The current version has some drawbacks: For one, it doesn't yet support 64-bit Windows, but XenEnterprise 4.0 will and it's heading into beta now, with an expected mid-August production date.

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Adding to market pressure, Microsoft, another latecomer to the virtual machine party, will include a sufficiently robust virtualization offering as part of its new server operating system. In what has to be good news for XenSource, the big guns in Redmond have preannounced formal support and integration for Xen-based VMs as part of the next server build, to optimize Windows Server 2008 to run on Xen and to let XenVMs run on Server 2008. XenSource is partnering with Microsoft to optimize Win/Xen and Xen/Win performance.

Ain't competition grand?

IT groups that plan frequent shuffling of VMs from host to host and need robust snapshot and rollback functionality will want to wait for the 4.0 release of XenEnterprise, which is based on the open source Xen 3.1 hypervisor. But for those who simply need to virtualize non-disk-intensive Linux environments or have a number of infrequently used 32-bit Windows 2003 application servers that occasionally demand high CPU performance, XenSource's XenEnterprise makes sense now.

If you have four, 10, even 15 single-purpose application servers humming away near end of life but have been holding back on virtualization because of license and support costs, you'll want to look at XenEnterprise. It's especially well-suited for shops that run a mix of Linux and Windows on Intel VT- or Advanced Micro Devices V-equipped servers and have in-house Linux talent. We found its hypervisor optimization and paravirtualization tools for Windows impressive.

And XenSource has solid credentials. It was founded by Ian Pratt and the University of Cambridge team that initially developed the open source Xen Project. A raft of venture funding, including the deep pockets of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, has let Pratt & Co. commercialize its success while continuing to support the open source initiative.

Speaking of vendor viability, as we reported recently, virtualization is shaping up to be a nightmare for server hardware vendors (see "IDC: Virtualization, Multicore Shake Up Server Market," March 21). Both Gartner and IDC forecast that VM software use could shove the compound annual growth rate for x86 servers into negative territory by 2010.

We agree that the trend to consolidate light-use and "single-box" servers will affect sales, but in the long run, we see Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and others offsetting potential lower volume with higher per-unit revenue as customers order larger, more robust servers purposed for virtualization in place of aging one-trick 1U ponies.

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