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12/13/2007
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Virtualization's Crusader

Simon Crosby is driven by the belief that "virtualization has got to be everywhere."

Given all the excitement about the transformative power of virtualization, you'd think the hypervisor had already conquered the world. In fact, it has barely planted its flag on the borders of business IT: About 10% of all servers have been virtualized, leaving vast numbers untouched.


Simon Crosby, CTO, Citric Systems' Virtualization & Management Division

Simon Crosby
CTO, Citric Systems' Virtualization & Management Division
Enter Simon Crosby. Once a tenured professor at Cambridge University, he's traded the ethereal heights of academia for the cutthroat arena of high tech, driven by the belief that "virtualization has got to be everywhere," he says.

As former CTO of XenSource and now CTO of Citrix Systems' virtualization and management division, Crosby has raised the profile of the open source Xen hypervisor as a viable competitor to market leader VMware, while advocating for the hypervisor--any hypervisor--to replace the OS as the key interface between applications and hardware.

Whether virtualization conquers the data center and beyond will depend on three objectives. First is to make the hypervisor ubiquitous by having it preinstalled on x86 servers. Citrix, VMware, and Virtual Iron have each announced deals with vendors such as HP and Dell to do just that.

Second is to make virtualization easier. "If we end up with a new category of IT administrator, the virtual IT administrator, then we will have failed because that's another whole skill set the industry has to hire," says Crosby.

Third is the creation of industry standards to ensure that businesses don't get locked into one vendor's platform. Crosby was instrumental in bringing together the Open Virtual Machine Format group, which has defined a standard format to enable virtual machines to run on any hypervisor. "This moves us from a VHS vs. Betamax fight," he says. That's a role he's good at--breaking stalemates that impede growth.

Q&A With Simon Crosby
InformationWeek: How has virtualization changed enterprise data centers?

Crosby: The profound effect thus far has been in reduction of server count, electricity costs, and fewer data centers. But there's still a need to make enterprises more dynamic.

IW: With Citrix's acquisition of XenSource earlier this year, XenSource has the resources of Citrix behind it. How relevant is the Xen project open source hypervisor being developed by the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory?

Crosby: It's more relevant that before. Xen was about a core thesis of a business model-if the hypervisor is ubiquitous, there's a huge opportunity for the software industry to deliver value-added software for the dynamism and manageability of enterprise IT. Multiple vendors can take Xen and bring it to market. So the strategic nature has turned it into open source as reference standard for implementation.

IW: In a recent blog post you said that at the time XenSource was acquired, your foremost concern was that Citrix would respect the Xen community and strengthen the project. How do you keep Citrix from having undue influence on the Xen project?

Crosby: We've moved the Xen project into a separate .org. It has an oversight committee composed of all the major contributors.

IW: Who's on the committee?

Crosby: The key vendors there are IP, HP, Intel, Red Hat, Novel, Sun and ourselves. It's those who are delivering the hypervisor to the market and who are interested in a careful description of what is and is not Xen. Those companies establish policies and procedures and oversight of the code base by fiat.

IW: You were a tenured faculty member at Cambridge University. Which is more cutthroat: tenure-track academics or the high-tech industry?

Crosby: High tech. The cut and thrust of the virtualization world is savage. I want to make sure that vendors using Xen don't say their version is better. Xen is Xen. The goal is not to fight to the bottom.

By open sourcing only the hypervisor, each vendor can go to market with different add-on features. Sun has xVM and their customer is a Solaris customer. That has nothing to do with our customers. So we don't compete with them.

This is different form Linux and Novell. They have the same bits and have to say 'Mine is better than the other.' If everything is open source, the only model you have is how well you support the bits. That's why Linux is a $500 million market, while Microsoft is printing money. [Our model is] to let a bunch of cars come to market, and they can price to value rather than cost of support.

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