XenSource's Levine And Citrix's Wasson Explain Future Virtualization Moves

The executives reveal that Citrix will create a fine balance to maintain the Xen open source community, while adding to its product line.
Citrix announced Aug. 15 that it is acquiring XenSource, supplier of the Xen open source hypervisor, for $500 million. In a follow-up interview with Wes Wasson, corporate VP of worldwide marketing at Citrix, and Peter Levine, CEO of XenSource, InformationWeek learned how Citrix will try to maintain the Xen open source community, while adding to its product line.

INFORMATIONWEEK: Will the Citrix takeover of XenSource affect the open source community behind the Xen hypervisor? How many of the hypervisor developers are employed by XenSource?

Levine: There are five to six guys who do a lot of work on the Xen project that are part of XenSource. There's also a whole community of companies that participate on the Xen project: IBM, Intel, HP, Novell, Red Hat.

INFORMATIONWEEK: How will you maintain that community?

Levine: We started in parallel with the acquisition discussions to elevate the Xen project and community by appointing a panel to provide oversight during the transition. It will maintain a distinction between the open source code and commercial efforts. ... We are working on that collaboratively with IBM, Intel, HP, Novell, and Red Hat. We are just coming up with a model for that in the next 45 to 60 days. The industry absolutely wants us to do that.

INFORMATIONWEEK: Will there be a continued role for Cambridge University researcher Ian Pratt, originator of Xen, in the ongoing project?

Levine: Absolutely, Ian Pratt will play a role.

Wasson: From the Citrix side, we actually loved the huge effort you get from the open source project. ... And the folks who are important contributors are often at Intel, IBM, HP, Novell. ... The independent oversight board will be composed of leaders contributing to the project.

INFORMATIONWEEK: You have staff at Palo Alto, Calif.; Redmond, Wash.; and Cambridge University in the U.K. How are your 80 employees divided up?

Levine: Palo Alto includes the sales and marketing staff. Redmond includes the engineering group working with Microsoft, and Cambridge is another engineering group. It's about one-third each.

INFORMATIONWEEK: Is the work being done with Microsoft separate from the open source work?

Levine: The reason for an engineering office in Redmond is our strategic relationship with Microsoft. It started over a year ago, before any talks with Citrix. It was crystal clear to me that the bulk of the virtualization market was going to be among Windows customers. Red Hat and Novell had already embedded Xen in Linux, and Linux was going to be a much smaller market.

Wasson: We want to preserve a great relationship with Microsoft, one that's pretty unique. What XenSource is doing with Microsoft in virtualization mirrors what Citrix did in Windows Terminal Services. We helped extend the Microsoft product. We got the right stuff [Citrix Presentation Server and proprietary ICA protocol] into their environment. For every dollar of Presentation Server we sell, Microsoft gets 75 cents.

We gave code to Microsoft that became part of the core of Windows Terminal Services and got source code rights to Windows Server. We work with Microsoft on things that are years in advance. Microsoft is tremendously willing to do that when you're not pretending that things that should go into the operating system [such as the virtualization hypervisor] are not available to them and will be supplied somewhere else. VMware is thinking of itself as an operating system vendor and Microsoft competitor. They want to compete with the Windows operating system.

INFORMATIONWEEK: How does acquiring XenSource change the Citrix product lineup?

Wasson: We've been talking about Presentation Server. There are 10 million desktops managed through Presentation Server. But with that approach, the users tend to be all the same. It's designed to virtualize applications, but it's not for everybody.

You can take a desktop and put it in a virtual machine in the data center and you haven't solved a single problem. The first thing you will see us do is combine Xen capabilities with Citrix Desktop Server. We will be able to deliver that desktop in a VMware virtual machine, a Microsoft Viridian environment, or, if you don't want to use either of them, a Xen environment.

With our Ardence purchase a few months ago, we can stream a virtual desktop or full server image [from a hard disk, instead of a running server]. We can provision desktops or servers. We want to take those streaming capabilities and bring them into the desktop environment.

INFORMATIONWEEK: Is it conceivable you will be supplying virtual desktops to disconnected or mobile workers?

Wasson: I can't talk about future products, but I can characterize how we're thinking. It's conceivable. We invested [in early August] in Desktone Inc., which is blue chip funded, software-as-a-service for commercial desktops. We think there are a lot of ideas out there about doing stuff in the cloud, over the Internet.

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