XenSource: Aiming High

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 2007-04-11 Print this article Print

Customers are happy with the software but want more features.

In the server virtualization arena, VMware is clearly the Goliath, but open-source provider XenSource is trying to play David. And it's counting on partnerships with hardware and software vendors to slingshot its low-cost hypervisor product past the market leader.

The venture-backed firm, born out of open-source operating system research at Cambridge University in the U.K., released its first product in August 2006. Most of the customers Baseline spoke with are testing the software and are unsure about putting it into production.

And hands-on use of open-source virtualization software is low, according to Forrester Research. In a February report, only one of more than 350 North American and European technology managers cited open-source software as a preferred option.

Instead of building comparable features to VMware's ESX Server, Crosby says the firm strives to develop the market's best hypervisor—or platform designed to partition hardware by sitting directly on top of it—offer it for free, and let operating systems vendors such as Microsoft, Red Hat and Novell add features like customized graphical user interfaces.

XenSource chief technology officer Simon Crosby, while confident, has no illusions about the challenge ahead. "It's a big play," he says. "It's going to take time."

Customers of the firm are optimistic about the technology and its chances against the industry leaders. But they also say XenSource's offering has a ways to go in catching up with VMware's features.

Leandro Lopez, senior systems engineer with electronic trading platform operator MarketAxess, says XenSource has a leg up on Microsoft in terms of performance. During a test in late 2006, he says XenEnterprise, the open-source, hypervisor-based virtualization tool, installed and imported data twice as fast as Microsoft's Virtual Server 2005. (Virtual Server is not hypervisor-based.)

Cost—and cost savings—was a big draw for CadreNet, a Staten Island, N.Y., consultancy on network design, security and disaster recovery. Richard Trivedi, director of information technology with CadreNet, started testing the open-source software about eight months ago.

With a $750 two-socket license and an extra $150 for support, Trivedi deployed XenEnterprise on base servers and is planning to roll it out on SQL and Exchange servers. (Virtual Iron, another leading open-source vendor, charges $450 per socket.)

So far, he's reduced physical servers from six to one, saving at least $15,000 in hardware costs and approximately $50,000 a year in shedding an employee to administer the boxes.

Cost was also a driving factor for Gordon Mennie, programmer/analyst with the National University of Ireland, Galway. He says he paid approximately $1,300 for XenEnterprise—the fee for a four-socket license—with support, when he bought it at the start of 2007.

With his project just underway, Mennie is getting used to the software but says he lacks the capability to back up the virtual machines without shutting down the server. CadreNet's Trivedi had the same gripe. (VMware supports live backups; Microsoft does not.)

But help's on the way: the next offering, due in June, will support live backups for all operating systems, Crosby says.

Compared with VMware's feature-heavy ESX Server, Crosby says his product "probably has a bell, and a whistle." But the live backup capability is just one improvement of many that he expects in coming releases.

At A Glance

2300 GENG RD., SUITE 250
(650) 798-5900

TICKER: Privately held
PRODUCTS Hypervisor-based XenEnterprise virtualizes Linux and Windows servers and features a management and monitoring console.
Reference Checks

Richard Trivedi
Dir., I.T.

A.J. Ragusa
Systems Engineer

Neal Cowles
Enterprise Application Developer

Leandro Lopez
Sr. Systems Engineer/Architect

Gordon Mennie


Revenue Not disclosed
Funding: $23.5M to date
Investors: Kleiner Perkins Caufi eld & Byers, Sevin Rosen Funds, Accel Partners, New Enterprise Associates

Associate Editor

Brian joined Baseline in March 2006. In addition to previous stints at Inter@ctive Week and The Net Economy, he's written for The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., as well as The Sunday Tribune in Dublin, Ireland. Brian has a B.A. from Bucknell University and a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.


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