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Everything Xen. Everything Xen. I Don’t Think So.

Should you rely on a single virtualization technology or should you diversify?

It’s tempting to put all your virtual eggs in one vendor’s basket but is it the right thing to do for you or your customers? The answer depends on how you use virtualization and the impact it makes on your business. No vendor’s product does everything well nor are there any panaceas in the virtualization business. You’ll find that virtualization, itself, is no panacea.

I’m not picking on Citrix product Xen here—it’s just that Bush’s (The Band not the President) lyrics came to mind when I hit the Citrix web site to download Xen Server 5 and saw their tag line: Any Server. Anywhere. Anytime. Citrix has an awesome product and several Cloud vendors use it as the basis for their service but it isn’t necessarily the answer to every question regarding virtualization or virtualized services.

There’s No ESX In Your Balance

If you have Xen, do you need ESX or vice versa? No, certainly not. Your choice of software vendor is an independent choice and choosing one vendor over another is little more than personal preference. These two major vendors do the exact same thing—they virtualize physical machines—they just do it differently.

I’ve asked the best technical people in the IT business, “Which is better, Citrix or VMware?” The answer is always the same: “They’re equally good—just different and each has its own list of disadvantages and advantages.” The choice often boils down to which company representative got to a decision-maker first. Sometimes it’s a matter of history. For example, I worked with a company that had bought into Citrix technology and the addition of Xen was a natural fit for them. The CIO was pleased that he could retain a single consultant and vendor for all his needs. There was no lengthy research, product comparisons, or presentations from the competition—they knew Citrix and were happy with them. Case closed.

Alternatively, VMware has been around for just over 10 years and when most people think of virtualization; they think VMware. This is beginning to change with the entry of Microsoft’s Hyper-V into the market. Microsoft will have its converts as well, if from nowhere else but, “We’re a Microsoft shop and that’s where we’re going.” There’s room for everyone in this burgeoning field and each vendor has its place in the data center—religious wars aside.

Try To See It Once My Way

There’s nothing wrong with mixing up your virtualization strategies with other technologies. If your single use for Xen is for virtual server virtual machines (VMs), you’ve chosen an excellent product that will serve you well in that capacity. If, however, you also want to deploy a virtual desktop environment using thin client hardware and virtual machine desktops, you should consider an additional product. In particular, Red Hat’s KVM product steps up nicely for the job. KVM uses a proprietary protocol (SPICE) that makes it perform extremely well for virtualized desktop infrastructure (VDI) implementations.

Operating system level virtualization (Containers, Zones, and Jails) is a superior method of virtualizing services. This type of virtualization is efficient, free, and requires no additional skills beyond those of a System Administrator. This type of virtualization is used alongside any other type of virtualization and neither competes nor interferes with any other type.

The correct answer for virtualization lies in your needs for it and not in vendor shootouts or in religious arguments and diatribes. As far as the two major vendors (VMware and Xen) are concerned, either choice is a great step forward in your quest for server virtualization. If you’re looking for service virtualization or VDI, you’d be better off opting for something that does a better job.

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