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Strange Bedfellows: Citrix, (Free) Xen & Microsoft

XenServer is now free and Citrix is partnering with Microsoft. What does it all mean?

As you probably already know, yesterday at 12:01am ET, Citrix XenServer is now free. In case you didn’t know that, you read correctly; It’s free — free to download, free to use, unlimited use, no license fees — in other words, it’s free. Is that the biggest news, you ask? Nope, not by a country mile.

This announcement comes as one part of what I’m calling, “The Citrix Triple Smackdown.” The smackdown includes releasing XenServer as a free product, a new management product line called Essentials and an extended partnership between Citrix and Microsoft to include virtualization. This threefold announcement arrives on the heels of Red Hat’s Microsoft partnership announcement to provide mutual virtualization support. Two Linux companies within a week forming strategic partnerships with Microsoft? Economic stress leads to some strange bedfellows indeed.

Demystifying the Smackdown

Let’s look at what these announcements and partnerships mean to you, the virtualization customer. First, if you use Xen (or want to) it means that you’ll enjoy an superb, enterprise-level product suite at no charge. The software savings alone could allow you to refresh or expand your virtualization hardware infrastructure—a savings of $5,000 or more per server. If you haven’t yet made the great leap into virtualization, this announcement helps you get there on a greatly reduced budget.

Second, for those using open source Xen will have no barriers in moving now to a highly scalable solution with the same costs — none.

Finally, this will cause a shift away from VMware. Right now, VMware is the alpha dog in this market but this move puts VMware’s position as the dominant commercial virtualization vendor and provider at risk. I don’t expect a current VMware customer mass exodus but for anyone who’s on the fence about virtualization just found a home with Xen.

The second part of this “Triple Smackdown” is Citrix’s new Essentials for XenServer and Hyper-V. You now have the ability to manage Xen VMs and Hyper-V VMs within the same management application. So what? Anyone can create a cross-platform or cross-vendor application, right? Sure they can but can they move VMs and workloads seamlessly between the two like the new Citrix Essentials? Maybe? But they don’t have Microsoft’s buy-in like Citrix does for Citrix Essentials.

The final blow in the smackdown is that Microsoft and Citrix will engage in a worldwide campaign to promote this combined solution. We all know how powerful a marketing force Microsoft is and this pairing could make their campaign virtually (pardon the pun) unstoppable.

Cloud Seeding

This bold move by Citrix certainly has its implications for its near 100% share of the cloud vendor market. Watch for a boom in the number of cloud vendors and related businesses as partial fallout from this landmark decision. You’ll also see significant expansion in the cloud sector. I hate to be overly-optimistic about this but giving away Xen could be the boost the IT industry is looking for. A boost in cloud-related business, a boost in cloud infrastructure, and a boost in cloud applications — not to mention the opportunities for companies to move workloads to the cloud for pennies an hour.

Where’s Vmware?

Of course, everyone wants to read VMware’s reaction this news. VMware has a few options. First, they can ignore the news completely. That isn’t very likely. Second, they could respond by giving away ESX and making it open source –again, not likely. Third, they could respond by offering reduced cost consulting services to anyone wanting to use their products. Finally, and most likely, their response will be that they will be forced to purchase Xen from Citrix.

A bold prediction? Perhaps, but here is my one and only reason for thinking that this is the only choice they have. If VMware was forced to open source ESX and it was found to violate the GPL, there would be major legal and ethical issues at hand. I’m not making any accusations but it is a rather sticky situation for them.

How significant an industry smackdown Citrix has dealt will become clearer with time and VMware’s response. It also makes one wonder how Red Hat will take this news following their recent hookup with Microsoft. One thing’s for sure, 2009 is going to be an interesting year for virtualization.

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