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XenSource's Simon Crosby speaks out

Crosby delivers trenchant views on the future of the virtualisation industry

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Open source virtualisation developer XenSource has just inked a deal with Symantec to collaborate on embedding Veritas Storage Foundation into XenEnterprise, and delivering HA/DR and backup technology to XenSource's customers. In the wake of that deal, founder and CTO Simon Crosby was in London recently to explain the background to the deal. He also delivers his trenchant thoughts on the future of the virtualisation industry -- and launches a serious critique of VMware and even of business partner Microsoft.

Q: How do you see the future of the virtualisation market? A: The world has created a new Microsoft -- there's a monster embedded in our industry. So the market is starting to crystallise, partly as a consequence of the way that VMware is building its company. They just want to sell more and more, and it's starting to step on people's toes.

Q: Is VMware really that horrible? A: Unlike VMware, Microsoft doesn't compete with its channel but leaves room for an ecosystem. It's a superb platform player. Microsoft is very conscious of its scale and leaves pockets of $100m markets around for its partners. Our relationship with Microsoft is strong, will remain strong, and strengthens every day. Microsoft has been a very supportive partner.

The chink in VMware's armour is the weakness of its ecosystem -- all its partners are under threat. That said, I wouldn't fault VMware entirely. VMware has grown very fast -- they had to do that so I can't fault them for it, but no-one's making money out of VMware. There's a general sense of unease.

Q: Will virtualisation technology be absorbed into the OS? A: There's plenty of scope for development. Microsoft's Viridian feature set has been slashed because the features in the kernel of Server 2008 were fixed and there was otherwise an overlap between it and Viridian. And Red Hat and Novell haven't done much with Xen yet. None of the virtualisation platforms are anything but a way of virtualising themselves.

We have managed to benefit from relationships on both sides. Open source is a very clearly articulated argument -- it's about aligning a community around a common codebase. Some of the open source software (OSS) vendors compete with each other not with the bigger guys. OSS generates pull-through because the customers get a richer set of services -- it's a longer term play. We believe that the virtualisation engine is a standard, commoditised product that has to be open. It must address a range of CPUs, and have a big hardware footprint.

It's also important not to make it the whole product so others get an incentive to take it to market. We don't do an ESX [VMware's flagship product] -- that's a car not an engine -- because an engine is more flexible, you can use it anywhere and it gives space for others to develop, and they have financial incentives to do so.

Q: Why is Microsoft not perceived as the big Satan now? A: The consent decree has changed things -- there are 1,400 lawyers at Microsoft. In every conversation with them we find they're absolutely egalitarian about access to APIs. They have huge market control but they realise they have to embrace and manage open source. That means they have to interoperate and work with it, because they know they can't eliminate it -- the world's changed. Also they're huge so their ability to innovate gets clogged up, which leaves tons of space for others to innovate -- they've learned to cooperate with others in markets they can't get to.

Also, I think in terms of the scale of everything Microsoft does, virtualisation is only a minor project in a monster organisation. Virtualisation has become the major shaping force in the industry -- and they [Microsoft] said that they thought that more VMs meant more revenue but they're changing that as customers need to know that it's OK to start Windows in a VM.

Q: Will this change? A: I don't know where they're going with this -- it could be that things are taking longer. The policy is rational but they haven't communicated that to the market yet. It's a huge opportunity for someone to be make a product to manage licensing -- using technology used for DRM and licensing so that you know how long an OS has run etc. It would need to be an independent verifiable source for legal licensing.

Q: Will Xen continue to use the same technology in future -- in other words, para-virtualisation? A: Para-virtualisation is an awful name: if someone asks what would you rather have, full virtualisation or para-virtualisation, what's your answer? The aim was to encourage OS vendors to make the OS ready for virtualisation -- but 95 percent of applications and OSes are legacy, unvirtualised.

Para-virtualisation is relevant in another content -- we use para-virtualised I/O and timers etc by inserting drivers etc into Windows to get a fast stack working. From a product perspective, it means the guest automatically installs the right software and it just works. We hook into the HAL and get the best performance.

But most of the OSes aren't para-virtualised -- there's only RHEL 5 and SLES 10. The important thing is that in future every OS will be ready to run on a hypervisor. [Intel's] VT gives us everything else.

Q: How do you see virtualisation evolving over the next two years? A: Hardware vendors will certify the hypervisor and it's up to the customer to do everything else. Customers want to virtualise everything else because the savings are so huge -- the confidence in virtualisation is high but it's too complex for the average guy.

On the client, virtualisation technology has to be invisible and work using [management] technology such as Intel's vPro. There also has to be a viable ecosystem or it's a niche product.

The world will break into two camps: VMware, where you add more features and sell more software, or open source. We're just a great component -- we do a fantastic job of server virtualisation working with best of breed partners -- we plug into storage virtualisation and it all works.

We have agreements with people such as Stratus and Marathon -- there's lots we've not announced yet. Virtualisation will be another category of IT admin -- you'll find virtualisation specialists much as you have database specialists etc now.

Q: What about skill sets? A: Lack of skill sets is a major barrier to take-up. We have over 300 certified partners, over 500 certified trained partner engineers worldwide who train the trainers -- we have a course that partners can resell. For virtualisation to be prolific, there has to be a step up in terms of know-how.


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