Xen is generating quite a lot of press these days with its acquisition by Citrix for $500 million. Some people have even speculated–a natural conclusion it would seem when you add Citrix’s historical ties with MS with Xensource’s own recent cozying up with Redmond–that this is just a prelude to MS scooping up Citrix and with it acquiring the intellectual property of Xen.
But as usual, when it comes to nascent technologies like virtualization, most of the people’s conclusions are very far off from the actual facts. Microsoft–especially in the recent years–has been trying to cozy up with the open source vendors, and appears to taking great pains to shed their trollish reputation. This could of course, be attributed 7 years of stagnation that MS has faced from 2000 onwards, when almost all their technological forays–into gaming via xbox, into the internet via MSN, the into Internet Development via .NET, and into Web services via .NET Myservices–all failed miserably, with the last one getting scrapped altogether. The last major battle that MS won was the browser war, and that was of course, purely owing to the Windows hegemony. MS, in the new internet age was a lumbering behemoth stumbling along. Yes, their firm grasp on the desktop still gave them the momentum and revenue that absorbed the impact of many of their blunders, but the old invincible MS was gone, and it was reflected in their Stock valuation, which also had seen the same kind of stagnation for quite a long time.
Enough digressing about MS’s failures. Let us get back to Xen and virtualization. Virtualization is a hot commodity, and again it seems MS is sorely lagging in this field, especially when compared to the market leader Vmware. This wouldn’t be really any issue weren’t it for Vmware’s bold claims that their software actually represents a kind of operating system, and can ultimately replace Windows as a platform to write applications in. Vmware’s management had made many such comments, and this must be why MS is disproportionately rattled by Vmware’s lead in virtualization. It doesn’t help that their own Viridian is years away from a solid release, and even the projected released version is going to lack significant features.
Viridian’ palpable technical deficiency compared to Vmware,–amounting to a 2-3 years–coupled with Vmware’s talk of the ‘third’ platform replacing windows, seems to have really rattled MS enough. Enough to make them get into bed the unlikeliest of the allies–Xen. Why is Xen and MS such an odd couple? The reason is that Xen runs [b] only [/b] on Linux. ‘only’ is the keyword here. Yes, of course, Xen supports Windows, but it supports it only as a guest, and not as the host. If we treat virtualiztion on windows as a service, this amounts to MS acknowledging that the best way to implement a key service (virtualization) on windows is by using Linux.
This is really surprising, and I would have thought that Vmware with their presence on both Linux and Windows would have made a better ally to Redmond, but as I have explained earlier, VMware’s tremendous technological lead together with their aggressive statements about platforms seems to have rattled MS enough to miss the obvious.
Into this muddled waters enters Citrix, a long time Windows stalwart, and a company that has quite close historical ties with MS. As I have explained earlier, Xen is something that has absolutely nothing to do with Windows. It doesn’t run on Windows, all it can do is virtualize Windows on a Linux, thereby providing a service to Linux and not to Windows. By buying Xen, and planning to base their windows desktop streaming on Xen, they have effectively turned themselves overnight into a Linux company, a fact, I am sure is not lost on Redmond, nor on the management at Citrix. No wonder the Citrix executives are going out of their to appease Redmond repeating the mantra of ‘we are not competing with MS, unlike Vmware’, in almost all of their public statements. But the fact is, whether Citrix wants to or not, they are now on the wrong side of fence as far as MS is concerned. A virtualization platform that only runs on Linux and can virtualize windows is really not MS would want, and I cannot say with enough pleasure how much I am going to have fun observing what is going to happen in the next few years. MS is quiet now owing their lack of having anything in the market at the present time, and thus the game will completely change when Viridian finally hits the market–though considering MS’s current diffidence I doubt it is going to make a real splash–especially in the early versions, but we can be sure that MS won’t be beating the Xen drum too much once they have Viridian as a solid platform for windows virtualization.
Virtualization, both as a nascent field in continuous turmoil with new players entering everyday, and also a technological frontier that can take Computing to the next step, is a really interesting field. On top of that now we have the unholy triangle of MS-Xen-Citrix, and this has all the ingrediants to turn this into the stuff that cheap pulp thrillers are made of.