Now that virtual machine software is rapidly evolving into becoming a platform, the next logical question seems to be: What kind of platform do we want it to be?
Right now, both VMware and Microsoft are pursuing proprietary approaches to virtualization. The VMware approach is based on the concept of creating a whole range of system services on top of its virtual machine software that VMware will charge for. Microsoft is basically giving away its Hyper-V virtual machine software as part of the proprietary operating system.
But the open source community in general, and Citrix specifically, are arguing that both those approaches are economically and technically flawed. When it comes to Microsoft, Citrix agrees with VMware that in order to build a true set of integrated virtualization services that span servers, networks and storage, you need a platform that sits above any single operating system.
But Citrix vehemently argues that trying to replicate a proprietary Microsoft business model on top of a virtual machine platform is not in the best interests of customers or the industry. To that end, Citrix has rolled out via Xen.org a new open source Xen Cloud Platform (XCP) initiative that makes many of the technologies that VMware has rolled out in vSphere 4 free.
Citrix argues that the industry as a whole should be focused more on competing over how best to manage virtualization by pitting, for example, Citrix Essentials against vCenter, than trying to lock customers into a particular set of lower-level virtualization technologies.
If any of this sounds like a movie you've seen before, you must by now be thinking about the relationship between UNIX, Windows and Linux. UNIX started out as the high-end solution to beat, which Microsoft then challenged by bundling more features into the operating system. Then Linux came along and made the whole bundle available for free. Chances are very good that this drama is about to play out all over again in the virtualization space, except that instead of taking 10 years to unfold, it should be all over in less than two.
What that means is that IT organizations may want to proceed with a little caution. VMware is definitely king of the virtualization hill right now. But Microsoft and Citrix are here to stay. And long term, Citrix could prove to be a whole lot less expensive in terms of total cost of ownership.
So the question is, how are IT organizations going to mange in a world where more than likely there will be multiple virtual machine platforms for years to come?