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Introducing Xen

Project aims to develop open-source software for virtualization


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By Anne Stuart, June 2006

Although it will be a few years before virtualization is standard on either corporate or personal computer systems, you can expect plenty of buzz about it in the coming months.

The most buzzed-about aspect is likely to be Xen (pronounced ‘zen,’) a project to develop open-source virtualization software. The ongoing effort involves many of the IT industry’s biggest players – including HP and many of its competitors.

“We’ve been long-time contributors to Xen,” says Tom Christian, an HP Labs scientist based in Fort Collins, Colo. “In fact, HP was the first major company to start working with that platform.”

IBM, AMD, Sun and Intel are among the other vendors working on the Xen initiative, which some compare to development of the Linux open-source operating system. Even market leader VMware, which has for years sold products based on its own virtualization technology, is participating in the Xen project to support development of common interfaces to virtualization services.

At this writing (late March 2006) Xen isn’t quite ready for prime time. Beta testing is underway, and researchers are resolving performance problems and fixing bugs.

“Customers can get it and start playing with it to get a feel for how it works, but it’s not for mission-critical applications yet,” says Xen contributor John Janakiraman, a Palo Alto-based HP Labs researcher.

But he adds that “more mature” releases of Xen should be available in the second half of this year, with enhancements in the work coming further down the road.

Meanwhile, “even with its current shortcomings, Xen has changed the industry,” Christian says. “It’s already acknowledged as a competitor even without having shipped a product.”

Anne Stuart is a Boston-based freelance journalist who has written about business, technology, and the Internet for more than a decade.

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