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Simon Crosby, CTO, XenSource

Simon Crosby Though virtualization has long been the playing field of players like IBM and VMWare. The open source Xen project is trying to open up the playing field by providing a freely available virtualization hypervisor.

Xen has garnered the support of IBM and is set to be adopted by Red Hat, Novell SUSE Linux and Sun Solaris.

Separate from the Xen project itself, but inexorably linked is XenSource, which is the lead commercial sponsor of the Xen project. XenSource also produces a commercial management product for Xen called XenOptimizer which was recently released alongside the new Xen 3.0 release.

Sitting at the technical helm of XenSource is CTO Simon Crosby, who recently chatted with internetnews.com about Xen, virtualization and the challenges of making money from an open source effort.

Has the lack of virtualization in the past hurt Linux?

IBM has been in the virtualization game since day one and they have very good hypervisors on P-series, for example. But I don't hear that Linux has been held back due to a lack of virtualization. People want virtualization now -- they just don't want to pay a vast amount of money for it and they don't want to buy into yet another proprietary feature set.

What about the inclusion of Xen in the Linux kernel? Is that something that is very important and when would you expect that to occur?

It's very important and we are working very hard with Red Hat and the OSDL on making that happen. There is a sequence of things that has to happen to make that work. We had to get Xen 3.0 done, which is the case now with APIs that we stick to it that are backwards compatible going forwards. Those patches then need to be upstreamed to kernel.org, and we have weekly calls with the key upstreaming folks. Everybody is really committed to it because everybody wants a common Xen platform.

As the CTO of a company that gets its software from an open development process, what is your biggest challenge? Who drives technological direction - the community or the company?

Ian Pratt, who is our technical founder, is the Xen project leader. He works in an open way with the community. He leads the open source development team and he has a group of sub-architecture maintainers from various other organizations. He drives that process completely independent of us.

I'm the CTO for XenSource, the company, and we have to make it very clear that XenSource is an equal competitor to others in the Xen market. We build products and solutions and sell solutions to enterprises.

Are you concerned about the open source community developing a free/open source alternative to your commercial XenOptimizer product that will work with freely available Xen?

I think that there is going to be a bunch of management products for Xen. One of the things we acknowledged specifically going into this business is that it is a business model based on plenty. It's a scary one but it's a huge market.

So here's the bet. The bet is that if there is a single code base called Xen that everybody adopts and everybody commits too, and if we work with people in an open, collaborative way, everybody will do that because it is in the common interest to have an open, standard hypervisor.

Then people will make investments and create a market. We will be equal among several competitors in that market. Where we do that we have to explicitly acknowledge our conflict, which is that we are interested in management solutions for Xen. For those, we work with our partners in a standards body other than open source.

Can you be open and actually still make money?

Yes. There are numerous very compelling examples of that and, by the way, we are not totally open. The Xen Optimizer is not an open source product and we think we have some proprietary goodness in there that is unique to us. The fundamental philosophy of XenSource is that the market is better for us and everybody else if there is a common, shared hypervisor.

We create this huge market based on the fact that virtualization is pervasive. When virtualization of a standard common hypervisor is pervasive than there is an enormous opportunity to sell value-added product. Essentially by making the hypervisor free, you make the market.