XenSource Quest: ‘Enlightened’ OS

SAN FRANCISCO — Peter Levine, the CEO of open source virtualization vendor XenSource, has a tall order.

He wants to “enlighten” every operating system on the planet.

“Our agenda is to make sure that virtualization shows up everywhere across all systems so we can unlock value in IT,” Levine said during a keynote presentation at the LinuxWorld conference in San Francisco.

His presentation turned out a bit different than he had originally intended since VMware, a proprietary virtualization company, was supposed to join him for the keynote. The company apparently begged off on participating.

“VMware is a great company that came about at a time when there wasn’t hardware or operating support yielding the need to develop a thick stack that does emulation,” Levine said.

Now, the market is largely dominated by VMware. That’s why Xen came in to being — to provide another alternative, he continued.

“When there is only one vendor, there is a low rate of innovation.”

Still, only a small portion of the server market is virtualized today.

“We believe that using an open source model that exploits hardware and para-vitualization, we can deliver to the remaining 94 percent of the market.”

Levine admitted that when he joined XenSource he didn’t really understand open source since he was coming from a proprietary background at Veritas. Now, he said, he gets it.

Xen claims 20,000 downloads a month across 143 countries and is set to be included in every major operating system, including Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise 10, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, Sun Solaris, most BSDs and Microsoft Windows.

“If we were building a closed source virtualization company we couldn’t do it,” Levine said. “Open source has created a pool of resources beyond what we have employed at XenSource.”

The pace of innovation in an open source company helps Xen stay abreast of server advances, too. For example, Levine noted that software vendors typically only begin to program to server chips once hardware vendors put their servers into production.

Xen, however, is developing concurrently with the software and hardware products.

It all adds up to his notion of enlightenment.

“In order to achieve ubiquity, the operating system needs to be aware that it will be virtualized,” he continued. “That notion is called para-virtualizaion or enlightenment.”

In older, non-enlightened virtualization technology, there is a very thick microkernel stack that is a full operating environment.

“We wanted to make sure we could provide Xen goodness across platforms regardless of how people consume virtualization.”

As for Xen’s development deal with Microsoft, he called it “the right thing to do in order to get virtualization everywhere and to make Linux a first class citizen on Windows. We think it opens up a large part of the market that was closed of to Linux before.”

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