While Citrix Systems’ Xen’s ubiquity may help the technology earn a legacy as the invisible hypervisor, it may also prove the most challenging next step for IT administrators and developers who want to find or develop software that leverages, supports or extends the Xen hypervisor.
To understand the problem that Xen faces, take Java as an example. Java is great, and I am committed to developing applications that are truly cross-platform using what I consider this fantastic creation. But in all the years that Java has been around, it has failed to gain traction that NET has achieved in less time. Why?
Although Java is slower, it offers a greater advantage than .NET in terms of portability; but Java still hasn’t managed to gain a majority mindshare of developers. This is because Java’s true worth is its portability, its ability to blend into any system. Java has succeeded so well at being invisible that it has lost the sexiness associated with languages used to construct desktop and Web applications. Every once in a while, something like the Google Web Toolkit comes along that makes people take a step back and re-evaluate Java’s usefulness for end-user applications. Ultimately, Java has been left to the obscurity of providing enterprise, back-end applications.
Is Xen is destined to a Java-like fate? While ultimately it may not prove difficult to develop cutting-edge technology compatible with the Xen hypervisor, it may prove so to market it. If you are in the business of selling virtualization add-on products, you want to ensure that your product is compatible with VMware Infrastructure, because that is where the sales are.
The marketplace has not been especially kind to Xen for two reasons: it was not first to market, which is an important factor for any industry, and Xen resellers do not have the power of the VMware PR machine. Also, all major virtualization vendors, including VMware, say that hypervisors should be ubiquitous — the difference is that the VMware CEO Diane Greene has been quoted on virtualizationreview.com and in person. VMware shouts the same thing everyone else is casually discussing and this makes headlines.
As Xen’s legacy may be to become the ubiquitous, embedded hypervisor for all to use, its strength may also be its greatest detriment to Xen-based virtualization platforms. Xen’s strength is its practical application as the invisible, reused, resold, embedded hypervisor, but invisibility just hasn’t worked in Citrix’s favor. Instead, it shields partners from building ecosystems around Xen and has marginalized the brand name.