XenServer: A Hypervisor to Be Reckoned with in 2016?

As part of the revised Citrix focus on app and desktop delivery, the XenServer hypervisor is gaining increased attention within Citrix. Is it too little too late, or will IT shops find a way to get over the betrayal they felt when Citrix seemed to abandon XenServer?

One of the reasons VMware has achieved success with Horizon 6 is because one-stop shopping is enabled based on the hypervisor purchase. I.e., if you have purchased VMware vSphere, there is a good chance that VMware will entice you to extend it with its application and desktop virtualization solution. Further, VMware has made it clear that it will not port Horizon 6 to any other hypervisor.

Citrix purchased XenSource in 2007, and during the subsequent years, there has been intermittent emphasis on XenServer. For the first four years, it was top of mind, with robust engineering, new enhancements, and evangelism by the brilliant Simon Crosby. However, for a few years after Simon’s departure in 2011, the XenServer team became scarce and quiet. Rumors surfaced that the lack of focus meant that Citrix was abandoning XenServer. New releases were few and far between, and marketing was lackluster. Hands-on Labs at Citrix Synergy in 2012 were based on Microsoft Hyper-V, which further caused participants to question the future of XenServer.

During that time, VMware continued to improve vSphere and made strong market share gains with its hypervisor. Despite its cost, VMware vSphere became the de facto standard within many organizations, including those IT shops that had previously started down the path of XenServer. Having spent many hours with VMware vSphere, I can say it is certainly a robust, scalable, and feature-rich hypervisor.

Although Microsoft threatened to become a major force in the hypervisor market starting with Windows Server 2008 R2, and there was a surge with the Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2012 R2 releases, it never overtook the market or retained significant share. Having spent a fair amount of time hands-on with Hyper-V, I found it to be clumsy and lacking intuitiveness.

Fast-forward to 2015. With the XenServer 6.5 release early this year, Citrix added features and let it be known that XenServer wasn’t going to roll over and die. The new feature set was compelling, including such items as 64-bit hardware support, impressive vGPU scalability, and significant performance improvements.

However, XenServer had gone eighteen months without so much as a dot release or feature enhancements, and in the world of technology, that’s equivalent to forever. The market had to be re-introduced to XenServer, and IT shops that had felt betrayed during that quiet period needed to be convinced that it was here to stay. Marketing and stated focus can only address some of that; longevity and persistence are the real tests.

It’s difficult to ascertain the real market share of VMware vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V, and Citrix XenServer as it pertains to application and desktop virtualization workloads. Of course, we know that Horizon 6 workloads run 100% on VMware vSphere. A fair percentage of Microsoft Remote Desktop implementations run on Hyper-V, but statistics vary as to whether most XenApp/‌XenDesktop deployments run on VMware vSphere or Citrix XenServer.

From an IT perspective, migrating to XenServer for XenApp/XenDesktop workloads has some advantages. “Free” is a compelling word. Very compelling. Citrix includes XenServer as part of XenApp/XenDesktop Platinum licensing. Even those who felt betrayed throughout the silent years or voice concerns that its feature set or management tools are not as sophisticated as VMware vSphere’s may get overruled based on price. It’s hard to argue with free.

Is XenServer a force to be reckoned with in 2016 for XenApp/‌XenDesktop implementations? Some Citrix statistics will tell you that the majority of XenApp/XenDesktop implementations are based on XenServer. I’m not so sure about that, but its definitely a fair percentage and growing. After all, XenServer is straightforward yet full of features and functionality. Out of the big three hypervisors, it is definitely the easiest to use.

From a support and maintenance perspective, running your application and desktop virtualization solution on that vendor’s hypervisor makes business and technical sense in many ways; e.g., issue resolution is much easier. VMware fully realized this several years ago. Citrix has finally come to that realization as well, but is it too little too late?

With the economy improving, many IT organizations are finally moving forward with much-needed system upgrades in 2016, which may include the application and desktop virtualization solution, as well as the hypervisor. As XenApp/XenDesktop upgrades are planned, XenServer has greater potential to become the new hypervisor platform.

Staying hypervisor agnostic has its advantages, and Citrix is in an excellent position to support its own and other hypervisors for XenApp/XenDesktop workloads. If Citrix can demonstrate long-term XenServer focus, an increasing number of IT shops will forgive and forget the blunder of 2012–2014, and it will be a hypervisor to be reckoned with in 2016.

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Jo Harder
Jo Harder has been involved with virtualization for over 17 years, long before virtualization was the norm. After holding several sales and marketing positions, she started down the path of bits and bytes while at AT&T/Lucent Technologies. She then moved onto Citrix in 1999, where she became a Senior Architect. Her 11-year tenure included a combination of Citrix Consulting and Technical Readiness roles. After leaving Citrix, Jo provided consulting services for various clients for the next year. In her current role at a hosting provider, she is focused on cloud-based solutions for financial industry clients. In February 2015, she was awarded Citrix Technology Professional. Jo's diverse background of sales, marketing, management, and architectural/technical expertise brings a unique perspective to Virtualization Practice. She welcomes input from vendors, industry contacts, and end users and can be reached at joharder@virtualizationpractice.com.
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8 Comments on "XenServer: A Hypervisor to Be Reckoned with in 2016?"

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Guest

“Citrix includes XenServer as part of XenApp/XenDesktop Platinum licensing” is not fully correct; the licensing is also included with XenDesktop/XenApp Enterprise licenses.

Guest

Hi Jo,

Great article, however I want to provide one update on the inclusion of XenServer within XenApp/XenDesktop products.

Whilst there is no specific XenServer edition included in XenApp/XenDesktop features, for the large part the majority of XenServer features are included free-of-charge within ALL XenApp/XenDesktop editions. There are just a select few features that are included only within the Platinum editions of XenApp/XenDesktop.

Please check out this Citrix support KB article CTX200502 for more information.

Thanks
XenServer Product Marketing

Guest

Citrix XenServer Product management team should prioritize features like “backup integration”, “Ceph support” to make XS on-par with mainstream hypervisors like Hyper-V and vSphere. Only relying on success stories from past would not help.
Enterprise customers bother about certified backup, storage integrations, robust disaster recovery mechanisms.
and think about client software for Linux also, current XenCenter is today windows only.

Guest

XenServer is a formidable plate-form with a great API, but it deserves a far better interface. That’s exactly the point of Xen Orchestra! Take a look 🙂

Guest

@Oliver, wonderful news, I find XenOrchestra as a great tool with huge potential.
How about the messaging to customers? how can existent /new customers know about XO? can CItrix slipstream some info in documentation/announcements

Guest

Is you need a snapshot of a vm in citrix xenserver, you need the same capacity free on the lun, which is quite expensive.
Suppose you have a 4 TB file server, and need to update this one, you normally create a snapshot for rollback, suppose something is going wrong. You need however double the capacitity of the VM to achieve this. 8 TB is needed at least. If this is not fixed, xenserver is not a serious hypervisor.

Guest
Xen is the hypervisor and the second word is “server” in XenServer. What does this mean, Peter? Since 2009 i am using Xenserver. Xenserver won in 2009 against Proxmox. In 2016 Xenserver (7.0) is no more in the position to be a competitor. But why? Proxmox works with ZFS, Ceph, GlusterFS and .. and … (Peter: a zfs-snapshot is not comparible to a lvm-snapshot. Faster and with smaller size). With a browser i can work on the vm hosted in my proxmox-node or -cluster. No need to have a “receiver”. I have my data where i want them i a… Read more »
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