There’s an amusing article on SearchServerVirtualization.comin which Mike Grandinetti, of Virtual Iron claims that XenSource’s lawyers “dropped a bomb on the Xen community last month when they announced that ‘you’ll have to pay to certify your apps against our test suite, and you’ll have to pay us some more to use the name'”.
I can categorically state that Grandinetti’s statement is an outright fabrication and utter nonsense. XenSource has never made such an announcement, and would never do so. In my view this sort of PR stunt does Virtual Iron and its investors a huge disfavor. Though I hate to give them more press than they deserve, I wanted to set the facts straight.

XenSource is the legal owner of the Xen(tm) trademark. Xen is a code base for a freely available, industry standard hypervisor that is licensed under GPL and developed collaboratively by a community of contributors using the open source model. It represents a huge investment not only on the part of XenSource, but also on the part of (to name but a few) Intel, AMD, IBM, HP, Dell, Red Hat, Novell, VA Linux, NEC, Sun, Fujitsu-Siemens, Egenera, Stratus, NVIDIA, Emulex, Qlogic, Bull, rPath, Cisco and all of the 50+ ISVs in our ecosystem that rely on a consistent implementation of the features and APIs of the hypervisor for their products to work. Combined, this community invests tens of millions of dollars per year into the development of the Xen hypervisor and value-added products.

Naturally, since Xen is delivered to market by many vendors, many of them want to state that their product includes Xen. That way, they get to benefit from the brand awareness and customer preference that has arisen from the tremendous following associated with the Xen project. The XenSource trademark policy for the Xen brand was designed to allow any vendor that faithfully implements the Xen hypervisor to qualify, free of charge, to use of the “includes Xen” logo on its products, and to state textually that their product includes Xen. XenSource is no different than any other vendor in this regard. Our products faithfully implement Xen, and so we can say that they include Xen. The policy was designed to foster a strong ecosystem of vendors around Xen, and was modelled after the successful trademark policy created by MySQL, which also has an “includes MySQL” program. The Mozilla Foundation, home of the Firefox browser, also uses its marks to ensure the quality of implementation of its products. So, what vendors faithfully implement the Xen hypervisor? Red Hat, Novell, Sun – all significant contributors to Xen, as well as Xandros, Ubuntu, Mandriva and many other Distros. And of course, nobody has to call their hypervisor Xen – they can call it whatever they like.

The XenSource trademark policy aims to serve the community and incorporates community feedback. It protects the community’s investment, and gives the vendors of faithful implementations the benefit of the brand. It prevents customer confusion: A vendor of a proprietary hypervisor that claims it is Xen could mislead customers and cause disappointment when it does not perform to spec.

The Virtual Iron hypervisor is not the Xen hypervisor – it’s a proprietary product (some of which is open sourced because they use bits & pieces of Xen code). Virtual Iron has not yet made any significant contributions back to the Xen community. Presumably they believe this gives them an edge in the market. Maybe it does. But if that’s the case, I don’t understand why they don’t just stand up and say so, rather than trying to jump on the Xen brand-wagon.

So what led to the Virtual Iron outburst? Your guess is as good as mine. My take is that they don’t have anything interesting to say and they are looking for press headlines. For some, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

I honestly wish VI every success – the virtualization market is big enough, after all. They have an excellent engineering team, many of whom have personally made the effort to reach out to the Xen community. Virtual Iron could make valuable contributions to the Xen code base. I just wish they would have the courage to participate fully in the reciprocal give-and-take of the open source community process, rather than just taking – and feeling second best as a result.