Today xen.org announced a significant expansion of its charter – the Xen Cloud Platform – with support from the key Xen contributors and project advisory board members, the Linux Foundation and some of the Industry’s largest enterprise cloud providers.

The new initiative will unite the Xen community in the delivery of a complete virtual infrastructure platform designed to enable cloud providers to offer rich, enterprise-class infrastructure services.

Why is Xen.org doing this? Is it an act of desperation or capitulation? Is KVM about to eat Xen’s lunch?
Does the Xen community fear a “v” imprinted on every Cloud? Having spent the week before VMWorld briefing press and analysts on our intentions, and getting a read of their views, it’s likely that a few will see this as a reactive move. But several of the leading journalists and analysts have correctly analyzed our intentions, which I hope to explain in more detail here.

But first,

  • This has nothing to do with KVM, which is a nascent type-2 virtualization technology that has yet to be delivered in an enterprise product and that allows Linux to host additional virtual machines. Xen is a bare-metal type-1 hypervisor that uses Linux to host drivers and managment software for the hardware, but that is completely guest OS agnostic. (Xen 3.0 shipped in 2005. Xen.org has also developed a type-2 hypervisor for Linux, Windows and MacOS X).
  • A “v” imprinted on every Cloud would indeed be a bad thing, because it would mean that all cloud vendors would be stuck with the same features determined by a single, closed, proprietary stack. So Cloud A would have no value-add over Cloud B, and moreover they would have a built-in tax payable to VMware built into their services, for life.
  • Desperation? No. The public IaaS clouds would not exist were it not for Xen, which as an reference industry open standard hypervisor dominates the public cloud. The project has a strong commitment to its installed-base and to delivering features that will enable IaaS clouds to evolve beyond today’s virtual private server model toward rich virtual private data centers, by offering a powerful set of enterprise-class infrastructure virtualization features.

The project started with community-based development of the Xen hypervisor, which (in an oft repeated analogy) is the “engine” of a virtualization platform, but not the complete “car” – which has until now been a vendor’s combination of Xen and additional components. Now Xen.org develops two complete cars: The Xen Client Intiative already develops a complete client hypervisor product, and the project will develop a complete cloud virtual infrastructure platform.
What defines a cloud platform? It contains a set of virtualization technologies that enable a cloud service provider to:

  • Virtualize server resources with isolation and resource guarantees between multiple tenants on the same server
  • Virtualize pools of server resources to enable rich enterprise-class services such as high availability and disaster recovery, automatic workload scaling and resource optimization
  • Virtualize cloud storage to enable rich, stateful workload lifecycle management including snapshots, fast cloning, and dynamic provisioning across large server infrastructures
  • Virtualize network resources to extend multi-tenancy across sets of servers with network isolation and resource guarantees, and an ability to manipulate the virtual topology and insert virtualized layer 3 through 7 networking functions for security, routing, load balancing, app firewalling, protocol optimization and other delivery services.
  • Expose via a rich set of open APIs visibility into and control over all resources, so that the cloud service provider can offer its customers – tenants – full control over and visibility into their virtual private data centers.
  • Offer complete VM compatibility across all virtualization platforms, to prevent the cloud market from being fragmented and adoption stalling due to incompatibility.
  • All in open source, of course, to permit easy adoption by the world’s largest clouds.

This is the mission of the Xen Cloud Platform project.

It’s important to note that Xen.org is not aiming to commoditize the service and orchestration layers of the cloud that are currently enjoying rich innovation both in open source – for example by Eucalyptus, OpenNebula, Nimbus and others – and commercial vendors – such as VMOps, Platform Computing, Enigmatec and by cloud service providers such as Amazon VPC, RackSpace, GoGrid, and SoftLayer. Think of our goals as being the cloud extension of a hypervisor – an engine for cloud services perhaps, but not the whole cloud.

The xen.org blogs will provide more detail as the project progresses, but as we head into VMworld, here’s a reminder for our event hosts: