For the last few years, Citrix has been busy building out the next generation cloud computing platform. Between the open source XenServer hypervisor and the Xen Cloud platform, Citrix offers key building blocks for hosting and managing cloud workloads. Industry leaders such as Rackspace recognize the value of these technologies in the cloud marketplace.

However, our efforts are not limited to open source code. As a board member of the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF), Citrix has been working to standardize key elements of the cloud technology stack. The aim is create interoperability between private, enterprise and hosted clouds, maximizing opportunities to truly innovate in cloud computing on top of standard interfaces.

The DMTF has set forth the Open Virtualization Format (OVF) standard for representing virtual machines on a file system. As detailed in their informative white paper, OVF tackles two problems: how to represent a set of related VM’s (or a “virtual appliance”) in a single package; and how to create a portable package format. The OVF standard continues to gain momentum in the industry with support from IBM, Oracle’s VirtualBox, VMware and Citrix.

The release of Citrix XenServer 5.6 marks a key milestone in merging the technology and standardization efforts. From the XenCenter management tool, XenServer users can now import and export OVF formatted virtual machines and virtual appliances. However, unlike many other implementations, Citrix didn’t pay mere lip service to the interoperability aspect of OVF. Instead, we have expended considerable effort to enable import of OVF packages from other vendors. Already have a legacy investment in OVF packages exported from VMware? No problem! XenCenter will import the OVF, repackage the disk images, and update the drivers so the virtual machine(s) will boot on the XenServer platform.

As a companion benefit of this work, a similar wizard in XenCenter can also import raw VMDK, VHD, WIM (Windows Imaging Format) and even VDI disk image files. Just supply the hardware parameters to the import wizard and XenCenter will apply the same disk and driver fix-up process to make the image bootable in your XenServer-based cloud.

With such an ambitious charter for an initial release, we expect this XenCenter feature to be a boon to IT departments looking for flexible and interoperable VM management tools. However, we also expect that modern IT departments will find some new challenges that we didn’t anticipate. So, if this initiative interests you, download XenServer 5.6 and give it a test drive. Let us know how it works, both the successes and the areas with room to improve. Leave comments here or head over to the XenServer support forums.