XCP aims to standardize open source virtualization

As VMware gathers steam, Xen Cloud Project promotes open standards for private cloud infrastructure.

A new initiative launched Monday by Xen.org, home of the open source hypervisor, aims to standardize virtualization across a broadening spectrum of cloud vendors.

The Xen Cloud Project (XCP) will reportedly standardize "virtual appliances" -- software stacks built for specific purposes -- around standards such as the Open Virtualization Format and push for adoption of other standards to allow interoperability between different virtualized environments. Early backers include Citrix, which maintains XenSource and XenServer, as well as Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Novell and Rackspace.

The stated aim of the XCP is to clarify and simplify choices for customers using public clouds and make it easier for data centers to choose a virtualization platform. An unstated goal is to provide something of a unified front against the steady progression of proprietary technology into cloud computing. VMware released vSphere and vCloud as fully supported, proprietary ways for enterprise customers to develop their data centers into internal, private clouds. They also help entrench VMware as the foundation for cloud providers.

"VMware's approach is really just about federation," said Xen.org founder Ian Pratt. VMware is aware that its enterprise customers will want to use external virtualized resources, and it wants to find ways to securely string together those virtualized environments, he said. Pratt's goal with XCP is to increase interoperability so that VMware users won't necessarily be limited to VMware-only cloud or service vendors.

"There's a lot to be gained by having standardization at this layer," he said. VMware was designed with the enterprise data center in mind, without the peculiar flexibility and delivery model of public cloud infrastructures such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Rackspace Cloud Servers, Pratt said. Sticking to a comprehensive and open standard for all virtualized infrastructures could turn cloud computing into a "VM-hosting appliance" instead of a collection of discrete, fenced off reserves, he added.

"The overall aim of this is to accelerate the pace of developing clouds," said Pratt. Xen powers large public providers like AWS and Cloud Servers, but it is dwarfed by VMware in the lucrative private enterprise market. Even if the XCP initiative doesn't lure enterprises away from VMware, it may tempt new cloud providers that can't afford expensive VMware clouds but need enterprise customers. "The fact that it's open, rather than just free, is very important and is going to be to Xen's advantage," Pratt said.

Carlos Montero-Luque, vice president of business and product management for Open Platform Solutions at Novell said in a statement, "Creating a stable, well-defined public API [application programming interface] for Xen will help drive its rapid adoption inside the enterprise and in clouds."

Carl Brooks is the Technology Writer for SearchCloudComputing.com, and Colin Steele is the Site Editor for SearchServerVirtualization.com. Check our the rest of our VMworld 2009 conference coverage.

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