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XenServer 2013 – A Year in Review and a view to the future

It was the worst of times; it was the best of times. The opening paragraph to Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities describes a world not unlike our own, and in the years I've been working with technology, never has a quote applied more to a product I'm working on. The start of 2013 was our winter of despair. This was the time of XenServer 6.1, and a release that was in desperate need of attention. Performance, stability and overall capabilities were frequently called into question in forums, Twitter and in blogs. Almost daily there were cries of pain and claims of plans to migrate from XenServer. While I know some did migrate, migration isn't exactly painless so we had a chance to recover; but we needed to do the right things starting with two huge items:

  • Patch the product. It took a few months, but we finally got that right. As of the end of 2013 we're at patch 34, so it's not been an easy time, but XenDesktop customers can have every confidence a deployment on XenServer 6.1 as part of their product entitlement is a good choice.
  • Improve performance. For years it was possible to purchase a server that had more capacity to run VMs than XenServer was capable of running. In an attempt to resolve this we developed cool new architectures like Windsor, but after doing some heavy-duty performance analysis it was determined bottlenecks did exist, and that they could be resolved. So resolve them we did, with the result being an ability to run hundreds of VMs per host in XenServer 6.2.

We also realized that in the cloud era our users are interested in being in control of their IT in the way they deploy, purchase and integrate their infrastructure so we moved XenServer to an open source development model. An announcement doesn't make for a viable open source project and I was officially given the mandate to manage the community and evangelize the technology. Since most people starting a new position take stalk of where things are, that's what I did and the results weren't pretty. I found we hadn't completed posting source code and minimal communication was occurring on the lists; and while we're not great at it, we're getting better. I beat the drum consistently within the XenServer development team that we need to be more transparent and accountable. I would love to say that we've fully transitioned to an open source and transparent model, but still need to improve as we get more comfortable with an open development model for XenServer.

In terms of key metrics, we've grown by double digits in downloads, page views, code contributions and mailing list activity. In December 2013 we released a service pack delivering to the XenDesktop community a strategic advantage; true hardware GPU sharing. If you experience an issue with the service pack, please let us know. That can be via support ticket (preferred), forum post, or even by tweeting @XenServerArmy.
Secondly, it turned out that XenServer 6.2 is not the source which is posted to the XenServer GitHub repository, and which the nightly builds on are related too. The GitHub and activity represents trunk, and XenServer 6.2 is a branch that was forked prior to the open sourcing of XenServer. This is very important to the community I'm looking to build as I feel we need to be moving forward together, and the relationship of source to release build matters greatly. Several of you have asked on the lists, on Twitter and via LinkedIn about the status of work items on the project plan and how they relate to XenServer 6.2 SP1. The unfortunate answer is there is minimal relationship today due to the fork. The good answer is that as we move forward in 2014 things will align and we will continue to improve XenServer with a defined goal of delivering clear value to the Citrix product stack.
I've mentioned the type of community I want to create, but this is your community and you have a voice. Making your voices known on Twitter (@XenServerArmy), in forums, via blog comments, or in person at events is very welcome. The answer you receive may not always be the one you want, but your input is always welcome. As I opened this post with a Dickens quote from the same novel it's only fitting to close it with yet another that I hope conveys the progress I hope to make in 2014.

"And a beautiful world we live in, when it is possible, and when many other such things are possible, and not only possible, but done-- done, see you!-- under that sky there, every day."

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Tim Mackey is a corporate evangelist for XenServer within the Citrix Cloud Platforms Group and focused on server virtualization and cloud orchestration technical competencies.
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Guest Friday, 18 July 2014


Citrix supports the open source community via developer support and evangeslism. We have a number of developers and evangelists that participate actively in the open source community in Apache Cloudstack, OpenDaylight, Xen Project and XenServer. We also conduct educational activities via the Build A Cloud events held all over the world.