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Microsoft Embraces Open-Source Xen To Run Open-Source Linux

Microsoft wants Linux to run effectively under its most advanced virtualization software, an upcoming hypervisor slated to be part of a new version of Windows Server, code-named Longhorn. To ensure that it does, the company entered a technology development partnership last week with XenSource, the supplier of the increasingly popular Xen virtualization engine.

The move was something of an about-face. Xen, like Linux, is open source code, and Microsoft has called open source software a challenge to intellectual property rights. But ignoring the growing strength of Xen in the virtualization market could have been hazardous for Microsoft.

More Than Hype

What is a hypervisor?
An efficient virtualization engine that can generate multiple virtual computers on one physical computer. Hypervisors can host virtual machines using different operating systems running next to each other.

How does it work?
It runs like a microkernel operating system connected to the metal of a chip. There's no intervening operating system, so hypervisors run much faster than older forms of virtualization.

Who has one?
For the x86 world, hypervisors are available from VMware and Xen, with Microsoft planning on delivering one sometime next year.

IBM a few days earlier said it was supporting Xen as it gets added to Suse Linux 10, an enterprise server version of Linux about to be updated by Novell. Chipmakers Advanced Micro Devices and Intel are building support for virtualization, which Xen exploits, into their latest chips. Red Hat has unveiled its own plans to support Xen in the next release of Red Hat Linux.

For Microsoft, the danger signs were sprouting everywhere. Virtualization, the ability to partition a hardware server into multiple virtual software machines, is helping drive the trend toward server consolidation. Microsoft had the option of running with the trend or running into it.

Customers using both Windows and Linux also were asking, "What are you doing to make our lives easier?" concedes Jeff Price, senior director for Windows Server. The right response, it seems, was not another Microsoft "Get the Facts" campaign aimed at Xen. ("Get the Facts" tries to convince IT managers that Windows costs less to operate than Linux.)

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