XCP-ng offers new hypervisor option for cost-conscious shops

A new open source fork of Citrix XenServer includes many features proprietary hypervisors offer, but it's not likely to displace market leaders any time soon.

Companies looking to cut virtualization management costs have a new option. XCP-ng is a free open source fork of Citrix XenServer that includes many of the advanced features found in expensive proprietary hypervisors.

While larger companies that have heavily invested in VMware or Hyper-V are unlikely to make a switch, smaller companies can consider open source hypervisors to cut costs. However, jumping wholesale into alternative hypervisors can present a challenge and administrators should be careful to mitigate these risks.

Is free an option?

Most free editions of hypervisors share similar limitations, which can include a lack of centralized management features, clustering and live VM or storage migrations.

Recently, a new company unaffiliated with Citrix created XCP-ng as a fork based on XenServer, and it offers paid commercial support. XCP-ng includes many of the features that vendors have traditionally charged a premium for.

Before jumping wholesale onto this or any alternative hypervisor, there are several points organizations need to consider. Switching hypervisors might make sense for some organizations, but not for others. Below are several items that are key to decision making:

  1. The cost has to be separated into licensing and ongoing support. In my experience, smaller companies tend to skimp on support.
  2. While the features offered by different hypervisors might appear similar, the ability to troubleshoot at a deeper layer is an integral part of day-to-day It's important for your staff to be trained on and familiar with any new hypervisor. Downtime can cost a lot in lost productivity and income. When things go wrong, how quickly can your staff fix the problem?
  3. Ensure you have the supporting infrastructure. This infrastructure can include integrated third-party tools, such as image-based backup tools, or tools that use plug-ins that might not be available for an alternate hypervisor. I'd suggest logging all application needs and investigating whether they're compatible with an alternative hypervisor or whether alternative tools are available.
  4. Make sure that your hardware is supported by the new hypervisor.
  5. Calculate migration costs, which in some cases can cost more than the savings. However, new hardware will be more efficient and capable.
  6. Evaluate the code maturity of the target hypervisor. The codebase of any hypervisor will mature over time, but early adopters might find a rough edge or two.

Considerations for integrating XCP-ng

Perhaps one of the most important factors to consider is the strategic direction of the hypervisor. Most hypervisor vendors are heavily pushing hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) and, with that, a flattened and simplified network and storage infrastructure. If you've invested in these products or proprietary products from a hypervisor vendor, such as VMware NSX, migrating to a replacement hypervisor will be more difficult.

Get started with XCP-ng

These types of proprietary products that work alongside hypervisors offer important features to some, but that others might not need.

For example, one internet service provider I work with uses open source storage infrastructure to reduce costs and isn't interested in HCI, so cost is the overriding factor in the company's migration to XCP-ng.

However, another customer values the availability and flexibility VMware HCI and NSX provide. The choice frequently comes down to specific business drivers and, frequently, price sensitivity.

On the surface, XCP-ng has the potential to disrupt the hypervisor market for small and medium-sized businesses, but organizations will need to consider more than just cost, no matter how large or small their environment. Most VMware environments are mature and well-established with a lot of complimentary services based around the VMware ecosystem.

At the end of the day, organizations will need to research the products, weigh the pros and cons, and understand their own strategic business direction before making a hypervisor choice.

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