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Goodbye XenServer


In my last post I mentioned that I did a server migration, and that the hub around which everything turned was the server running Citrix XenServer. As also mentioned, I replaced XenServer with Microsoft’s Hyper-V. Let me explain some of my thinking around why I made that choice.

Xen has been around since 2003, making it a pretty mature hypervisor. When Citrix got involved, the project only grew and became more powerful. In fact, it often seemed like XenServer was the only competition to VMware. When we decided to make use of virtualization at the school, we had the choice of VMware, XenServer and the original version of Hyper-V. VMware was fussy on the hardware, Hyper-V didn’t have decent management tools or Linux at the time, all while XenServer just worked out the box.

Fast forward a couple of years though and the scene has changed quite a bit. Hyper-V has made huge strides and is fighting it out with VMware for top dog in the virtualization world. Linux KVM has come along in leaps and bounds and is pretty popular for running Linux VM’s. XenServer unfortunately began to look like a deer in headlights, not knowing where its place is.

The free edition of XenServer was a good product, but it often felt like Citrix was keeping back that one or two juicy features that would just make it so much more excellent. A business generally wouldn’t be adverse to purchasing a more advanced version, but it’s not so easy in a school where resources are often a lot tighter.

I decided to move the server over to Hyper-V because a) it comes free with Server 2012 R2 and b) all of the servers I was virtualizing are Windows servers. It just seemed to make better sense to me to run Windows servers under the platform made by the same people who make Windows. There were other benefits as well, namely that I could run Windows applications for setting up or monitoring the RAID array, easier network management and better support of Windows guests. Upgrading the Xen integrations tools after an OS update was always a fingers crossed moment, hoping that it wouldn’t affect the OS. Sometimes the tool updates ran extremely slowly, something which was always frustrating.

With XenServer, it often took a long time for later versions of Windows to be officially supported. Server 2008 R2 for example would be considered experimental for a release and then upgraded to official support in the next release. However, the gap between major releases of XenServer could be a year or more. With Hyper-V, all Microsoft have to do is release an update of their integration tools to support a new version of Windows – the whole OS doesn’t need to be upgraded.

Since migrating, Hyper-V has behaved itself. My Exchange server initially didn’t like the migration, tending to lock up at random intervals, while all the other servers behaved themselves. Turns out that the Hyper-V tools conflicted with the Eset NOD32 version I had installed on the server, which is a very old version to be honest. Removing NOD32 solved that freezing problem, and now all servers are behaving themselves nicely. Best of all, the management tools are all nicely built into Windows, or are a simple download away. The overall server gets managed with Server Manager, while Hyper-V gets managed using its own console. XenCenter was a great management console, but it felt like precious little had changed between versions over the years.

To Citrix, I say thanks for giving away XenServer all the years. There were quirks and minor issues, but XenServer pretty much worked as promised. Good luck with the transition back to a more open source model, I hope it helps to keep Xen relevant in the cutting edge market of virtualization.

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