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VMware ESXi vs. XenServer: Cloud and Desktop Feature Showdown

  • February 9, 2011
  • By Bruce Bookman
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Heavyweight companies from around the globe are competing in the hot cloud space. In the center ring are two tough competitors Citrix and VMware. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Which should you choose?

In this article, I compare the hypervisor products from these two vendors, Citrix XenServer and VMware ESXi, and explore what each as to offer developers. Since hypervisors have become are a dime a dozen, it only makes sense that a comparison of VMware ESXi and Citrix XenServer also discusses the surrounding components to get a full picture of what each can do for the development community.

Citrix vs. VMware: Cloud Features

The ability of a virtual machine to move from one host to another is critical for modern hypervisors. Both Citrix XenServer and VMware ESXi offer this if you have their management systems.

For VMware DRS (Distributed Resource Scheduler), you must use vCenter Server or vSphere Server. This allows what VMware calls vMotion: workloads can take advantage of resources as they become available or policy limits can be applied to workloads. It appears Citrix calls this workload balancing XenMotion, and it requires XenCenter. Hence, both offer this capability.

Both also offer disaster recovery, high availability, lifecycle management, virtual lab management, and more. The capabilities here are pretty even, but Citrix appears to be competing heavily on price. Many of these features come standard with XenServer (XenCenter), whereas with VMware these features can cost thousands of dollars more than standard vSphere.

Citrix offers OpenCloud, which seems to have feature parity with VMware vCloud. For development and testing specifically, VMware offers vCloud Director and vCenter Lab Manager, while Citrix offers Citrix VMLogix. Both of these provide self service Web interfaces that are critical to the development and testing functions.

Citrix vs. VMware: Virtual Desktop Features

VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) is a fairly new initiative for VMware with the VMware View offering, as it competes with Citrix in the general virtualization space. Since this is Citrix's bread and butter, I would give Citrix the edge in this category.

XenDesktop has been market proven for many years and currently delivers a graphics-rich experience and remote control from everywhere--including cell phones. VMware VDI does not offer such extensive remote options and has just recently built in higher graphics capabilities to compete.

Citrix vs. VMware: Operating System Support

VMware has the clear advantage when it comes to guest OS support. I was surprised not to see Solaris as a supported guest for Citrix. It is also interesting that there is not a single OS supported by Citrix that is not also supported by VMware. Further, it looks like there is a slight advantage to VMware if your applications require high RAM.

Guest Operating Systems

Guest

Citrix XenServer 5.6

VMware ESXi 4.1

Windows 3.1

X

Windows 95

X

Windows 98

X

Windows NT

X

Windows Me

X

Windows PE

X

Windows 7 (32-bit)

X

X

Windows 7 (64-bit)

X

X

Windows Server 2008 R2

X

X

Windows Server 2008 32/64 bit

X

X

Windows Server 2003

X

X

Windows Vista

X

X

Windows XP SP3

X

X

Windows 200

X

CentOS 4.5 - 5.5

X

X

RHEL 2.1 - 3.0

X

RHEL 4.5-5.5

X

X

SUSE 9 - 11

X

X

Oracle Enterprise Linux 5.0 - 5.5

X

X

Debian Lenny

X

X

Debian Squeeze

X

X

Debian 4 - 5.04

X

Asianux 3.0 sp3

X

Ubuntu 5.04 - 10.04

X

FreeBSD 4.0 - 8.0

X

IBM OS/2 Warp 4

X

DOS

X

Netware 5.1

X

Netware 6 sp5

X

Netware 6.5 sp8

X

Novell Linux

X

Open Enterprise Server

X

Solaris 8,9,10

X

Virtual devices

Citrix

VMware

Virtual device

Linux

Windows

Linux

Windows

Number of virtual CPU

8

8

?

128

Number of virtual disks

7

7

60

60

Number of virtual CD-ROM

1

1

4

4

Number of virtual NICS

6

6

6

6

RAM

?

32 GB

?

64 GB

Citrix for Desktop, VMware for Infrastructure

VMware has the depth of experience and the guest OS advantage to make it a no-brainer in the corporate datacenter. Citrix is playing catch up here. It is doing well to offer feature parity and price completion--but the expertise vote goes to VMware in the datacenter.

A downside of VMware, however, is vendor lock-in. VMware management tools manage VMware ESXi hypervisor--and that's it. Meanwhile Citrix XenCenter can take Microsoft Hyper-V under management, offering wider choice.

For desktop, Citrix has a slight lead while VMware invests to stay competitive. For developers, it may make sense to pursue an "all of the above" strategy. Look for best-in-breed solutions for your needs. Is Citrix VMLogix the kind of solution you need for accelerating development and testing? Or does VMware vCenter Lab Manager or vCloud Director offer the self-service options you require?

One thing is certain: this battle is far from over and each solution will just get more robust and market hardened with time.

About the Author

Bruce Bookman--Contributing Editor, Virtualization & Cloud--With over 20 years in the software industry Bruce has a deep understanding of the software development life cycle and software quality assurance. He was at the birth of VMware's cloud offerings as a subject matter expert for vCloud. He has been both an individual contributor as well as a manager and has solid experience managing various aspects of the SDLC for independent software providers.

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Tags: virtualization, cloud development

Originally published on http://www.developer.com.


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