A fair number of VMware's announcements at VMworld have centered on new cloud offerings, including the new VMware vCloud Express service and the VMware vCloud API. The former is a new pay-as-you-go cloud infrastructure service, while the latter should help improve compatibility and interoperability of applications in the cloud. Despite these announcements, VMware is playing catch-up to Amazon, which has been providing cloud-based computing services for years.

Now the latest challenge to VMware's ambitions is the Xen Cloud Platform (XCP) initiative, a community-driven, open source cloud effort that hopes to provide an alternative to proprietary offerings. Late last week I spoke with Citrix CTO Simon Crosby and Ian Pratt, the creator of Xen and founder of Xen.org, about the launch of this new Xen Cloud Platform initiative.

According to Crosby and Pratt, XCP will provide an open source virtual infrastructure that should help IT departments avoid being locked into a single vendor or proprietary cloud solution.

"The Xen Project has played a seminal role in enabling the creation and rapid adoption of virtualization," Pratt said in a prepared statement. "Today Xen is already the most widely used hypervisor in the service provider market and the community will be able to build on this momentum to develop a complete, open source, cloud-optimized Xen virtual infrastructure platform. Our goal is to empower providers to offer a rich set of services that will catalyze cloud adoption by the enterprise in a way that’s open, accessible and non-proprietary."

Crosby and Pratt compared the development of the Xen hypervisor to the engine of a car, and continued the analogy by describing the XCP initiative as the rest of the components that surround the engine. Crosby describes the analogy in further deatail on his own blog:

The project started with community-based development of the Xen hypervisor, which (in an oft repeated analogy) is the "engine" of a virtualization platform, but not the complete "car" - which has until now been a vendor's combination of Xen and additional components. Now Xen.org develops two complete cars: The Xen Client Intiative already develops a complete client hypervisor product, and the project will develop a complete cloud virtual infrastructure platform.

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