Now that Microsoft has finally shipped Hyper-V, the battle over which hypervisor-based virtualization solution will emerge victorious has truly been joined. Will Microsoft's Hyper-V be the eventual victor? Will VMware manage to hold on to its commanding lead in market share and technology? Or will Citrix and its XenServer product cross the finish line first?

Based on a chat I had earlier this morning with Simon Crosby, CTO of the Virtualization and Management Division at Citrix Systems, the battle over hypervisors--in Crosby's view--has already been decided. According to Crosby, the hypervisor is well on its way to becoming a commodity, thanks in part to the introduction of XenServer and Hyper-V into the marketplace. "As the hypervisor gets commoditized, management of the virtual infrastructure \[becomes the focus\]," says Crosby. "Creating standards for interoperability between virtual machine formats is an important step towards that. Project Kensho highlights the Citrix commitment to interoperability for virtualization."

So what is Project Kensho? According to Crosby, Kensho--which derives its name from the Buddhist spiritual concept of working towards true enlightenment--will provide a new collection of tools that allow IT administrators to easily import and export their virtualized workloads using the new industry standard portable open virtual machine format (OVF), which was ratified by the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) in September 2007. Rather than having to suffer through the slings and arrows of incompatible application virtualization formats (think Betamax vs. VHS, or Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD), OVF will allow different vendors to develop management tools that can be used to manage virtualized application workloads, regardless of which vendor's virtualization solution was used to create them. This fits neatly into Microsoft's ambitions for Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 (VMM2008), which will allow VMM2008 to manage VMs created by XenServer, ESX Server, or Hyper-V.

Crosby elaborates on Project Kensho in his own blog, explaining that the creation of the OVF standard has helped enable a promising new phase in the evolution of virtualization in the enterprise. "OVF also supports software license checking for the enclosed VMs, and allows an installed VM to localize the applications it contains and optimize its performance for a given virtualization environment," writes Crosby. "At the DMTF interoperability event, we used Project Kensho to create VMs from VMware, Hyper-V, and XenServer in the OVF format...Kensho will allow application vendors and IT users to produce virtual appliances once as 'golden application templates,' independent of the virtualization platform used to deploy them - and is a clear demonstration of how Citrix will add value to Hyper-V."

That last sentence is key, as it reinforces the Citrix strategy of partnering with Microsoft against VMware. Whereas VMware seeks to battle Microsoft over every inch of the virtualization market, Citrix seems content to serve in a role supportive of Microsoft's virtualization ambitions. Given the closeness between the two companies, rumors of a merger between Citrix and Microsoft have been discussed and debated by analysts and pundits, but Microsoft may have little to gain from acquiring the company.

Project Kensho tools will be available for download via a technical preview in Q3 2008.