XenSource is not only the leader of the open source Xen project, but also the maker of a proprietary server virtualization platform based on the Xen hypervisor. The community side of the house, led by founder and Xen Project Lead Ian Pratt, strives to be completely supportive of everyone in the Xen community, even those who may compete with XenSource's commercial offerings.
The commercial side of the house, led by founder and CTO Simon Crosby, also strives to play nice, but it's not always easy. As the leading evangelist for Xen and the strategist behind XenSource's enterprise offerings, Crosby often plays the bad cop to Pratt's good cop. Or to use Crosby's analogy, "Ian is church and I'm state."
However you describe it, Crosby seems comfortable on the firing line, whether it's pushing for standards across virtualization platforms, fighting skirmishes with VMware, scolding Virtual Iron for abandoning the community, or expressing disappointment in Red Hat for an unproductive power play.
"One of the things I worry about is that the Linux distributions don't get too paranoid about each other and start fragmenting things," Crosby says. "For example, Red Hat has gone down a proprietary management path. And that is the first sign of essentially a vendor in the community trying to use market clout to pull things their way."
Crosby finds it as easy to dish out praise as criticism. He credits Pratt for steering Xen along the "best technology path," and he credits others in the company for getting the commercial products to market, building out the reseller channel, and building an automated testing infrastructure that drives hundreds of servers in the company's sites in Cambridge, UK, and in co-location facilities in the United States.
The distributed testing system allows Xen contributors and developers of the XenSource products to upload code and view test results wherever they might be.
"To come up with a robust product that's going to host all of these different operating systems without crashing and do so with high performance is extraordinarily difficult," Crosby notes. "And so our test infrastructure has proved to be one of our biggest assets."
Crosby is also quick to credit community partners Red Hat, Suse, IBM, Intel, AMD, Novell, and other companies without which he says XenSource could not compete with VMware, a company with a substantial head start and about 30 times the number of employees.
Then again, maybe Crosby is just trying to be polite. After all, all of these partners are also potential competitors.
"In the Xen ecosystem, any other vendor can take the Xen code base to market," he points out. "So there's a delicate line that you have to walk down there. I wouldn't say that we always do it superbly, but I think we've been very nice to everybody thus far."