Citrix XenServer 5.6 FP1 to include distributed virtual switching

Citrix's Project Cowley adds a number of new features in an effort to keep up with VMware vSphere and Cisco Nexus 1000V

Citrix Systems announced to its community that the company is getting close to releasing Citrix XenServer 5.6 Feature Pack 1, code-named "Project Cowley."

The new update has already been made available as a public beta download on the XenServer Beta Portal site. However, Citrix will probably make a larger, more public announcement around this new project during the company's Synergy conference taking place this week in Berlin.

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The Feature Pack 1 (FP1) update should prove to be a significant release for Citrix. It includes centralized management, thanks to the addition of the Open vSwitch project, which brings with it distributed virtual switching that can be considered on par with the Cisco Nexus 1000V or with the VMware's vNetwork Distributed Switch currently being used to help manage virtual machine networking in VMware environments.

You might remember, the Open vSwitch project first launched back in 2009 with the intent of bringing to market an open source, multilayer virtual switch that was designed to support distribution across multiple physical servers. The project's stated goal was "to build a production quality switch for VM environments that supports standard management interfaces (e.g. NetFlow, RSPAN, ERSPAN, IOS-like CLI), and is open to programmatic extension and control."

In May of this year, a 1.0 version of the Open vSwitch was finally launched. It offered support for Xen, XenServer, and KVM, but was absent with support for VMware ESX or Microsoft Hyper-V. While the Cisco Nexus 1000V remains a popular choice within the VMware community, there are VMware users who would like to see a competitor step in and offer an alternative. That too could be good news for Citrix.

Simon Crosby, CTO of the Data Center and Cloud Computing division at Citrix, said on his blog that because the Open vSwitch is open source and serves multiple hypervisors, he fully expects that the community will make it available as a drop-in replacement for the VMware vDS, and deliver a version of it for a future release of Hyper-V as well.

"This then raises the exciting prospect of an entirely open and programmable architecture for networking in the cloud, that is hypervisor-independent," writes Crosby. "As a result, the richness of both private and public cloud networks (and hence their ability to support a greater proportion of enterprise workloads) will not be hypervisor dependent. Open vSwitch offers the ISV ecosystem an enormous opportunity to innovate in edge networking, free of the constraints of traditional network-appliance centric approaches to application delivery, with new, automated management and control plane functions that simplify, accelerate and ease the management of scalable cloud networks."

More immediately, however, Citrix announced the integrated, Open vSwitch technology being added into the next release of Citrix XenServer will provide distributed fine-grained networking configuration and control policies, which will increase visibility into XenServer virtual networks. It will also provide a centralized Controller for administration of multiple vSwitches and cross-host internal networks. To top things off, the Open vSwitch will also add support for jumbo frames configuration on storage networks.

While the Open vSwitch will be an extremely powerful and significant addition to XenServer 5.6 FP1, the new features do not stop there. Additional features include:

  • Web Self-Service Portal - XenServer administrators can delegate rights to select individuals, allowing them to request and access virtual machines via the browser. This technology could be based on the recent VMLogix acquisition.
  • VM Protection and Recovery - This could be the Citrix response to VMware's Data Recovery. This new feature offers policy-based snapshotting and archiving of selected virtual machines across a XenServer resource pool. Administrators can perform scheduling and recovery through the XenCenter management console.
  • HA Restart Priority - Administrators can instruct the system as to which virtual machines in the environment should be restarted first, and in what order they should be brough back online should there be a failure requiring reboot. As an example, a policy can be put into effect to start the StorageLink Gateway VMs or the Distributed vSwitch Controller VM before anything else is brought back online.
  • Boot from SAN with Multi-Pathing Support - Boot XenServer hosts with Fibre Channel and iSCSI HBAs from a SAN, with multipathing support.
  • Improved XenDesktop VDI Scalability - Increased host virtual machine density and resource pool scalability via multi-vCPU control domain (Dom0) and other enhancements.
  • Enhanced Guest OS Support - Windows 7 SP1, Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, RHEL 6.0 (RTM), CentOS 6.0 (RTM), Oracle Enterprise Linux 6.0 (RTM), Debian Squeeze (32 and 64-bit), and SLES 11 SP1.

If you already have a My Citrix account, you can download the beta of Project Cowley at the XenServer Beta Portal. If not, you can still sign up for a free My Citrix account and then download it.

This article, "Citrix XenServer 5.6 FP1 to include distributed virtual switching," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in virtualization and cloud computing at

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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