Xen Project's plan after AWS goes KVM: Talk up embedded future

AWS changes its tune, multi-hypervisor plan is its future


Update Fresh from the news that Amazon Web Services intends to replace its hypervisor, the Xen Project will tell the world it has a fine future in embedded applications.

Publicly-posted minutes of the Project's November Advisory Board call mentioned The Register's report of Amazon Web Services documents that revealed the cloud colossus' plan to use a custom cut of KVM instead of Xen on all its new instance types. The minutes recorded that the call was addressed by Chris Schlaeger of AWS, who explained the company's intentions and “what is true and what isn’t” in our story.

Our first story and its follow up quoted AWS documents verbatim and preserved copies of them for posterity. After the first story was published, The Register asked AWS for an interview on its hypervisor strategy. That email went unanswered for 12 days – plenty of time for AWS to request a correction if our reports are not correct.

We also asked the Xen Project to comment on AWS' likely de-emphasis of its work. The Linux Foundation, which speaks for the Project, sent us the following:

AWS is an active member of the Xen Project and are an active member of the Xen Project board. We expect them to remain involved and likely becoming more engaged and visible with contributions.

Sadly, Schlaeger requested his remarks to the Advisory Board not be included in the minutes of the meeting, so we don't know what he told the Board about AWS' intentions.

But subsequent messages on the Xen Project Advisory Board Mailing List revealed how the Board will respond to whatever it is that AWS is up to.

It appears the organisation will emphasise Xen's role for jobs other than cloudy servers and server virtualization, as this post from the Linux Foundation offers the following as a template for members' social media posts' about Xen.

The Xen Project has been a staple for #cloud and #server vendors, now it is making inroads in the embedded, security and automotive space. Follow the @xen_org's new series on how people are contributing and using #Xen. http://bit.ly/2mPf0Wf

That new series kicked off with this post that stated “The Xen Project Hypervisor is a staple technology for server and cloud vendors, and is gaining traction in the embedded, security and automotive space.”

It goes on to quote James Bulpin, Citrix's senior director of technology, on the merits of Xen. Bulpin concludes with the following words:

I’m excited to see Xen, as a reusable technology component, grow in new use-cases such as edge computing, automotive, aviation and aerospace. Xen’s flexibility, small footprint, and OS independence make it a good fit in these growing sectors.

Citrix's director for XenServer product management and partner engineering David Cottingham told The Register “We have not received any queries from XenDesktop/XenApp/XenMobile customers related to the recent AWS headlines.”

“Our view on AWS’s announcement is that they have created a new offering, which aligns with their moves to create their own custom silicon, to power very particular types of workloads,” he said. “In terms of benchmarking, I’m not aware of anything that presents KVM having better performance than Xen for AWS’ core mission of general purpose VMs.

“It's important to note that AWS haven't said that they have a plan to stop investing in Xen, nor replace Xen with their own KVM derivative for all of their existing offerings. The new instance type based on the KVM fork is net-new.”

AWS did, however, say that all new future instance types will use KVM. And as it appears that its cut of KVM was created to run on NVMe-enabled servers, and such boxes will surely come to comprise its entire fleet over time, the future looks grim for Xen in the world's biggest cloud and beyond.

Gartner's research veep for infrastructure software, Michael Warrilow, thinks so.

“Oracle is already going to KVM. While Xen had Oracle and Amazon in their court, it was viable.”

“I think this puts the final nail in the coffin of Xen.”

In the cloud and for server virtualization, at least. But with billions of devices soon to come online at the edge, the hypervisor may yet have a long and happy future. ®

UPDATE, November 24th: We've learned that Amazon commented on its hypervisor strategy to TechTarget, telling the outlet that it "will use the best virtualization technology for each specific platform and plan to continue to launch platforms that are built on both Xen and our new hypervisor going forward."

That's a contradiction of AWS' previous posts that said "in the near term, some new instance types will use Xen depending on the requirements of the platform" and “eventually all new instance types will use the new EC2 hypervisor.”

The Register has no idea why AWS ignored our requests for comment on hypervisor strategy but offered a comment to TechTarget, nor why it would publish the unequivocal statements recorded above and then change that position.

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