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Citrix will make its XenServer virtualization platform free to all users for unlimited production deployment, hoping to kick off a new wave of server virtualization for SMBs and midmarket customers.

While basic hypervisors have been available at no charge for years, most aren’t much use in an actual production environment, says John Humphreys, senior director of product marketing, virtualization management division, Citrix.

“There are other free tools out there, including XenExpress and VMware’s ESX, but those are just the hypervisor. Going forward, this will replace the existing XenServer and will have all the enterprise-class tools and capabilities,” says Humphreys.

Humphreys says the ability for solution providers and customers to access virtualization technology free of charge will allow the technology to penetrate more fully into the SMB and midmarket.

“We think this is going to kick off a whole new wave of adoption,” says Humphreys. “Most of the 10 percent to 15 percent of virtualized servers are concentrated in large organizations, but the simplicity and affordability make this very attractive for SMBs and really, any smaller price-sensitive organization,” he says.

Dramatically lowering the entry price of virtualization also helps address today’s challenging economic climate by making enterprise-class virtualization far more accessible to businesses of all sizes, regardless of budget, Humphreys says.

The announcement benefits both customers who are new to virtualization and customers who are already using virtualization from Citrix or from other vendors, Humphreys says. Existing customers can now begin realizing all of its efficiencies and cost savings sooner, upgrading to more advanced virtualization management features when and if they need them down the road, while customers who have already made an investment in more expensive virtualization platforms in the past now have alternative to consider when it comes time to upgrade or expand their existing deployments, he says.

Citrix XenServer will be available for unlimited downloads beginning on March 25. While it’s free, solution providers can drive revenue and increase profits by selling customers associated support packages, Humphreys says.

Citrix also announced Monday it will team with Microsoft to deliver a version of Citrix Essentials for Microsoft’s HyperV hypervisor that will add enhanced event management for Xen Server and for HyperV, says Humphreys.

The new offering will allow customers who’ve standardized on the Microsoft platform to gain more functionality with XenServer, he says.

Essentials for XenServer will provide support for up to eight CPUs, centralized server management, multimode server management and integration with Active Directory, among other features, says Humphreys.

Essentials also includes StorageLink technology that supports any existing storage system, and includes built-in storage management features such as host-based logical volume management, snapshots and dynamic multi-pathing capabilities, he says.

Microsoft’s field sales and personnel will be fully trained on the products to allow Microsoft solution providers to offer the technology, and will be available from Citrix resellers in April 2009.

The joint announcement will help drive the adoption of open standards in the virtualization world, says Humphreys, and will accelerate the interoperability among virtualization platforms.

“This will ultimately be the direction for virtualization; open standards regardless of platform,” he says.