XCP-ng – not just an alternative to Citrix XenServer

XCP-ng can be an interesting alternative to the XenServer hypervisor, especially for users who are looking for cheap solutions with clear licensing rules. 

Olivier Lambert, the head of the Xen Orchestra project, began a fund-raising campaign three years ago to finance the development of the XCP-ng hypervisor. His initiative met with success – investors signed up to the project to the tune of 38,531 Euros, which made it possible to develop the first version of a virtualizer based on XenServer 7.4.

We were getting a lot of signals from our clients, who were extremely displeased with the decision by Citrix to introduce licensing restrictions for the free edition of XenServer 7.3. As a result, we decided to launch an alternative XCP-ng solution onto the market. Looking back, you can definitely say we found a need in the market. The software has already been downloaded over 100,000 times, and the community of people involved in the project numbers some 3700 – explains Olivier Lambert.

XCP-ng is available as an open-source model, although it’s also possible to use the XCG-ng PRO version, which gives the user access to technical support provided by the firm Vates, led by Olivier Lambert. The standard option has an annual host fee of 600 USD, while for enterprise the fee is 1200 USD, and Olivier Lambert has announced the introduction of a five-year license in the near future. A clear licensing system is what makes the product stand out from competing solutions.

XCP-ng with Xen Orchestra Web UI - List your VMs with statistics, IP addresses, CPU/RAM count and more

For XCP-ng PRO, potential clients do not have to count the number of processor cores as in the case of VMware. This type of simplification is particularly valued by small and medium-sized enterprises, who often get lost in the maze of licensing conditions. Vates supports both small firms that use 10-15 virtual machines, as well as internet service providers. The eight-person team working on developing the product focuses most of all on two issues: ensuring maximum platform security as well as sufficient computing performance and mass memory.

It’s also worth mentioning that since Storware vProtect supports backup and disaster recovery solutions for Xen-based hypervisors, it protects XCP-ng right out of the box.

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Many people claim that there is not much left to be done in the virtualization segment and that it’s hard to come up with something new. I don’t agree with this because there is a whole range of things that need improvement – adds Olivier Lambert.

In addition to development of the platform, no less important is expansion of the ecosystem. Olivier Lambert and his team aim to make XCP-ng compatible with the maximum number of external supplier applications, including virtual machine backup software. Here, it should be added that this year Vates was among the fifteen technology startups awarded by HPE. The prize is one year’s mentoring, access to the HPE ecosystem and the possibility to offer the platform to a broader spectrum of potential clients.

XCP-ng with Xen Orchestra Web UI - opensource virtualization software

XCP-ng with Xen Orchestra Web UI

XCP-ng and XenServer – understanding the difference

The cooperation between Xen and Citrix has a pretty long history, its culmination being the acquisition of XenSource by Citrix in 2007. After acquiring the company, the Fort Lauderdale firm used the Xen brand in many of its proprietary products such as XenDesktop, XenApp and XenServer. The latter created a real storm among administrators and developers three years ago. At the end of 2017, Citrix made severe cuts to the free version of Xen Server 7.3. Firstly, it significantly limited its scalability by reducing the maximum cluster size to three hosts.

Secondly, it removed security options often used by corporate clients, including role-based access control (RBAC) and integration with Microsoft Active Directory. The third change was the disappearance of functions like Dynamic Memory Control, Disaster Recovery, GPU Pass-Through, Storage XenMotion and XenCenter Rolling Pool Upgrade Wizard. This last one significantly simplified the process for updating larger XenServer clusters. Meanwhile, XCP-ng, which has its origins in Xen Server, contains many functions for which Citrix started to charge additional fees. The simplest example is the number of hosts supported – the maximum possible pool for XCP-ng users is as many as 64.

Compare XCP-ng to XenServer

Top Features Description XCP-ng XenServer Free
Maximum pool size Number of hosts you can have in a unique pool 64 3
Dynamic Memory Control (DMC) Automatically adjusts the amount of memory available for use by a guest VM’s operating system V X
Live storage migration Enables administrators to select a new storage repository for a VM’s disks then moving them live without downtime V X
Live patching Enables administrators to patch hypervisors without needing to migrate, shut down or suspend VMs (no host reboots required) V X
USB Passthrough Pass through individual, physical USB devices to a VM. The VM’s OS can use it as a local USB device V X
SR-IOV Networking Enables Single Root I/O Virtualization (SR-IOV) – allows a single PCI device to appear as multiple PCI devices on the physical system V X
GPU Passthrough Enables 3D graphics deployment within VMs and VDI for various utilization (CAD, CAM…) V X

XCP-ng cuts down on the chaos that exists in the open-source environment.

At first glance, it would seem that creating yet another distribution and product based on XenServer is a pretty tough task. You might ask – why introduce another solution to an already deeply fragmented market? But in the case of XCP-ng, this should be looked at from a slightly different perspective. The solution is a response by the community to the actions of Citrix, which is trying to marginalize the free version of Xen Server. What’s more, Lambert’s idea on developing XCP-ng perfectly matches the needs of the market and the community clustered around Linux.

Often, people developing projects based on open-source fall into many traps, of which one of the most frequent is the appropriate selection of components. Before XCP-ng came along, its predecessor XCP was something of a collection of various distributions and products. While it was true that they had complex functionality, creating a comprehensive system from many components required a great deal of knowledge and involvement on the part of administrators. The XCP-ng community did something that many other open-source products had failed to achieve, that is deliver a turnkey solution.

Xen is simply a hypervisor engine used in IBM, AWS and Citrix systems. However, it should be taken into consideration that it is just the engine, while we provide our users with the whole vehicle, that is a virtualization platform, and API and a toolkit – explains Olivier Lambert.

XCP-ng is a perfect example of how the open-source community is keenly aware of the opinions of administrators and other IT department employees. The solutions help to bring open-source projects down from a level only understood by top Linux specialists to more popular applications used in the small and medium-sized enterprise segment.

To start with, our clients asked us how we were different to XenServer. Currently, they are more interested in what advantages we have over VMware and Microsoft products. This shows that we are reaching an ever-wider spectrum of clients – explains Olivier Lambert.

In a little under three years, XCP-ng has come a long way. At the outset it was just an off-shoot of the then popular virtualization system, and found support among a relatively narrow community. Today, XCP-ng is under the Linux Foundation umbrella and has a very interesting future ahead of it. In October, the latest 8.2 version came out, together with the announcement that the project will be supported at least until 2030.

Storware vProtect for XCP-ng

At the beginning of this year, XCP-ng entered into a technology alliance with our firm. vProtect software was tested in terms of its compatibility with the XCP-ng hypervisor. Both solutions were shown to be compatible with each other, and use of an agentless backup system enabled the development of functions such as: manage snapshots in your infrastructure, make full backup of your VMs, make incremental backup of your VMs, automate backup processes, automate recovery tests. More details on the compatibility of both solutions can be found in vProtect documentation [HERE]:

What’s more, vProtect is FREE to use in the environments up to 10 VMs. So if you’re looking for a reliable and future-proof data protection solution for Xen-based virtualization just give it a try.

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We also encourage you to listen to the discussion between our CTO Paweł Mączka and Olivier Lambert on our YouTube channel:

Paweł Mączka Photo

text written by:

Pawel Maczka, CTO at Storware