February 18, 2005 4:00 AM PST

Xen lures big-name endorsements

BOSTON--In just a few short months, an open-source software package called Xen has been catapulted from obscurity to the limelight as many computing industry powers throw their weight behind the project.

Xen lets multiple operating systems run on the same computer, a feature that's useful for extracting as much work as possible from a single system. The technology is common among high-end servers today, but on mainstream systems it requires proprietary "virtual machine" software from EMC subsidiary VMware.

At the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo here, numerous companies voiced Xen support in the form of endorsements, programming help and software contributions. Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, Novell, Red Hat, Intel, Advanced Micro Devices and Voltaire all are involved, but one of the more interesting allies is IBM, which has decades of experience in the area.

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What's new:
A critical mass of corporate computing powers have endorsed the open-source Xen project, which competes with VMware in letting a single computer run several operating systems.

Bottom line:
Xen is being groomed for success with widespread support and software contributions. The result could be a standard way of making servers handle multiple tasks more efficiently.

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"Two or three months ago, it wasn't on anybody's radar. Now it's going to make a big change in how everyone uses Linux," said Chris Schlaeger, vice president of research and development for Novell's SuSE Linux.

The change illustrates what can go right in the world of open-source software: a project can trigger a cascade of cooperation by multiple interested parties. When it works well, as in the case of Linux, that cooperation can lead to a unified, fast-developing project rather than proprietary, mutually incompatible competitors.

"The open-source community has finally decided to smooth over its differences and get behind one virtualization project, which means it's actually going to happen rather than having 12 warring fiefdoms, each with about two soldiers," said Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff.

Xen began three years ago at the University of Cambridge in England, said Ian Pratt, project leader and a founder of XenSource, a start-up that develops and supports the software and is trying to make it a

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