How Citrix dropped the Xen ball… according to Citrix • The Register

Open Source Summit What is the difference between Citrix Hypervisor and Xen? Well, you have quite a large crowd of upset current and former community members.

One of the more interesting talks at the Open Source Summit was from Jonathan Headland, Software Development Manager at Citrix, with the unusual title “How to Disengage the Open-Source Community: The Citrix Hypervisor Experience”. Given all the usual fists that many company marketing teams love to engage in, especially at an event like the Open Source Summit, the reg FOSS Desk was intrigued.

Among other things, Citrix now offers the Citrix Hypervisor, the product formerly known as XenServerwhich it has owned ever since acquired XenSource in 2007. Headland’s focus talk [PDF] For example, Citrix has mismanaged the relationships between its commercial version of XenServer, the free, open-source version, and both its upstream and user communities. His opening line was:

He then carefully listed the mistakes the company made and the four lessons he suggests others to avoid the same.

Citrix originally offered XenServer under the “freemium” model: one product was free, the other commercial for enterprise users. Only paying customers received maintenance. The model was successful and the proceeds funded a full-time team of eight engineers and a community manager to work on the upstream project.

According to Headland, Citrix’s first major misstep was in 2011, when the company decided to open source the full functionality of the company’s product and generate support revenue. The goal, he said, is to get more community buy-in, but the company learned some hard lessons: “We had a very poor understanding of our customers and what they were actually paying for. Customers embraced the new features, but it turned out they didn’t necessarily want to pay for the upkeep.”

The result has been crashes: in revenue, in the reputation of the people who made the decisions, and in open source itself within the company.

Another problem was that Citrix did not provide the appropriate tools when distributing the source code for the company’s product. “Even if we thought about it or thought about making all these tools available, we still would have had to teach people how to use them.”

The result was disappointing Xen enthusiasts, and “rather than increasing contributions, they were inhibited”.

In 2017, the company was “in an atmosphere of distrust towards open source projects and with the feeling that many of its customers are free riders and non-contributors”. announced a change of direction. Product management reinstated restrictions and trimmed or reduced the features available for free, some to fewer than the free product in 2010. For example, the number of hosts in a server cluster went from 64 to just three.

However, this hit a specific subset of free users, whom an engineer interviewed by Headland dubbed “strange system users”: hobbyists who offer virtualization to nonprofit and charitable users and use old, unmaintained hardware that has been inherited or passed on to them. Enthusiastic users who had no money to buy licenses but were among the main bug finders and fixers. They couldn’t use the free version anymore and were forced to switch to other products…or create them.

The result was a completely new product: XCP-ng. “We won revenue back from our paying customers, the big ones, the companies that would never contribute – but we lost those who kept the project alive.”

Headland’s presentation ended with some confessions and the four lessons he felt were the most important things for any company selling open source based products.

He said that Citrix misunderstood and underestimated the breadth and richness of the community and the number and types of stakeholders. That it hadn’t identified key members and wasn’t doing enough to not even support those it knew about. It also never considered collaborating with Xen’s other “commercial contributors: Red Hat, Oracle, SUSE, and Amazon, to name a few.”

His takeaways?

  1. Commercial organizations need to think about protecting their revenues.
  2. Remember to share the tools as well as the code itself.
  3. Make sure all free editions have enough value to attract enthusiasts as they are the most valuable external contributors.
  4. Understand and support the entire community: not just upstream, but also downstream and other stakeholders.

It is both fascinating and wonderful to see such openness and honesty from a commercial entity. Even before Citrix changed its name, Xen wasn’t the most well-known commercial hypervisor — it always was VMware, the company that pretty much did it created the industry. But as the Amazon and EC2 references suggest, Xen has quite a few very big users and is a more important competitor in this space than you might think.

Whether Citrix’s openness will win more trust is uncertain, but it’s a surprisingly large olive branch, and we welcome it. ® How Citrix dropped the Xen ball… according to Citrix • The Register

Laura Coffey

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