Archive for June, 2013:

What I Do At Work

Normally I don’t post about what I do at work.  This isn’t due to it being any sort of state secret, it’s just that I want to try my best to avoid giving any corporate secrets away or otherwise upsetting the hand that feeds me.

However, things have changed.

As of today (well, actually as of a week or so ago… but we announced it today, so today is what counts) the corporate secrets we had are somewhat less secret.  Because Citrix have released XenServer as open source software.

This is both a huge deal, and not a huge deal at the same time.

Let me try to explain:

Xen is a hypervisor.  And Xen has always been open source.  As of a month or two ago Citrix passed the Xen hypervisor project management over to the Linux foundation.  Why?  Well mainly to get rid of the accusation that Citrix owned Xen and could take away their ball at any time.  This was a good thing – it wasn’t about making the code more open (it was already GPLed up to its eyeballs), it was about making the development process and governance more open.

But that’s in the past, and that isn’t what I’m talking about today.  Today I’m talking about XenServer being open sourced.

Now, XenServer is, in effect, a number of things.  Specifically its the brand of Xen – and the associated bits of software – that Citrix have sold and supported ever since they bought XenSource.  But thats all a bit unclear…

So lets consider XenServer the software

As of a week ago it consisted of:

Xen – the hypervisor.  Already open source and part of the Linux Foundation

XCP – which is most of the other tools that you need to actually use Xen.  This was also all handed over to the linux foundation.

Some privately owned bits of  code – including the Windows guest PV Drivers and tools.


And what has happened today is that we have rethought what XenServer is.  XenServer is now

“An open source distribution of Xen and all the tools needed to make Xen useful. “

So XenServer is to Xen what Ubuntu is to the Linux Kernel.

And all the tools that are part of XenServer have also been turned into their own open source projects.  You’ll find them on GitHub.  (Actually, this is a bit of a lie.  There are things that haven’t made it to github yet – the xeniface.sys windows PV driver, for instance, needs to have a chunk of code rewritten before we can open it up under a BSD licence.  But everything will get there. Eventually.  Citrix have been kind enough to dedicate a lot of manpower to let us do this)

You’ll soon be able to download and use a free, fully working version of XenServer.  No strings attached.

Meanwhile Citrix will have their own product plans based around this fully open XenServer model.

So thats the story – a free, enterprise grade, trusted virtualization solution that you can contribute to, based entirely on open source technologies, including the Xen hypervisor.  Thats a huge deal.  But most of it was actually already free – what has changed is how we develop it inside Citrix.  Thats a less big deal for you, but it has been quite a big deal for me and for my day job:

So.  What do I do at work all day?

I’m part of the Windows team for XenServer

In fact I’m the Dev Lead – which means I sit in more meetings than I’d like, worry more about bug numbers that I would like, and get involved in lots of discussions about process… which I actually do like… because I’m weird like that. I code and fix bugs.  And I write new bugs.  I scrummaster a little on the side.

Recently I’ve been handling our open sourcing efforts.  Writing our ReadMes and Maintainers files.  Moving our code out of Mercurial and into Git.  Changing out build system to cope with this.  Negotiating which licence we’ll be using.  And attending meetings.  Lots of meetings.

What the Windows team do is write the tools and PV drivers that you install on Windows guests running under XenServer.  And as of now all of these tools are open (except xeniface, like I mentioned above, and the installer, because we have some confusion as to what exactly should go in a clickthrough licence.).

We also do lots of the things that open source code alone can’t easily do, like sign drivers and get them to pass Microsoft’s logo tests and ensure our platforms are supported by Microsoft.

And this is what we’re going to carry on doing.  Windows 8.1 and 2012 r2 are looming on the horizon and we have some things we need to massage into shape.  But now everything we do you’ll be able to see on GitHub, download from and hear about on mailing lists (which haven’t actually arrived today – but word is they’ll be here soon)

Now, there are some caveats:  These new projects (Windows projects included) are not part of the Linux Foundation.  Just as some parts of Ubuntu are not part of the Linux Kernel.  And these new projects are not things we are used to maintaining as open source projects.  So we’re likely to make some mistakes (and quite possibly some enemies) as we make this adjustment to how we work.  But I’m planning on writing about it as much as I can in order to do my best to make sure we show as much of the working as possible.  I don’t know how easy it will be for us to take contributions, especially in the short term (but we’ll do our best).   Part of my contribution to this will be writing about what is going on – so you can see there is stuff going on.

This has been a lot of work and there is a lot more work to do in the coming days, weeks, months and years – but hopefully the end result will make using XenServer a lot easier, will make working with XenServer (both the product its interfaces and the people behind it) a lot easier, and will encourage more people to give it a go (and then, having fallen in love with it, to buy paid support and pay my salary)

As for me?  Well, that new other half of xeniface still needs to be rewritten.

Technology Isn’t For Me Any More

Yesterday, I was sitting with my nephew and niece as they were playing with their iPads.  I wasn’t so shocked at the skill and dexterity with which they were manipulating their games (indeed, the 3 year old was barely able to play Sonic the Hedgehog – pah, when I was her age I… hadn’t ever seen or touched any form of computing device.  I didn’t even have teletext or a Nintendo game and watch.) as I was shocked by the fact that to them the iPad will have always been the least technically advanced computers have ever been.

To the generation born only two or three years ago, will the iPad will be remembered in the same way as we remember the ZX81?  Perhaps – although it might be better to compare the iPad to the more well established consumer technologies of my youth:  the iPad will be remembered by them in the same way the massive, fake wood paneled black and white CRT TV set (which later became my BBC B’s monitor) is remembered by me in the age of PVRs, HD, Netflix and Youtube.

Talking of Youtube, apparently the youth of today are using it to show each other what they bought on trips to shopping malls.  Which seems boring and asinine until you think more about what is happening.  In my youth, you established your social status by constantly, hour after hour, hanging around with your friends and engaging in a million small acts of oneupmanship – or in my case, generally ignoring your friends, fiddling with computers, and praying that something like the internet would come along to ensure you never had to have any real social contact with anyone if you didn’t want to.  In the new world, they are doing the same – but they are trying to one-up the world.  Youtube has become the school yard, people are jockeying for social status and celebrity on a global scale.

And this isn’t abnormal – this is totally normal to them.  Their peer-reviewed value is now not down to who they got off with at the school disco or where they sit during assembly, but how many people liked their new profile picture.  And as they grow up and take more influential roles in society (and thats only ten or so years away folks – I won’t even be close to retiring – barring a lottery win or decent set of share options) these attitudes are what are will be shaping our world and our cultural currency.  Even for someone like me who has lived their life online as much as possible, the culture shock will be crippling.  I probably need to quickly invent a virtual lawn so that I can attempt to keep those kids off it.

But there are upsides too.

The new users of technology are not going to be satisfied with the iPads and iPhones of today.  They are going to be confused about why the rest of the world doesn’t work like the iPad does.  Why are TV remotes so clunky? Why do I actually have to be present at a particular place for my lessons, lectures and job?  Driving is hard – why I can’t I tell the car where to go and let it take me?  Shouldn’t Tesco know what shopping I’ve used and refilled my fridge while I’m at work? Unpacking is so irritating!  And probably lots of other things too – things I’m so used to that I can’t conceive of being any different.  I’m past the point where I’m going to be driving new technology (unless I happen to develop it), but the coming consumers will be looking at the world with fresh, already bored by the amazing futuristic world we live  in, eyes.

As for me, while my niece – thanks to television and computer games – is already better than me at speaking spanish, I can still outplay her at Sonic the Hedgehog – at least for a few more months.  After that I’m a relic – a walking dinosaur who will be harking back to the days of loading Elite from cassette tape, when music came on little shiny disks and when phones were mainly about talking to people.  She will be creating the world, and, at best, I’ll be responsible for implementing her demands until the government her generation elects decides it’ll be more cost effective to ship me off to Dignitas.

But the world will keep on changing.  And the future she creates will be amazing.