2006 Edition Free and Open Source Software Developer's European Meeting


2006-01-26 - Ian Pratt


An interview conducted by Lionel Dricot (aka "ploum")
FOSDEM - Please present yourself.

Ian Pratt - Ian Pratt is the leader and chief architect of the Xen project, which he founded in 2001 with the aim of making virtualization ubiquitous. Ian has played a key role in both the architecture of Xen and formation of industry partnerships that led to the emergence of Xen as the leading Open Source virtualization technology. Ian is a member of Senior faculty at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory, UK, where he is a leader of the Systems Research Group. He also runs the UK office of XenSource Inc, a company he and the other Xen creators founded to spearhead Xen development.

FOSDEM - What is "different" with Xen? What are the competitors on this "market" and why must we choose Xen? (I'm pretty sure that most people think "VmWare when talking about virtualization).

Ian Pratt - Xen's architecture makes it different from other propriatory virtualization systems:
Xen's paravirtualized approach means that the interface between the hypervisor and the guest operating systems has been designed specifically with performance and security in mind, which means we get great performance while maintaining secure isolation.
The new CPU virtualization extensions from Intel and AMD are great for us, because it means we get to run "legacy" unmodified OSes without having to resort to binary rewritting tricks and emulation. We try to keep the hypervisor part of Xen (that which runs at the highest privilege) as small as possible so as to enhance security and reliability. The other thing about Xen is that its cross-platform. The 3.0 release has support for x86, x86_64 and IA64, with a Power port nearing completion too. Basically, Xen is designed to get the best out of modern hardware.

FOSDEM - What, in Xen, makes you very proud?

Ian Pratt - The best bit about working on Xen is the people you get to work with. I think we can be very proud of what we've managed to pack into the 3.0 release, and the quality level we've achieved with the initial release. It bodes well for the future.

FOSDEM - What, in Xen, ashamed you the most?

Ian Pratt - For a long time, it was the state of our user space control tools -- they'd evolved into an unmaintainable mess. That's all largely been fixed in 3.0, so I'm pretty happy about that.
I guess the thing that embarasses me most is the state of the documentation. There's loads of really cool features in Xen for debugging and profiling guest operating systems, but hardly anyone knows about them.

FOSDEM - At the moment, virtualization is a very specific technology, used only on servers. Do you think that virtualization will become one day useful on the desktop?

Ian Pratt - I think it already is! I like having a several virtual machines on my desktop box, one in my University world, one inside XenSource, and one for playing with random stuff I've downloaded. It works great, and gives me a good level of security.

FOSDEM - How do you see the future of Xen and your own future in the OpenSource world?

Ian Pratt - Our aim for Xen is to make it ubiquitous -- I'd like to see it get shipped in flash memory on every server, desktop and laptop :-) I'm serious -- I think it would make a lot of sense, giving much better management capabilities than we have on servers today.
As regards my future, I hope I can avoid getting burnt out and remain the Xen project leader. I've plenty of colleagues that will tell me when I've lost it and its time to quit :-)

FOSDEM - What will you talk about at FOSDEM this year (more precisely than just "it will be about Xen")?

Ian Pratt - I'll be talking about what's new in the 3.0 release of Xen, and going in to some of the technical rationale behind the design.

FOSDEM - What do you expect from FOSDEM and what makes you happy (if any) to come here in Belgium?

Ian Pratt - I'm hoping I might find some more great kernel hackers to work on Xen. I'm also looking forward to sampling the local beers...


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