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Book Reviews Books Media

Running Xen 98

David Martinjak writes "Running Xen: A Hands-On Guide to the Art of Virtualization was published by Prentice Hall, and authored by Jeanna N. Matthews, Eli M. Dow, Todd Deshane, Wenjin Hu, Jeremy Bongio, Patrick F. Wilbur, and Brendan Johnson. The book, which will be referred to as simply Running Xen, was a great resource on Xen and virtualization from the administration side. A wide range of topics was covered from installing Xen all the way up to managing virtual resources, including migrating guest environments. Overall, the explanations were concise and understandable; while the information was presented in a straightforward manner. Running Xen was definitely a useful resource for administering systems with Xen." Keep reading for the rest of David's review.
Running Xen: A Hands-On Guide to the Art of Virtualization
author Jeanna N. Matthews, Eli M. Dow, Todd Deshane, Wenjin Hu, Jeremy Bongio, Patrick F. Wilbur, and Brendan Johnson
pages 586
publisher Prentice Hall
rating 9
reviewer David Martinjak
ISBN 0132349663
summary A hands-on guide to virtualization with Xen
The flow of the book was intuitive, and reasonable; this was especially valuable for discussing a newer technology where the terms could be confusing. Fortunately, the authors kept the language clear so that the reader easily could understand the subject of discussion. This unambiguous presentation of content was a welcomed feature.

Running Xen started with a thorough-enough explanation of virtualization. Several different approaches to virtualization were compared and contrasted, which should help the reader to understand where Xen resides in the whole domain. This first chapter was a great introduction as it provided just the right amount of information. At no point did I consider the explanations to be short or lacking; nor did I feel overloaded with details. The authors seemed adequately aware that the title of the book was Running Xen, and they stuck to that scope.

After the introduction, the book moved right into actually running Xen. This helped to keep the my attention on the subject, and tied back in to the proper flow of the material. At first, the chapter began with baby steps. It introduced the Xen LiveCD, and information on working within the Xen environment. Subsequent chapters moved into a more intermediate level of usage: installing Xen in a third-party distrobution, and running pre-built guest images. Popular third-party distrobutions such as Ubuntu, Gentoo, CentOS, and OpenSUSE were covered; and this section also included instructions for using compiled Xen binaries and building your own from source.

One of the topics I was most interested in was building a custom, minimal guest environment from a particular distro. Chapter 7, "Populating Guest Images", provided all of the information I was looking for along with some other interesting facts. The popular distros were covered again (Ubuntu, Gentoo, etc.), but this time a twist was added to the mix. "Populating Guest Images" started off with installing Windows XP in Xen. This was a complete surprise to me. If you prefer GNU/Linux on the server, but Windows XP on the desktop, and have been looking to consolidate with virtualization; this chapter is a must-read. The chapter also helped solidify the understanding of concepts presented earlier in the book. For example, the first chapter discussed two different types of guests: paravirtual (PV) and Hardware Virtual Machine (HVM). In "Populating Guest Images", the authors led the reader through building guests of each type. The process was presented in a logical fashion which was easy to follow, making the book that much more enjoyable.

Running Xen then moved on to putting the guests on the network. Chapter 10, "Network Configuration", covered several options for networking guest environments in Xen. It would be an understatement to say that this chapter was thorough. Overall, the authors did a great job explaining the differences between the networking options, and how to implement each one. Unfortunately the needs of the reader are variable, so this chapter overflowed with information. The upside was that readers with complex virtualized network segments will not be disappointed. The downside was that I, personally, only really needed a small percentage of the chapter's content. Therefore, much of the chapter was technically irrelevant to me individually.

There was one other unfortunate issue, which occurred in the next chapter. Chapter 11, "Securing a Xen System", contained syntax errors for iptables rules. Mainly one dash was used instead of two when specifying the destination port in some rules. For example, LISTING 11.10 displayed the syntax -dport which caused an error. However, the syntax was correct at other places in the book (LISTING 10.24, for example). Additionally, there was a problem on output formatting where the command prompt and output lines ran together in the print (LISTING 11.11). This could cause confusion for some readers intently following the text.

My only complaint with the book was that the chapter on network configuration seemed to be rather long. For a person working with Xen at a business level, especially mid-size to enterprise, this chapter provided an excellent amount of insight and information. But for the person at home building his/her own test server for simple purposes, much of the content in this chapter was overkill. Additionally the few syntax errors were eye-sores, but any person with iptables experience could easily identify and fix the problems. It is just in my opinion, a published book should be syntactically correct so that the reader is not presented with contradicting results; nor should the reader have to conduct additional searches to rectify mistakes from the book's pages. However, these items are minor and pale in comparison to the outstanding wealth of knowledge in the text.

This book is highly recommended for anyone interested in virtualization with Xen. In addition to the regular paperback, Running Xen is also available on Safari. The paperback additionally includes a coupon code for a 45-day pass to access the book via Safari online.

David Martinjak is a programmer, GNU/Linux addict, and the director of 2600 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He can be reached at

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Running Xen

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 09, 2008 @02:52PM (#23714467)
    Haven't the kernel developers basically given xen the cold shoulder, preferring now to dedicate their efforts to kvm, the virtualization solution which is now part of the mainline kernel? The problem, from what I recall from reading some threads on the subject a while back was that xen needs to keep pace w/ kernel driver development work, which is an extra effort for the developers. It's easier for them with kvm since it's part of their dev tree. Right now I think Ubuntu is the only big distributer shipping kvm; Redhat et al are doing xen .. I think (corrections please). On that count, xen is doing well. But moving forward, it seems like they have to do a lot of extra work to track kernel development, which will be made harder by virtue of the fact that key kernel developers may not feel like devoting time to what they feel is a duplicate effort.
  • by Robber Baron ( 112304 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @10:41PM (#23719595) Homepage

    for this is Slashdot, a railroad with a tractor trailer [] [] were saying?
  • by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:47AM (#23720615)

    Haven't the kernel developers basically given xen the cold shoulder, ...?
    They may have, but I think Xen still has a future - just take a look at Oracle VM. Oracle is a substantial player in the marketplace, whatever else one may think of them, so Xen does have some serious backing. Oracle VM is, as far as I can see, little more than a basic Linux with Xen - "perfect for running Oracle Unbreakable Linux" :-) I've tried it, though, and it works well.

If you have a procedure with 10 parameters, you probably missed some.