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Big Changes in Store for Virtualization

Posted by iTech - 2006-04-07

Attendees at the LinuxWorld conference held this week in Boston could be forgiven if they thought they had taken a wrong turn and stumbled into VirtualizationWorld instead. Several vendors, including XenSource, Virtual Iron, VMware, and Microsoft, announced major changes in their plans for virtualization.
Virtualization is an emerging technology that allows a server to run several operating systems simultaneously. By using the technology, I.T. administrators can replace larger, mostly unused servers with smaller, efficient machines that run multiple operating systems.

Virtual Mainstream

The technology has increasingly become mainstream. A February survey conducted by Forrester found that, of 1,221 North American enterprises with more than 1,000 employees, some 41 percent already had implemented or were planning to implement virtualization software.

North American small businesses, those with fewer than 1,000 employees, had adoption rates that were only slightly lower than their big-business counterparts.

As evidenced by this week's slew of announcements, competition in the virtualization market is heating up, with several companies aiming to grab a piece of what IDC has estimated will grow into a $15 billion market by 2009.

That market prediction could be one reason behind Microsoft's surprise announcement this week that Virtual Server 2005 R2 will support customers running Linux.

The software behemoth also decided to offer downloads of the application for free. It is a complete reversal for Microsoft that, as of last December, had charged for the software.

Xen Garden

XenSource announced this week that it no longer will concentrate on server-management tools in the form of XenOptimizer and instead will favor XenEnterprise, the company's first commercially packaged virtualization software for servers running mainstream operating systems.

The new offering from XenSource is possible, in part, because of the production of custom x86 chips by Intel and AMD. Support from the two chipmakers has enabled XenSource software to run unmodified versions of both Windows and Linux simultaneously on the same machine.

Currently in beta testing, XenEnterprise will hit store shelves later this year once the virtualization-friendly processors from Intel and AMD become more widely available. With this switch, XenSource will be in direct competition with industry veteran VMware.

Competition Thickens

In an effort to stymie industry upstarts like XenSource in their bid for market dominance, VMware announced on Monday that it would make the disk format specifications used to define and format virtual machine environments available for download at no cost.

Brian Byun, vice president of products and alliances at VMware, said the company had taken the step because it wanted to increase interoperability and speed adoption. Microsoft's VHD specification and XenSource's XVM are competing formats

"We believe open and freely useable specification should increase the availability of complementary products, provide customers unfettered choice and increased interoperability in their virtualized I.T. environments, and further expand the virtualization market, which is good for VMware," he said.

This announcement comes on the heels of a decision made public in February that the company would provide its VMware Server software at no charge. The company said that it hoped that by providing a free entry-level virtualization product for Linux and Windows servers, it would lead to quicker adoption.

"Virtualization and VMware have become mainstream in the past year, and many customers have deployed thousands of VMware server environments across their enterprises," said Diane Green, president of VMware. "With VMware Server, we are ensuring that every company interested in, considering, or evaluating server virtualization for the first time has access to the industry-leading virtualization technology."

Pumping Iron

Virtual Iron is poised to take over where XenSource left off with management software. The company announced on Monday that it would release Version 3 of its product platform, combining virtualization and policy-based management capabilities with Xen's hypervisor technology, a software foundation that governs operating systems' access to computer resources, including memory and networking.

The new platform, when formally released, will allow customers running existing 32- and 64-bit Linux and Windows operating systems to do so without modification on a single computer.

The company plans to provide three versions of the product. The Community Edition and the Professional Edition, both of which will be available under open-source licenses, will include basic Virtual Iron extensions that support management of a single server.

For a starting price of $1,500, businesses interested in a package with functionality to manage virtual machines running on many computers will be able to purchase the Enterprise Edition.

Beta testing for Virtual Iron 3 on Linux will commence in July, followed in September by beta testing on Windows. The company plans to offer both versions by the end of the year.

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