Virtual Iron expands management to others' turf

Start-up is expanding its management software to control a rival software foundation, Xen.

Virtual Iron, a start-up whose software lets programs run on a slice of a single server or a group of several, is expanding its management software to control a rival software foundation, Xen.

Xen and Virtual Iron each have software projects that employ a technology called virtualization to let multiple operating systems run on the same computer. The promise of the approach is to make computers work more efficiently by creating a fluid infrastructure, with high-priority tasks getting more computing resources and no machine sitting idle.

Virtual Iron argues it can profit from managing this infrastructure--creating new virtual machines or moving them from one physical computer to another, for example. At the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, the company plans to announce it's extending its management software so it will work with Xen as well.

"Xen is getting some level of traction in early-adopter organizations, but we anticipate a day when you see more and more Xen rolling out," said Chief Marketing Officer Mike Grandinetti.

Focusing on management is sensible, given that there already are virtualization software choices from leader VMware as well as Microsoft and Xen, said Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff.

"For Virtual Iron to be throwing all their weight into what's rapidly becoming commoditized wouldn't have made sense. Management is where they've got interest in early customers," Haff said. The only hitch: management software also is available from server sellers themselves, and those are likely the very companies Virtual Iron will have to sign partnerships with.

Xen, unlike Virtual Iron's software, is an open-source project. Virtual Iron and Xen both let administrators carve up a single server into several independent partitions, but Virtual Iron also can pool several separate servers into one.

Virtual Iron began selling its own management and virtualization software in July. It plans to add the Xen management ability, Grandinetti said. The Xen abilities will be included in the Virtual Iron price, which starts at $50,000 for software to control servers with up to 32 processors.

But Xen advocates have plans of their own. Ian Pratt, who launched Xen, also helped found a start-up called XenSource to commercialize it. "We are going to bring to market a series of management tools for managing large-scale deployments of Xen," said Nick Sturiale, a XenSource board member and a general partner at Sevin Rosen Funds, which invested in the start-up.

Xen isn't the only virtualization software that administrators have to grapple with. EMC's VMware subsidiary is the market leader for the area, and Microsoft sells its own Virtual Server product in the market. And in coming years, Microsoft also plans new virtualization software called a hypervisor that takes a similar approach to Xen.

Grandinetti wouldn't detail Virtual Iron's future plans such as controlling VMware virtual machines, but he did say, "Over time, we want to have a much broader capability" for the Virtual Iron management software.

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