VMware to test new high-end product

ESX Server 3.0 beta due to go to 2,700 testers, but final product likely to arrive months later than expected.

SAN FRANCISCO--VMware will begin broadly testing a new version of its premium ESX Server product next week, a move that comes shortly after the EMC subsidiary began offering its basic server software package for free. Product delivery, however, could occur several months later than planned.

ESX Server, like the newly free VMware Server product, lets multiple operating systems run simultaneously on the same x86-based server, a feature that permits more efficient use of computing resources. ESX server runs atop a thin level of virtualization software, a technique that permits higher performance and more computing capacity than the VMware Server product, which runs atop a Windows or Linux host operating system.

As VMware has grown--it reported revenue of $115 million in the fourth quarter of 2005--its products have expanded from basic virtualization to higher-level software built on the basic foundation. For example, the VMotion software that runs atop ESX server lets a virtual machine, which consists of an operating system and its applications, be moved from one computer to another while still running.

The new ESX Server 3.0 beta continues this higher-end trend. It includes features for balancing computing loads within a group of virtual machines, as well as data backup and cluster management, VMware President Diane Greene said Thursday in a meeting with reporters. The company also said earlier that the version will support virtual machines that span four processors, double that of the current Virtual SMP feature.

However, the final version of the product could arrive later than expected. In 2005, VMware said ESX Server 3.0 would arrive in the first quarter of 2006, but the company now is giving itself until the end of the second quarter, a company representative said.

VMware began a limited beta last year, but starting next week, 2,700 will begin the ESX Server 3.0 trial version, the company said.

More than three out of four copies of ESX Server ship with a bundle called the Virtual Infrastructure Node, said Brian Byun, vice president of strategic alliances and business development. VIN includes Virtual SMP, VMotion and the ability to plug into the VirtualCenter management software.

VMware faces competition from open-source Xen, a package backed by several major computing companies, and from Microsoft's Virtual Server product. But the company is counting on expanding its customer base through the release of the free VMware Server product. More than 60,000 copies were downloaded in the first four days, Byun said.

Getting the software into potential customers' hands is key to the company. About 85 percent of those who evaluate the software go on to buy it, Greene said.

ESX costs $3,750 for a dual-processor server; moving to VIN raises the price to $5,000.

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