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VMware enhances server software

The company pumps up its top-end ESX software for Intel servers with an upgrade that lets it handle more memory.

VMware, a maker of software that gives Intel servers some characteristics of higher-end machines, has dramatically expanded the power of its product through an upgrade that lets the program handle much more memory.

VMware's software lets workstations and servers run several copies of Windows or Linux simultaneously on the same computer--a capability that mammoth mainframe computers have had for years and that Unix servers are beginning to feature. In servers, this ability to run "virtual machines" is useful when a company wants to consolidate several computer tasks handled by separate servers onto a single machine.

For example, large Web sites often use dozens of low-end servers to send Web pages to browsers as quickly as possible. With virtual-machine technology, several such Web servers could be running independently on the same hardware--potentially saving money, reducing clutter and streamlining system-management chores.

The new version 1.5 of VMware's top-end ESX product now supports Intel servers with 64GB of memory, with each virtual machine able to use 3.6GB of memory. The earlier 1.1 version was limited to 4GB total--a serious constraint, since server tasks generally are memory-hungry and even low-end Intel servers often eat up 1GB or more.

The new version supports 64 virtual machines on one computer, an increase from 50 in the last version. The increase is actually greater, though, because with the 4GB limit in the earlier product, the practical maximum number of virtual machines was much lower than the stated 50.

VMware, based in Palo Alto, Calif., has a partnership with IBM, which is aggressively working to endow typically low-end Intel servers with features from much more powerful mainframes. VMware faces competition from SWsoft, whose Virtuozzo virtual-machine software lets multiple versions of Linux run on Intel servers. But VMware offers a lower price.

VMware's product costs $3,750 for use on a two-processor server and $10,000 for use on an eight-processor machine, VMware said. SWsoft's Virtuozzo costs $25,000.

In addition to the memory support, ESX 1.5 also lets customers dictate how much processor, memory, disk communication and network bandwidth each virtual machine gets.

It also supports more 1-gigabit-per-second Ethernet network cards and special-purpose storage networks.

Intel's high-end server chipset tops out at 16GB, though servers built with ServerWorks' chipsets allow 64GB, and IBM's new 16-processor x440 "Vigil" server can accommodate 64GB total.

Dell Computer is an investor in VMware. VMware also has been working with the National Security Agency to improve the security of computer operations.