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Linux company plans Windows move

SWsoft, whose software effectively lets several copies of Linux run simultaneously on the same Intel server, plans two expansions next year: to Windows and to Itanium processors.

SWsoft, whose Virtuozzo software lets several copies of Linux run simultaneously on the same Intel server, plans to expand its reach next year.

The company will announce next week plans to improve its software so it works on Itanium, Intel's new high-end chip family that is able to support much larger amounts of memory than Pentium and Xeon products. What's more, SWsoft plans to work its software for the Windows market.

The South San Francisco, Calif.-based SWsoft expects to release its Itanium product in the first or second quarter of 2003, said Craig Oda, vice president of business development. The Windows version is due in the first half of 2003.

SWsoft has an early-access agreement with Intel that allows the company to test new technology. The company also is working to formalize a marketing agreement, spokesman Alex Plant said.

Similar to established competitors VMware and newcomer Connectix, SWsoft is trying to tap the trend of "server consolidation," in which jobs previously handled by several separate servers are rolled into a single physical machine, divided into separate partitions. It's an idea that's deeply embedded into mainframe computers, maturing in Unix servers, but still quite new with Intel servers.

Servers are heavy-duty computers that handle round-the-clock tasks such as routing e-mail or housing inventory databases. Servers using Intel processors typically use the Linux or Windows operating systems and run less demanding tasks. SWsoft bills its software in particular for running Web servers, machines that host Web sites.

While Linux running the Apache Web server is commonly used to house Web sites, many customers also use Microsoft Windows and its Web server, Internet Information Server.

"Having a Windows product significantly increases the size of the market you can address," said Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff. "Apache and IIS are battling it out in terms of market share."

There are technical challenges for SWsoft moving from Linux to Windows. Linux is an open-source project, meaning programmers can examine its code core. Windows is not so transparent.

"I would think that would make the task significantly more difficult," Haff said.

Oda said that Microsoft publicizes interfaces for the heart of Windows, though. "You can plug into it at a deep level," he said.

SWsoft's Itanium push has only modest appeal, Haff said, given that Itanium adoption still is slow and that few look to the high-end processor for lower-end jobs such as basic Web hosting.

SWsoft's approach doesn't actually run several copies of Linux on the same server. It runs one, but the company's software makes it available to users as several independent copies, each of which can be customized and restarted independently.

The approach has some advantages and disadvantages, compared with VMware's software which runs actual independent "virtual machines." One advantage is there's no management layer that serves to abstract the actual hardware from the virtual machines, an approach that means greater efficiency and therefore better performance.

A disadvantage, though, is that if the core operating system crashes, "the entire house of cards is going to come tumbling down," Haff said.

Virtual machine technology of this type is difficult, particularly for servers whose owners are intolerant of crashes. VMware, which got its start with workstations, has seen its server efforts boosted by its partnership with IBM, which is seeking to beef up its Intel servers.

SWsoft customers include Stanford University and Web hosting site Hostmania.