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New Virtual Iron CEO wants spotlight

Ed Walsh, formerly of EMC and Avamar Technologies, is trying to draw more attention to the virtualization start-up.

Virtual Iron, a start-up trying to commercialize the open-source Xen virtualization software, has just gotten a new chief executive, and he wants to grab some of the attention lavished on rivals in the suddenly high-profile market.

The new CEO is Ed Walsh, who led Avamar Technologies, a company focusing on economizing storage by reducing duplicative data, which EMC acquired in 2004. John Thibault, who was named Virtual Iron's CEO in 2005, will remain executive chairman of the 73-employee Lowell, Mass.-based company, Virtual Iron plans to announce Monday.

Virtual Iron has been in the virtualization business for three years, getting started as Katana Technology with the idea that virtualization could let software be spread across multiple machines. That didn't work out, though, so the company shifted gears in 2006 to sell software that lets customers control software running on Xen.

Walsh knows he has his work cut out for him as he tries to give the company a higher profile. "Now's the time to put in a little sales and marketing and to hit the gas," he said.

To help that part of the business, Virtual Iron also has hired John McCarthy from EMC and McData to be senior vice president of sales.

Virtualization, which lets a single computer run multiple operating systems simultaneously, is a hot area, but the heat lies mostly with market leader and EMC subsidiary VMware, which had a successful initial public offering in August, following up last week with $65 million in net income on revenue that grew 90 percent from the year-earlier quarter to $358 million.

Also in August, Citrix Systems announced a deal to acquire Xen's primary backer, XenSource, a move it completed last week.

Meanwhile, Virtual Iron will have to reckon with other start-ups, including Qumranet, and Microsoft plans to make its serious virtualization debut in about a year.

Walsh seems to have Microsoft and XenSource more in his competitive crosshairs than VMware. He recognizes that XenSource has better recognition as a provider of Xen-based virtualization, but believes Virtual Iron's product is stronger.

"They have great marketing. The project has to catch up with their marketing," Walsh said. Virtual Iron, he said, "is the polar opposite." And Microsoft, he said, "isn't even to the table yet."

Walsh does have a strategy to work around VMware's dominance: partnerships with software companies on whose toes VMware is stepping. "They're racing so hard to grow this, they're going to gore the oxen of a lot of the ecosystem," he said.