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Dell takes cue from rivals with VMware deal

The computing giant looks to keep pace with IBM and Hewlett-Packard, signing a partnership to "substantially increase" VMware's uptake among Dell customers.

Dell is looking to keep pace with IBM and Hewlett-Packard in signing a close partnership with VMware, an EMC subsidiary that develops software to make servers more flexible.

Through the deal, Dell will sell VMware's ESX Server software with two-processor PowerEdge 1750 and four-processor PowerEdge 6650 servers, the companies said Monday. In addition, Dell has integrated VMware's VirtualCenter software into its OpenManage management software. The companies have certified the gear to work with storage systems jointly sold by EMC and Dell.

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"With this announcement, Dell is now pretty much at the level of where IBM and Hewlett-Packard have been with us in engagement," said Michael Mullany, VMware's vice president of marketing. "We think it will substantially increase our uptake among Dell customers."

VMware's software lets a single server run several operating systems simultaneously in partitions called "virtual machines." The technology lets a single server run multiple jobs, a handy feature for replacing swarms of lower-end systems that often spend much of their time idle.

VMware competes with Microsoft's Virtual Server software, which is still in testing. Microsoft's software, however, only runs Windows virtual machines, whereas VMware can run Linux as well.

Through VMware's VMotion software, a single virtual machine can be packaged up while it's still running, then sent to another server. Such a technology makes it possible to move busy tasks to servers that have more resources or to move relatively inactive jobs aside to make way for high-priority jobs.

Flexibility of this type is part of the utility-computing concept, in which computing hardware can rapidly and automatically adjust to changing business needs, and large data centers can juggle multiple tasks. In the vision, those who need computing capacity would pay according to how much they need and how high a priority it is.

Dell's software and peripherals group already sold VMware products, but the integration with the server group's products makes the software part of Dell's mainstream sales effort, Mullany said. One significant change in the relationship is that Dell now provides much of the customer support--instead of VMware providing it all.

Until late 2003, VMware was a profitable start-up, but storage specialist EMC agreed to acquire the company in December, giving its utility-computing agenda a forward push.