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Parallels making virtualization jump to servers

A company whose virtualization software lets Windows programs run on Mac OS X will soon make the move to the more demanding server market.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--Parallels, a subsidiary whose claim to fame is virtualization software that enables Mac OS X users to run Windows programs, is making the jump to the server.

The new Parallels Server software currently is in alpha testing, but will open to beta testers in four to six seeks, Benjamin Rudolph, communications director for Parallels, said Thursday at VMworld. Parallels, a subsidiary of virtualization company SWsoft, plans to ship the final product near the end of 2007 or in early 2008, he said.

But does the world need another hypervisor, the virtualization foundation that gives a single computer the ability to run multiple operating systems in separate compartments called virtual machines? The market already has VMware's dominant products as well as the open-source Xen competition from XenSource, Red Hat and Novell, and next year, Microsoft's Viridian software for Windows Server 2008.

Rudolph thinks so. The company will aim initially at small and medium-size companies that don't fool with virtualization today, and he hopes to expand from there. For those customers, he said, "Xen is just too complicated. VMware is just too much."

In addition, Parallels hopes to add a new variable to the virtualization equation: tight connections between the hypervisor-based virtualization that runs below the operating system and the containers-level virtualization from SWsoft's Virtuozzo software, which divides a single version of an operating system into many virtual slices.

It won't be a feature in version 1.0 of Parallels Server, but later the company plans to enable customers to move a live system running in an operating system container on Virtuozzo to a Parallels Server hypervisor virtual machine, Rudolph said.

That proximity to Virtuozzo poses a messaging challenge for the company, though. SWsoft Chief Executive Serguei Beloussov has banged the containers drum for years, arguing that it's got better efficiency and performance than hypervisor-level virtualization technology.

Also at VMworld, SWsoft announced it has begun beta testing of Virtuozzo 4.0, which brings features such as real-time backup, a new management interface to group servers more conveniently for administrative actions. Virtuozzo 4.0 is due in late 2007 or early 2008, Rudolph said.

Parallels chiefly is a consumer-oriented company, but it will rely on the market presence of SWsoft to help it enter the server market, he added.

Parallels Server will be able to run both as a standalone hypervisor on "bare metal," a la VMware ESX Server, Viridian and Xen, and atop another operating system, a la VMware Server, KVM and Microsoft's current virtualization product, Virtual Server 2005. Uniquely, the software will install on Mac OS X, bringing a way to add virtual machines to Apple's XServe line of servers.

"We'll have an immediate pop in the XServe market," Rudolph said, though acknowledging that's a tiny part of the overall server market.

Parallels today has sold more than 650,000 copies of its $79 software to run Windows software on Macs, he said. The company also sells a Workstation product that runs on Windows and Linux, but it's only sold tens of thousands of copies. However, the company plans to "overhaul" the Workstation product in the next couple months, Rudolph said.

VMware's rival Workstation product is geared mostly for power users such as programmers, but Parallels is taking more of a consumer focus. And Rudolph believes there are many Linux users in corporate environments who'd like to be able to run software such as Microsoft Outlook that's required by corporate powers.

But VMware has its sights on Parallels. It's just released a product called Fusion that also brings the Windows-on-Mac OS X ability.

So far, though, Rudolph said Fusion hasn't hurt. On the contrary, he said, VMware provided new visibility to Parallels: "When Fusion launched, our sales went up."