Virtualization companies vie for advantage

Three virtualization software companies take diffrents tacks to leap ahead of the competition. Which approach will work?

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
Three companies selling software to let servers run software more efficiently will try to advance their respective fortunes Monday with new software, a new partnership and a new promotion.

All three companies--Virtual Iron, SWsoft and VMware--sell software designed to let computers run more efficiently by providing applications a virtual foundation instead of the real one the applications think they're using. That virtual foundation means that a single server can run more jobs at the same time and that the jobs can more easily be moved from one computer to another.

As expected, market leader VMware will make its GSX Server software free--and change its name to VMware Server. The move is intended to show the company's software maturity and advantages and let many more potential customers try it out, President Diane Greene said.

"When you have something that's free out there, people try it a lot faster," Greene said. "Once (they) use it, they say, 'This is really good stuff,' and they want to standardize on it."

VMware, based in Palo Alto, Calif., still charges for its higher-end ESX server product, which is responsible for the bulk of the company's revenue growth. ESX is often sold in conjunction with the company's management tools in a package called the Virtual Infrastructure Node.

A basic advantage of virtualization is the ability to run multiple jobs gracefully on a single server, a consolidation that cuts administrative expense and electricity bills. At a higher level, it permits computer systems to become more responsive to changing work priorities or hardware problems.

VMware pioneered the technology for running multiple "virtual machines," each with its own operating system, on a single computer. But the days when the EMC subsidiary had the market to itself are over. VMware Server is similar to Microsoft's Virtual Server; open-source Xen, while relatively immature and not available for Windows, reproduces the basic features of ESX server.

A New York conference, IDC's Virtualization Forum, is providing a good reason for other rivals to try to win some attention.

Among them are start-up Virtual Iron a Lowell, Mass.-based company whose software is designed not only to run multiple operating systems on one machine but also to let a single operating system span several machines. The company hopes its approach will lead to easily reconfigurable computing systems that fluidly respond to changing work demands. The technology has been used in mainframes for decades, but now is making its way to mainstream servers as well.

Virtual Iron's approach uses a technology called paravirtualization that requires changes in the operating system. The company plans to announce that Novell, the No. 2 Linux seller, now provides that support in a version of its Suse Linux Enterprise Server product.

In addition, Virtual Iron won an endorsement from IBM, which said the software is a good fit for its BladeCenter servers.

However, Virtual Iron is still getting started. The company has six customers, a representative said, declining to reveal any names but saying they are in the industries of financial services, aerospace, distribution and Web hosting.

Another company that already has several customers in the Web hosting business is SWsoft, which sells a product called Virtuozzo that subdivides a single copy of the operating system so different applications believe they have a whole computer to themselves. Each of these partitions is called a virtual private server.

SWsoft released version 3.0 of its Linux product, which adds a feature called Zero Downtime Migration that lets a virtual private server be moved from one computer to another without shutting it down. Virtuozzo costs $1,000 per processor.

Version 3 also adds support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4.0. In addition, the Herndon, Va.-based company released version 3.5.1 of Virtuozzo for Windows, which is faster than predecessors and includes a feature that lets conventional server software be moved to the virtual private server foundation.