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Next attraction: Servers with embedded virtualization

Posted: 13 Sep 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:servers? embedded virtualization? hypervisor software?

As VMworld 2007 opens Tuesday in San Francisco, both VMware and XenSource announced that they have thin versions of their hypervisor software that can ship pre-installed on hardware.

The move makes virtualization a feature of the hardware instead of something that's added on after the server is already configured and loaded with up and running. It also provides a high profile contrast to how Microsoft views virtualization.

Microsoft says that virtualization is part of the OS but that won't be the case until Windows Server 2008 ships with its Viridian hypervisor, sometime in the second or third quarter of 2008. And then Viridian's accessibility will depend on how fast enterprises upgrade to Windows Server 2008, although IDC projects it will be the dominant form of Windows Server by 2010.

Virtual machines
VMware and XenSource are both saying server manufacturers can offer products that have a hypervisor as part of the package that arrives at the shipping dock today. XenSource CTO Simon Crosby says a major manufacturer will announce within 30 days that it will ship servers models with Xen preloaded.

In effect, both VMware and XenSource are saying, you can wait for a Microsoft virtualization OS stack if you want to. Or you can jump into virtualization now by turning on your new server.

XenSource's XenExpress OEM Edition can be preloaded on hardware built to a customer's design, and as the server is turned on, offer the system administrator a set of simple configuration options that include a pre-determined number of virtual machines.

Virtualization "should be part of the box. As the server is turned on, the first thing the system administrator sees is [the option for] virtual machines, and he's off to the races in doing virtualization," Simon Crosby, CTO of XenSource, predicts.

Original equipment suppliers can also opt to offer a number of features preconfigured on the server as virtual machines, such as firewalls or other applications. A server preloaded with virtual machines represents "a great opportunity [for a manufacturer] to upsell," said Crosby.

IBM announced last week that the next generation of its x Series x3950 M2 servers will include an embedded hypervisor. The servers, based on Intel quad-core chips, are scheduled to ship in Q4. On Monday, IBM's Rich Lechner, VP of IT optimization, said that the embedded hypervisor will be VMware's ESX Server. He said IBM will support Microsoft's Viridian when it becomes available and XenSource at a future unspecified date.

In talking directly to hardware manufacturers, hypervisor vendors may have found a way to match Microsoft's perennial advantage over other software vendors. Since the advent of Windows, it has cut specialized deals with hardware suppliers to load Windows on hardware at a bargain price. One of the few operating systems to compete with the arrangement has been Linux, which is free to the hardware manufacturers.

If hardware manufacturers see virtualization as a selling point for servers, then future server buyers may find they can get hypervisors at a bargain rate from their hardware supplier, including value-added features, as well as get it as a feature of the Windows Server 2008 OS.

- Charles Babcock

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