On Monday, EMC subsidiary VMware will release a beta of VMware Server that it calls an "entry-level virtualization product" to partition x86 and x86-64 servers into multiple virtual machines. Unlike the VMware Player, which has limited features compared to the desktop-oriented VMware Workstation, VMware Server will be a full-featured product that is capable of creating virtual machines and includes monitoring features and support for Intel's Virtualization Technology (VT) and virtual SMP -- which allows the virtual machine to present multiple processors to a guest OS, even if the machine has a single CPU.
Raghu Raghuram, VMware's vice president of datacenter and desktop platform products, said that the product would be "an advancement over GSX," VMware's current entry-level server virtualization product, and that VMware would begin directing new customers to VMware Server. Though the release is free as in beer, the product is not being released under an open source license.
However, Raghuram said that VMware Server will not offer the advanced management tools found in VMware ESX Server. "It does not have all the capability and advanced functionality ... that you'd need for large-scale rollouts."
The current pricing for GSX Server is $1,694 for a dual-CPU system, and $3,388 for a unlimited processor system, according to VMware's site. Raghuram did say that VMware would be offering paid support for VMware Server, but did not offer a pricing scale for support.
Response to competition?
Competition in the virtualization market is heating up. While VMware had little competition when it started, Linux vendors are now starting to include virtualization software in their distributions in the form of Xen. Sun offers virtualization in the form of Solaris Containers, Microsoft offers Virtual PC, and SWsoft has Virtuozzo.
Raghuram says that VMware Server is not an attempt to lure in customers who might be tempted by other solutions, and not a reaction to competition in the virtualization market. Instead, he said that the motivation is "to get a whole new class of users."
VMware's competitors, however, say that the company is trying to protect its front-runner status. Simon Crosby, CTO of XenSource, said that VMware is "trying to counter the fact that Xen is available, free, and is a great success."
"It's a clear sign that Xen's paravirtualization has won the day, and it's a tacit admission that the 15,000 downloads a month of Xen 3.0 is beginning to hurt."
Raghuram denied that VMware was concerned about Xen, and said that Xen was "unstable" and "meant for people who are sophisticated enough to roll their own kernels." Instead, Raghuram said that VMware is targeting a "dynamically opposite audience," by making VMware Server free and easy to use.
Crosby admitted that Xen is "not the easiest to use right now, but that will be addressed very soon. Moreover it is very stable. Our QA process leverages the contributed, pooled resources of over 20 major enterprise IT solution vendors and thousands of servers world-wide."
SWsoft also reacted positively to the news. Carla Safigan, director of enterprise marketing for SWsoft, said that the release indicates "VMware is starting to feel pressure from competitors, and concerned with long-term market share."
Safigan said that the free product shouldn't affect SWsoft's market, because its Virtuozzo competes directly with VMware ESX, rather than the GSX product, but "Microsoft is really going to feel it."
She also noted that SWsoft is trying to work with Linux vendors like Novell and Red Hat to move OpenVZ directly into Linux distributions. OpenVZ is an open source subset of SWsoft's Virtuozzo.
Slowly but surely, the virtualization market is being commoditized by projects like Xen and OpenVZ the same way that Linux helped to commoditize the operating system market. Safigan said that, in the long term, customers will be choosing virtualization software based on performance and management tools, rather than just the core virtualization technology.
In the end, Crosby said the move is good for virtualization technology overall. "It's clear that VMware has decided to be a little charitable for a change, but of course the sting in the tail is that GSX is still closed source, and it's slow and outdated. But it's good for virtualization in general. We firmly believe that every server should be virtualized."