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VMware Embeds ESX into OEM Servers

At VMworld Europe in Cannes, France, at the end of February, VMware announced that it will embed ESX 3i into select servers from big guns Dell Inc., IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Fujitsu Siemens Computers. The servers will come pre-configured for virtualization and ready to fire up out-of-the-box. They should start shipping by the end of April.

ESX 3i, says VMware, is the world's smallest hypervisor, at 32MB. Compared to VMware's standard hypervisor, ESX Server, ESX 3i is "quite a radical departure," says Rachel Chalmers, senior analyst for enterprise software for The 451 Group. "The codebase of ESX 3i is supposed to be the future codebase of ESX Server," Chalmers explains.

One of the big changes in ESX 3i is that it eliminates the Linux management console, replacing it with a command-line interface. Those changes "make it extremely embed-able," Chalmers says.

Combined with a similarly timed announcement that Sun servers will offer the VMware Infrastructure product suite, it's clear that VMware's no longer content with customers calling the company asking for a product; they want IT admins testing virtualization out-of-the-box -- and especially before trying any other virtualization products. With all of the major hardware vendors in place, that could mean a sharp increase in virtualization usage.

Bundling: Old Hat
Bundling, of course, is a tactic that's been used to great effect for years by Microsoft. It's also one that the software giant is using again to try and cut into VMware's dominance by bundling its own hypervisor, Hyper-V, into Windows Server (WS) 2008. Released at the same time that VMware made its ESX 3i announcement, Microsoft hopes that admins installing WS 2008 will want to try out Hyper-V, because it's free and ready to go.

Mike Cherry, an analyst with independent consultancy Directions on Microsoft, thinks VMware's bundling strategy should worry Redmond, given that ESX 3i is not only OS-agnostic, but also OS-independent.

Dell Inc. is one of the larger vendors that will be bundling VMware's lightweight hypervisor ESX 3i into select servers.

"I think it's disconcerting for Microsoft. You may get a situation where some parties may buy a server, and if the server comes with a hypervisor, you won't have the concept of a host operating system or parent operating system on that platform ... It [also] might make OEMs less interested in selling servers with an operating system," instead selling them with just a hypervisor, says Cherry.

These efforts by VMware and Microsoft aren't the first attempts at bundling a hypervisor; Novell Inc. and Red Hat Inc., for example, have been shipping Xen, an open source hypervisor, in their versions of Linux for years. Despite this, Xen hasn't become a dominant virtualization player in enterprise computing environments, which is still ruled by VMware.

There's no doubt, however, that with Vmware's and Microsoft's latest moves, the stakes have just been raised a great deal.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization Review.

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