Volume 3, Number 5 -- February 7, 2006

VMware Gives Away Updated GSX Server for Free

Published: February 7, 2006

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

As many of us in the industry have been saying, the creation of an open source virtual machine monitor, or hypervisor as it is commonly called, would put pressure on any company that sells virtual or logical machine partitioning or has added it to their systems and servers as some sort of differentiation. The original open source hypervisor project, Xen, has been joined by the OpenVZ project, which is an open source, Linux-only version of SWsoft's Virtuozzo product.

And yesterday, the inevitable has happened. Virtualization software juggernaut VMware, a subsidiary of disk array maker EMC, is giving away VMware Server, a spruced up version of its GSX Server product, for free. While the company has not gone as far as taking its code open source--and seems very unlikely to except among key systems and software partners in a controlled source manner--the freeness of the new VMware Server will make it appealing.

The reason is simple. VMware has deployed over 20,000 instances of its server products, which include GSX Server, ESX Server, and extensions to ESX Server that make it more useful and, importantly, competitive with the kinds of dynamic partitioning environments that have been common on Unix and proprietary servers. The company has distributed millions of copies of its VMware Workstation product to developers as well. So VMware is far and away the dominant supplier of virtualization products on servers and workstations. With Microsoft pumping up its Virtual Server 2005, dropping prices, and being the future no-brainer and possibly no cost virtualization for the Windows platform, and with new entrants such as Parallels jumping into the market last fall and Virtual Iron diving in over a year ago, VMware is no doubt beginning to feel a little competitive pressure. This is what happens in any maturing market, of course. So VMware is doing the smart thing: it is giving away its entry server product in the hopes of building a massive installed base that makes it tough for other competitors to beat it, and which also will give it a huge installed base of customers who want to buy services or upgrade to the ESX Server product.

The free VMware Server is a kicker to the existing GSX Server product. With GSX Server, you load an operating system on a machine and then you load GSX Server on it as you would any applications. GSX Server provides a hardware abstraction layer that then allows you to load multiple and incompatible operating systems inside GSX Server. GSX Server, which is known as a host hypervisor, runs on top of Linux or Windows machines and supports Linux, Windows, NetWare, BSD Unix, OS/2, and other guest operating systems. ESX Server is more robust in that it is a bare-iron hypervisor, meaning that the VMware hypervisor runs on the server itself and not inside another operating system, which could crash and bring down all partitions. With ESX Server, different virtual machine partitions run side-by-side on the hypervisor, and then VMware adds goodies such as the VMotion feature, which allows running partitions to be transported from one physical server to another one, and other management features that make it an enterprise-class product.

VMware Server is in beta now (I am downloading the software as I write this story for use on some home-grown servers) and supports 32-bit X86 and 64-bit X64 hardware. Dan Chu, senior director of developer and ISV products at VMware says that VMware server is the first virtualization product to offer 64-bit guest support, in fact. VMware Server will also be the first software to support Intel's future "Virtualization Technology" hardware assists for virtual machines and includes VirtualSMP support, which allows a single virtual machine to span two or four processor cores. VMware Server does not include VMotion, which is a goodie that VMware wants you to pay for. To make money, VMware is going to offer support and services for the new VMware Server, but Chu said that pricing for these services had not been set yet. VMware will divulge pricing after a few betas and the product is generally available some time in the second quarter. When pressed about what the pricing might be for those services, Chu admits: "The price will be that customers don't even think of it." There will be upgrades for customers who buy services for VMware Server and who want to move up to ESX Server.

Chu says that VMware has no plans to give away its Workstation product, and it certainly has no plans to give away its ESX Server, either. But it would be a good guess to think that VMware will call the next release of that product simply VMware Enterprise Server. He adds that the VMware Player, which allows a virtual machine and its systems and application software created using Workstation, GSX Server, or ESX Server to be moved and "played" on another machine, has had over 1 million downloads of the player. Tellingly, some 70 percent of the users of the VMware Player "have never touched" a virtual machine before, and over 70 third parties are already distributing products inside the player. "VMware Server has the same philosophical approach as VMware Player," he explains. "And we are going after the large pool of people who haven't tried virtualization. We believe that VMware Server will change how people use virtualization and how broadly it will be deployed."

What VMware clearly hopes for is to become the de facto virtual machine for X86 and X64 platforms. Chu says that 25 percent of the 20,000 customers who have deployed a server product have standardized on VMware's software, and that in many cases, every server they roll into their companies has a VMware product deployed on it from day one. He said that a stunning 63 percent of its customers were examining VMware's products as a disaster recovery tool.

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Kevin Vandever,
Shannon O'Donnell, Victor Rozek, Hesh Wiener, Alex Woodie
Publisher and Advertising Director: Jenny Thomas
Advertising Sales Representative: Kim Reed
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