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Virtual Iron adds Xen, aims for rival VMware

Virtual Iron's newest version of its virtualization software adds Xen's hypervisor. Now the startup is talking tough and taking on market leader VMware.

BOSTON – Startup Virtual Iron Software Inc. this week is releasing a new version of its virtualization software, which adds the open source Xen hypervisor, and already users are welcoming the addition as an alternative to virtualization software market leader VMware Inc.

Virtual Iron Version 3.0 will grant users "native virtualization," which Virtual Iron executives said will let customers run existing 32- and 64-bit Linux and Windows operating systems without modification or upgrades to their data centers. Support for Windows, which Virtual Iron executives said is due out in September, marks a first for Virtual Iron, which previously worked with only Linux.

The new version will also use Intel Virtualization Technology; the hardware-assisted capabilities built into Intel processors. And it will require no installation or management of virtualization services on physical servers. This architecture is what enables Virtual Iron to support both Linux and Windows operating systems.

Intel Virtualization Technology is part of a collection of Intel silicon technologies that include Intel Hyper-Threading Technology and Intel Extended Memory 64 Technology. By implementing Virtualization Technology, Virtual Iron 3.0 allows a platform to run multiple operating systems and applications in independent partition.

It's an especially active week for other server virtualization software makers. Microsoft, XenSource Inc. and VMware Inc. also offer free software or new products, which add to a growing competitive price and feature war many users and analysts were expecting.

"The industry needs an alternative to proprietary and expensive virtualization [applications]," said Eric Bogatie, president of NI Solutions Group Inc., a Markham, Ontario-based Web managed-services provider. "We want open source economics to consolidate our [multiple operating system] data centers, but we require proven reliability, scalability and manageability to ensure we deliver on our service-level agreements."

Like VMware and GSX Server, and now Microsoft and its Virtual Server 2005 R2, Virtual Iron will provide free versions of its product, called Open Virtual Iron for Xen/Community Edition and Virtual Iron 3 for Xen/Professional Edition.

Virtual Iron president and CEO John Thibault compared the Professional Edition to VMware ESX Server. He expects first time users to adopt it as a bare metal deployment that sits on top of existing servers over a thin Xen hypervisor layer that will control hardware resources and allow the OS to run unmodified.

A third application, Virtual Iron 3 for Xen/Enterprise Edition, will be available via a commercial license for multi-server configuration and support. This edition contains Virtualization Services and Virtualization Manager and includes capabilities for high availability, disaster recovery, workload management and policy-based automation.

All three of the applications will begin beta testing for Linux in July 2006 and for Windows in September 2006. Average pricing for Enterprise Edition will start at $1,500 for a single server.

Virtual Iron's plans, as well as VMware's, XenSource's and Microsoft's, reflect the predictions of industry analysts. Research firms such as IDC, Framingham, Mass., and Forrester Research Inc., Cambridge, Mass., have claimed that virtualization will be built into every layer of IT within the next five years.

Both firms have said that within this time period, the process of dividing up servers into virtual pools of resources will become less important and that virtualization management tools will become the differentiating value for IT.

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