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VMware Goes 'Back in Time' With Upgrade

VMware plans to move forward in the virtualization software market by going "back in time."

The software maker owned by EMC today began rolling out a new version of its desktop virtualization software that comes equipped with a new record and playback feature, as well as support for paravirtualization and Windows Vista.

VMware Workstation lets developers test virtual machines on desktops and laptops and rehost legacy applications without rewriting them. Virtual machines let businesses reduce the amount of hardware they install by enabling two or more operating system environments on one physical server.

Workstation 6.0 goes beyond previous versions with a new virtual machine record and replay tool that lets users record the inputs and outputs of a virtual machine, said James Phillips, senior director of software lifecycle solutions at VMware.

Recalling the time travel concept of the film Back to the Future, users can roll "back in time" to the start of the recording and replay execution with a guarantee that the virtual machine will perform the same operations every time.

Who would want to do this with a piece of software? How about any programmer looking to reproduce and squash bugs before they start nibbling at the production environment.

"With this technology, you've got the ability when you see an anomaly occur to literally go back to a point in time when it had not yet occurred and step up to the point in time where it did occur," Phillips said. "It's like a surveillance video."

In a step that could be seen in a positive light by the open source community, Workstation 6.0 now offers cross-platform paravirtualization with the open-interface standard paravirt-ops.

Paravirt-ops is an open interface developed through a community process that included collaboration from the Linux community and commercial vendors IBM, Red Hat, VMware and XenSource.

Paravirt-ops supports the VMware VMI 3.0 API, a hypervisor-agnostic paravirtualization interface for allowing communication between a virtual machine layer and the guest OS that's operating inside of a virtual machine.

As the first commercial product to support paravirt-ops, Workstation 6 allows users to run the same Linux kernel in paravirtualized mode on a hypervisor as well as on native hardware. Users have fewer Linux kernels to support and maintain, which means fewer management headaches for programmers.

For those using Workstation to accommodate Microsoft environments, users may now deploy Windows Vista as a guest or host operating system, facilitating the rehosting of legacy systems to trigger upgrade and migration projects with minimal fuss.

Adding support for the latest Microsoft operating system builds on Workstation's OS support, which includes Windows, Linux, NetWare, Solaris x86 and FreeBSD.

Other new features to Workstation 6 include support for USB 2.0, which drives speedy storage gadgets, Webcams and the popular Apple iPod player. VMware also now offers a VMware ACE Option Pack to let Workstation 6 users to transport secure virtual machines on USB memory sticks.

The new software can also monitor multiple displays, letting users, such as financial traders, set up one virtual machine to span multiple monitors or multiple virtual machines to each display on separate monitors.

"If you're running something in a virtual machine on your desktop it's important that you be able to interact with the devices that you use around your desktop system," Phillips said.

Other perks: a virtual debugger plug-in that lets developers debug and run programs from Eclipse and Microsoft Visual Studio and background virtual machine execution to let users run virtual machines in the background without the VMware Workstation user interface.

Workstation 6 is available now for Windows and Linux at the list price of $189 for the downloadable version or $209 for the media kit version.

With more than a $1 billion run-rate in 2006, VMware continues to be the market leader for virtualization which is growing both in virtual machines used and dollars spent on them.

VMware's success got the market percolating, with Virtual Iron, SWSoft and open source hopefuls such as XenSource coming to the field to play.