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VMware: Hardware Ain't What it Used to Be

VMware has completed an overhaul of its virtualization software, a technology that now seems to embody many of the traits of utility computing scenarios.

VMware Infrastructure 3 helps customers merge applications from different computing machines into pools of resources that can be dipped into at will by other computers.

This move, which VMware has been steadily moving toward for the last several years, is designed to break the typical constraints associated with owning machines configured to run only specific pieces of software.

VMware Infrastructure 3 includes a broad swath of new and old virtualization technologies.

It includes VMware ESX Server 3, the company's strongest server, storage and network virtualization platform, and VirtualCenter 2 with VMotion, which lets users move running virtual machines from one host to another.

New features include storage virtualization via VMFS 3, a new distributed file system that lets users bundle storage from different storage arrays, and then pools them and makes them available to applications.

With VMotion, the new Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS) tool aggregates hardware resources into logical resource pools and allocates them to applications running in virtual machines.

When a virtual machine feels the weight of an increased load, DRS allocates more resources by redistributing virtual machines among the physical servers.

Another new tool, VMware High Availability (HA), eliminates single points of hardware failure by relocating and restarting virtual machines.

VMware Consolidated Backup offloads backup jobs to one central server. This function reduces the load on ESX Server and allows it to run more virtual machines while backing up data during production hours.

Other new perks include new virtual SMP capabilities to enable virtualization of large enterprise applications that can scale to take advantage of four virtual CPUs and 16 gigabytes of memory and new native support for iSCSI   and NAS storage.

VMware Infrastructure 3, in beta since October, has been tested with more than 200 servers and storage arrays, as well as management software.

The platform runs 28 "flavors" of Windows, Linux, Netware and Solaris, and VMware is offering its new software now in three packages.

The idea of the technology is that servers within data centers can be managed as one utility and allocated to different divisions or projects within a company, said Patrick Lin, director of data center platform products at VMware.

Lin said the practice of servers being oriented for a specific operating system and application set is giving way to the methodology of different types of software working on the same machine.

This is quite a departure from where VMware started virtualizing systems, first with server partitioning through a hypervisor and later with the consolidation of several servers into few.

"You'll never look at hardware the same way," Lin said.

With VMware Infrastructure 3, new capacity can be added or subtracted based on demand without shutting down the system to adjust resource provisions.

Applications can also be shuttled to hardware resources on the fly regardless of the operating system and hardware.

Such characteristics are typical of so-called utility computing platforms, where software automates tasks, such as provisioning servers to handle peak operating workloads or performing maintenance on failing machines.

Analysts overwhelmingly believe this approach will typify the future of business computing.

They also believe utility computing will eventually bring a multi-billion-dollar market opportunity for virtualization vendors such as VMware and SWSoft, and systems vendors who employ virtualization, such as IBM, HP and Sun Microsystems.

Designed for small- and medium-sized businesses, VMware Infrastructure Starter provides server virtualization using local or NAS storage and full management capabilities through the included VirtualCenter management agent.

VMware Infrastructure Starter starts at $1,000 for 2 CPU configurations.

VMware Infrastructure Standard consolidates production environments. Its core is ESX Server and includes clustered VMFS 3, Virtual SMP for running enterprise workloads and the VirtualCenter. VMware Infrastructure Standard starts at $3,750.

Finally, VMware Infrastructure Enterprise, which embodies VMware's virtualization stack, is designed for large data centers and starts at $5,750.