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Sun Comes Out Swinging on Server Virtualization

Amid a frenzy of new products and announcements around virtualization from other industry players, Sun Microsystems today pressed forward on its own plans to carve out a place in the market, unveiling its xVM server hypervisor and striking new deals to broaden its existing partnerships.

Sun's open source-based xVM Server 1.0 marks the company's foray into providing hypervisors designed for datacenters. It also works with Windows, Solaris, Unix and Linux and runs on both SPARC and x86 platforms.

The company also took the wraps off the latest edition of its xVM Ops Center, version 2.0, which manages both physical and virtual infrastructures. Sun (NASDAQ: JAVA) also said it plans to add Mac support to the next version of its Virtual Box desktop hypervisor.

In addition, Sun is joining Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) third-party server virtualization validation program (SVVP) and is cross-certifying the Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisor to run on xVM.

The announcements come as only the most recent twist in an increasingly complex web of interrelated products, partnerships and support relationships, as enterprise vendors scramble for better position to capitalize on the virtualization craze.

Sun's xVM is based on the Xen open source hypervisor from Xen.org, which announced the Xen 3.3 hypervisor in August. This supports chipsets in products ranging from PDAs to supercomputers, according to Xen.org.

As a result, the xVM platform is "designed inherently to be open source, easy and to scale [out to] Internet scale," Vijay Sarathy, Sun's senior director of marketing for xVM, told InternetNews.com. This means it will use standard Internet technologies and protocols to manage a widely dispersed virtualized infrastructure, he explained.

The platform also offers features like live migration -- enable the swapping of running virtual machines from one physical server to another -- and built-in management capabilities. It'll also be competitively priced, Sarathy assured.

Because the Sun xVM components are managed through a browser, one benefit to Sun's solution is that it offers access from devices like the Apple iPhone. On the PC side, xVM supports Mozilla Firefox and is compatible with Internet Explorer. Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) new Chrome browser, currently in an early beta release, may also become a possibility, Sarathy said.

"From what I understand, Google says Chrome's designed for Web 2.0 GUIs and rich Internet applications and dynamic user interfaces, and that's what we've designed our environment for, so we should do pretty well with them," he said.

Meanwhile, he said xVM Ops Center 2.0 would be "half the cost of comparable infrastructures from other players like VMware."

Virtualization scramble

Sun's certainly not the only one pressing hard to profit from booming customer interest in virtualization.

The company's announcements come mere days after Microsoft held the first in a series of "Get Virtual Now" events to promote its own virtualization wares. At this week's event, the company made a number of announcements around new and upcoming hypervisor technology and touted its burgeoning ecosystem, which several VMware partners have flocked to join.

Last month, Oracle launched Oracle VM Templates, which are virtual machines combining various Oracle applications and a Linux operating system. And just last week, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) and BMC Software (NYSE: BMC) became the latest companies to announce new virtualization management tools.

[cob:Special_Report]Longtime VMware (NYSE: VMW) partner HP has still more up its sleeve -- next week, at VMware's VMworld 2008 user conference, HP will announce new products, services and solutions to help customers deploy, manage and simplify VMware virtualization environments.

However, VMworld may be somewhat overshadowed by the turmoil at VMware. The company's co-founder and chief scientist, Mendel Rosenblum, quit the company yesterday. That move came nine weeks to the day after his wife, Diane Green, the company's CEO and its other co-founder, was abruptly ousted from her position.

The change at VMware had been expected by observers, and follows the departure a week ago of VMware's top product development executive, Richard Sarwal, who returned to a position at Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL).

Adding to the upheaval in the virtualization market is Red Hat's (NYSE: RHT) acquisition last week of Qumranet for $107 million. Qumranet offers a virtualization solution built on the open source Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM) hypervisor, and competes with Xen, which Red Hat had for some time been using as the source of its virtualization technology.

It's not clear how a battle over domination of the open source virtualization market will affect partners and enterprises planning on virtualization. Prominent Xen users, apart from Sun and Citrix (NASDAQ: CTSX) -- which purchased Xen's leading commercial sponsor, XenSource, last year -- include IBM (NYSE: IBM), Novell (NASDAQ: NOVL), and Oracle.

The biggest winner to emerge from the frenzy may be Microsoft, which has already inked rival VMware to certification in its SVVP program.

The software giant will be able to work with customers from VMware, and from Sun, following the latest turn of events. It may also help the company gain further inroads into the enterprise, upping the pressure on the virtualization market's leader, VMware.