Virtual Iron Gussies Up Virtualization Offering

Mike Grandinetti, chief marketing officer at Virtual Iron, admires and respects VMware . Maybe not so much for the quality of its software — though he won’t bad-mouth it — but for the way it’s impressive initial public offering has brought so much attention to the virtualization software market.

But Grandinetti said his company isn’t ready to cede the virtualization market to VMware or settle for merely basking in whatever collateral sunshine happens to be cast its way.

On Tuesday, the Lowell, Mass.-based, open source virtualization provider unveiled Virtual Iron Version 4, a software package geared primarily for small- and mid-sized companies looking for a simple and affordable way to get in on the virtualization craze.

Virtual Iron’s virtualization menu, long on management tools, now includes something for the nibbler, the diner and the famished.

“VMware continues to be very successful mainly because it’s a safe choice and, for a long time, was really the only choice,” Grandinetti told “But when you’re talking about a market as large and untapped as this one, we know customers crave choice. That’s what we’ve set out to deliver.”

To help get the virtualization-shy, first-timer in the door, it offers its Version 4 Single Server Edition gratis. This package provides one virtual CPU, up to 12 virtual servers, local disk storage and access to the Novell SLES 10 kernel and drivers, giving users all the benefits of complete Novell certification and support for all hardware supported by Novell in SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.

Stepping it up a notch, customers can opt for the Enterprise Edition at $499 per socket. Users can create an unlimited number of virtual servers, access the Novell kernel and tap into bundle of transparent migration and maintenance features.

For $799 per socket, the Extended Enterprise Edition gives customers all the functionality and features found in the Enterprise Edition plus some handy disaster-recovery and capacity-management tools. LiveConnect, developed by PlateSpin, lets users take the transparent transfer of data from physical servers to virtual machines or virtual machines to virtual machines. All three packages include a revamped, Windows-based graphic user interface.

As companies struggle to find new ways to cut datacenter costs and reduce energy consumption, virtualization software providers like Virtual Iron, VMware and XenSource, acquired last month for $500 million by Citrix Systems , provide an intriguing alternative to the space-hogging, floor-to-ceiling server racks found in most datacenters.

Virtualization software enables IT managers to cram multiple computing environments onto one computer, allowing one physical server to perform the function of two or more servers.

In May, Gartner reported more than 500,000 of these virtual machines were already online and predicts that figure to grow to more than 3 million machines by 2009.

“It’s like a Swiss Army knife,” Grandinetti said. “It reduces the number of servers you need, it lowers your cooling and electricity costs and, from an operational standpoint, it saves you a lot of time because it’s a lot easier to deploy a virtual machine once you’ve cloned that virtual image than it does to buy, connect and provision a new server.”

Tom Bittman, an analyst at Gartner, said that while the virtualization market is robust, vendors still have to sort nagging issues such as licensing, support and the impact of emerging technologies before it’s ready for primetime.

“It’s a complicated space,” he said. “We know why people are virtualizing: reduce spending, datacenter space and power. That’s what gets people in the door. Management tools like what Virtual Iron provides aren’t that important yet.”

Virtual Iron Version 4 will be available for download Sept. 10.

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