VMware vs Microsoft in virtualisation battle

CEO says VMware is gaining momentum and will continue to grow

With the recruitment of IBM, Intel, AMD and CA, among others, to a community aimed at framing an industry standard for virtualisation, VMware is planning to have a powerful counter-attack for anything Microsoft can dream up as part of Vista.

Virtualisation in its fullest form allows an operating system to “break free” of dependence on a particular collection of underlying hardware, says VMware’s Sydney-based managing director Paul Harapin. This not only allows a number of software servers to run on the same underlying hardware, it means a server can be relocated from one processor to another, with its state at that moment completely preserved.

Smaller examples of virtualisation technology are available as a free download from the company’s website, intended to run on a desktop PC and provide a single virtual machine to accommodate one or a small group of applications, for example a Linux browser.

The virtual machine can be dumped as data into a portable device – even an iPod – then read back out into a PC at another site, where it remains in a protected partition. “You can put it on your kids’ PC, which might be full of viruses, spyware and stuff like that, and they won’t affect it.”

The next release of its major offering, Hypervisor version 3 (now called VMware ESX Server), will add support for Intel’s VT and AMD’s Pacifica technologies, which provide virtualisation on the chip. This, for example, lets the cores of a dual-core chip be used for different virtual machines. There are “hundreds” of users of VMware virtualisation tools in New Zealand, says Harapin.

The community is tied together with agreements to exchange technology, including source-code, so as to integrate the members’ offerings closely.

VMware also offers source-code access to developers who want to construct devices embedding a VMware environment.

The company recently announced a $100,000 prize for the best digital “appliance”, a tightly integrated special-purpose hardware-software package using VMware products.

Microsoft’s current virtualisation products sit on top of Windows, and hence are less flexible than VMware’s, says Harapin, but Microsoft will also be releasing a virtualisation capability directly on the hardware as part of the Vista release.

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