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VMware this week had the look of a popular yet insecure child as it paraded some of its largest allies in front of the press to tout a new virtualization standards movement and a new source code sharing program.

If you're looking for big name friends, VMware has them. AMD, BEA, BMC, Broadcom, Cisco, CA, Dell, Emulex, HP, IBM, Intel, Mellanox, Novell, QLogic and Red Hat have all vowed to set virtualization standards in tandem with VMware. In particular, VMware will release its own Virtual Machine Hypervisor Interfaces (VMHI) - technology it bills as the foundation of partitioning - in the hopes that other companies will pick up these same interfaces, making VMware's software a type of industry standard.

But before you feel too impressed by the list of supporters above, remember that VMware competes against the open source Xen project and Microsoft in the x86 server partitioning market. Both Xen and Microsoft share many of VMware's backers. The odds of some type of standard emerging in this young, lucrative market - VMware pulled in $91m last quarter - with the current set of players seems most unlikely.

That said, VMware doesn't need a tremendous amount of standards help to maintain a dominant spot in the virtualization market. With EMC's deep pockets behind it, VMware has managed to lock up a huge early lead in the space. The Xen backers can argue their software has a performance edge, but it doesn't yet support Windows (Linux only) and it hasn't secured any massive customer wins comparable to those nailed down by VMware for years. Microsoft sells a pretty low-end product that, in our experience, does far more harm than good to a system's performance. In addition, Microsoft won't have its new virtualization product ready until 2007 at the earliest with the release of Longhorn Server or more likely in 2009 with the first update to that OS.

Given all this, VMware's "virtualization standards" announcement should be seen mostly as a publicity stunt by the market leader - a friendly reminder to Xen fans and Microsoft that it's king of the heap for now.

On the code front, VMware did its best to give a new software sharing program open source overtones. "VMware opens up ESX Server Source Code" and "Community Source" headed up the sections about the program in a VMware statement. In reality, however, VMware won't be much more open than it was before.

The company has pledged to give customers a peek at its high-end ESX Server code under a royalty-free license. The partners are then encouraged to contribute source code and binaries specific to their own needs that VMware will consider adding to the product. This could be a real boost to hardware makers who need specialized software for their particular systems. And, in fact, HP, AMD and Cisco are some of the first vendors to join this effort.

In the past though, VMware has already done a lot of shared engineering work with the likes of HP and IBM. It would seem the shared source program is meant to attract smaller companies as VMware looks to build out a larger list of supported hardware for ESX Server. Anyway, open source this ain't. It's simply letting customers see your products - a pretty common practice.

There's more information on the standards effort here and on the code share here. ®

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