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VMware has armed its largest product release in company history.

The server virtualization specialist looks to extend its lead over Microsoft and a host of other rivals with a revamp to its flagship product and a number of upgraded and new management packages. Beyond the product refreshes, VMware has also altered the way it sells software by picking up a more aggressive bundling model. All told, VMware is well poised to burrow deeper into customers' data centers.

Starting today, customers will find the EMC subsidiary selling VMware Infrastructure 3.

At its broadest level, this package includes the new ESX Server 3 software along with fresh versions of existing management products such as VMotion, VirtualCenter 2, Virtual SMP, and Resource Pools. VMware has then added four new products to bundle as well with its VMFS file system, Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS), High Availability product and Consolidated Backup software.

The breadth of these products mark VMware's intention to move well beyond managing a couple of applications and operating systems per server.

"The big deal here is that unlike previous generations where a customer created a virtual machine and targeted it at one piece of hardware, we can now let you aggregate all of your hardware into one pool and then map applications to those hardware resources," said Raghu Raghuram, a VP at VMware.

VMware now has tools for handling failures in a cluster, backing up data onto a dedicated storage system and using four-way virtual systems. These packages combine to let VMware's software play in more critical parts of the data center and help it tap into sophisticated management packages from the likes of IBM, Symantec, HP and CA.

It's difficult to say how well VMware's suite performs together without having a first-hand look at the package. The company, however, has beta tested the entire VMware Infrastructure 3 suite since last October, and more than 6,400 customers have played with the code.

Rivals such as Microsoft and XenSource can't really come close to matching the varied aspects of VMware Infrastructure 3. For the most part, rivals are still working on fine-tuning their core virtualization platform. Microsoft, for example, will throw out Virtual Server in favor of a new hypervisor bundled into Longhorn Server sometime in 2008. Meanwhile, XenSource is trying to figure out its management software strategy that will back up the Xen hypervisor.

"I certainly pay attention to Microsoft, and they are a formidable competitor," said VMware's long-time chief, Diane Greene. "But what they are talking about having in two years does not even match what we have today."

The bundling approach by VMware also shows how it has reacted to Microsoft and XenSource's move to make their main virtualization products free. VMware has made thousands of dollars per CPU on the back of ESX Server. It now looks to extend that model by adding in more software for the same price.

In the past, for example, you could buy all of the high-end software VMware sold for about $5,000 per two-socket box. Now, customers will get all of that software plus the four new products for $5,750. Those who don't want the massive package can purchase the file system, Virtual SMP, Virtual Center 2.0 and ESX Server 3.0 for $3,750. A lower-end package without the file system or Virtual SMP costs $1,000.

That last package is a pretty good deal for smaller customers, considering that VMware used to sell ESX Server on its own for $3,750.

Some of the more impressive additions to the VMware suite include the following:

  • ESX Server 3.0 ships with four-way virtual SMP support up from two-way support in the past. The four CPUs can now eat up to 16GB of memory.
  • Power management tools for shifting unused servers into rest modes.
  • Support for the iSCSI storage protocol.
  • Support for up to 50 different storage systems from the likes of HP, NetApp and IBM delivered via the revamped file system

Incidentally, Itanium customers are now out of luck where VMware is concerned. The software maker has pulled its Itanic support, which makes sense given the strength of HP-UX's partitioning tools and the lack of a real Itanium market outside of HP.

VMware Infrastructure 3 will be available with most Microsoft and Linux operating systems as well as Solaris x86. VMware is still fine-tuning support for some 64-bit OSes.

Over the long run, VMware will face a tough struggle to maintain its growth and revenue. The software maker is heading toward being a $1bn-a-year business. And, without question, the new suite from VMware pushes it toward partner turf. IBM, for example, has a strong storage virtualization story. VMware insists that it just wants to provide management hooks for partners and customers.

But with the release of VMware Infrastructure 3, VMware looks like a very grown-up software player. Life will be tough on the competition. ®

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