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VMware unveils 32MB version of ESX Server

Hypervisor flash

The rumors about VMware putting ESX Server on dietary supplements have been confirmed. The virtualization darling today revealed ESX Server 3i - a super-thin hypervisor that will be built into the memory of servers from companies such as Dell, HP and IBM.

We've been writing about the so-called ESX Lite for some time now, particularly in conjunction with Dell. The Round Rock-based server maker plans to ship an appliance-like machine later this year that will include a hypervisor in flash memory. Such a move should lead to performance improvements by cutting application install and boot times and by letting vendors strip hard disks out of their servers to lower power consumption.

While Dell has been the leading Tier 1 proponent of this idea, rivals appear ready to follow. VMware outed the big boys mentioned above along with NEC and Fujitsu as ESX Server 3i customers. No word yet on Sun Microsystems.

According to VMware, the 3i software will ship as a 32MB hypervisor. That's way down from the multi-GB installs of standard ESX Server today.

"Based on VMware ESX Server which has set the standard for a production proven, stable and mature hypervisor, VMware ESX Server 3i is a 'bare metal' hypervisor that partitions a physical server into multiple secure and portable virtual machines," VMware said. "VMware ESX Server 3i would be the only hypervisor on the market today that does not incorporate a general-purpose operating system, which frees it from the many challenges involved in maintaining a general purpose operating system."

The use of "would" there seems to indicate that Server 3i is imaginary. But that's not the case if you read the rest of VMware's statement. The company promises to ship the software by the end of this year and to make it the core of VMware's product strategy.

"VMware ESX Server 3i is the new architectural foundation for VMware Infrastructure 3 . . . VMware customers will be able to easily implement the entire suite of VMware Infrastructure 3 products on top of this foundation, including VirtualCenter, VMotion, Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS), High Availability (HA) and VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB)."

XenSource - now on its way to Citrix - has revealed parts of its own embedded hypervisor plans.

We'll be curious to see how the various OEMs make use of these new, super-thin hypervisors. Dell should be one of the first vendors to arrive with an appliance - any day now - and IBM has committed its x3950 M2 system as the future home of ESX 3i. The IBM server will ship with quad-core Xeon chips from Intel and bundle the VMware software on a 4GB USB flash storage unit. ®

Bootnote

Those of you interested in the real dirt behind virtualization will want to check out Episode 6 of Semi-Coherent Computing. (Yes, we know Apple has not updated the iTunes feed yet. We're trying to inspire them.)

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