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What happens when my physical machine collapses? That's what a lot of virtualization newcomers wonder about while considering the prospect of stacking tons of applications on a single, physical box.

Virtualization players such as VMware and Symantec/Veritas have addressed these concerns through HA (high availability) packages that will make sure important applications keep running somewhere in your data center even when physical system failures occur. But longtime hardened software specialist Marathon Technologies argues that existing HA kits fail to go far enough. So, it's pumping the market with everRun VM - a package that brings ultra-fancy levels of HAocity to Citrix's XenServer software.

Marathon has been bragging about everRun VM for months with demonstrations of the software taking place at various trade shows. Now, however, the code has moved into beta status and should be available for purchase in April.

For years, Marathon has shipped software that gave Windows-based servers some of the high availability features you might associate with higher-end systems produced by the fault tolerant crowd such as Stratus or the old Tandem machines. Customers could take the Marathon code and use it to ensure their crucial applications stayed up and running even when the physical servers endured serious failures.

By applying similar techniques to virtual machines, Marathon thinks it can encourage customers to move what could be considered as business critical software over to virtualized servers. At the beginning, such software might include SQL Server and Exchange applications, but eventually customers could put things like financial and retail software on virtual systems as well.

As you might expect, the Marathon everRun VM architecture requires a customer to run duplicate systems, so that one can pick up where the other left off when failures happen. We're told that the failover magic can be applied to servers without any changes to existing software.

"The other guys usually require that you do scripting and modify applications to be cluster aware," Marathon CEO Gary Phillips told us. "Then, when you do an operating system upgrade or change applications, you have to go back and script again, re-modify software and retest it. We get rid of that complexity."

To use the technology, customers will need to install XenServer and everRun VM on each host server they want to protect. Then you pop into the everRun management console and select the virtual machines that need failover help.

Marathon plans to offer a variety of protection levels, ranging from basic failover and recovery, to a zero downtime option that guards against I/O, storage and networking issues and then a complete protection package guarding against a severe physical server blowout.

Initially, it will offer the base protection through XenServer and then the General Availability package that covers component-level fault tolerance. So, you're more or less covered against I/O and networking issues with the GA tool.

By the fourth quarter, Marathon plans to ship the everRun VM Lockstep Option which covers system-level issues. And that's where full-on application replication takes places across multiple physical systems.

The software will cost $4,500 per sever when bundled with XenServer or $2,000 per server on its own for the General Availability package. Marathon does not sell direct, so you'll need to hit up a reseller for the software.

Marathon sounded iffy on building similar software for VMware but is eying Microsoft's upcoming Hyper-V software. ®

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