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IBM blades and racks get all-you-can-eat VMs

Yes, you do need Datacenter Edition

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IBM is now offering customers who buy its System x rack servers and BladeCenter blade servers the option of bundling Microsoft's Windows Datacenter Edition. This may seem like hitting a gnat with a cinder block, but it makes sense: Datacenter Edition allows for unlimited virtualization.

Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition can run on machines with up to four sockets and up to 32 GB of main memory on x64-based servers. This is a perfectly reasonable operating system for blades and most rack servers. And if an x64 box needs a little more iron underneath it, then Enterprise Edition scales up to eight sockets and, in theory, up to 2 TB of main memory.

But Standard Edition only allows one Windows virtual machine on a server, and Enterprise Edition only allows four VMs. After that, you have to buy more Windows licenses to virtualize.

Datacenter Edition scales up to 64 sockets for x64 servers and up to 2 TB (as does the Itanium edition, which is separate from all the others). But that's not the point. The point is that you can have unlimited VMs. This unlimited virtualization idea is not new, but based on IBM's actions, it looks to be catching on.

Beginning with Windows Server 2003 R2 Datacenter Edition in October 2006, users were free to deploy an unlimited number of Standard Edition, Enterprise Edition, or Datacenter Edition virtual machines on their machines. Microsoft also allowed virtual servers to be moved from one host to another, provided Datacenter Edition was the host. And it let Datacenter Edition run on machines with as few as two processors. In the past, it was only available on big x86 and x64 iron.

With R2, Microsoft also applied its volume licensing agreements to Datacenter Edition. And somewhere along the way, it slashed the price of Datacenter Edition, which used to cost tens of thousands of dollars per processor core. These days, the difference in price between Enterprise Edition and the Datacenter Edition is much less.

Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition cost $3,999 per server with 25 client access licenses (CALs), and Datacenter Edition cost $2,999 per processor socket with no CALs, which cost just under $40 a pop. On a single socket machine, the prices are basically the same for these two releases. But a two-socket box is really the bare minimum in the data center and four-socket boxes have been growing in popularity, so Datacenter Edition costs more.

With Windows Server 2008, prices for these two editions remain the same and the unlimited virtualization is still available with Datacenter Edition. Importantly, Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor is bundled in with the Standard, Enterprise, and Datacenter Editions. That means customers do not have to buy VMware's ESX server or Citrix Systems' XenServer to do virtualization.

In other words, they can afford to move from Enterprise Edition to Datacenter Edition on two-socket and four-socket blade servers and thereby simplify their software stack - go all Windows - while getting unlimited virtualization too.

But don't get the wrong impression about IBM. The company will sell anything data centers will buy, including grandmothers and Brooklyn Bridges if it comes to that. That's why in the same announcement Big Blue was peddling licenses for VMware's Infrastructure 3.5 stack, which includes the ESX Server 3.5 hypervisor and a slew of related tools for managing VMs.

IBM did not announce its pricing for all of this software, so heaven only knows what IBM is charging compared to Microsoft or VMware list price. When IBM was a convicted monopolist in the 1950s and 1960s, it was compelled to provide list prices - something that all vendors should have to do for all products under penalty of law. List prices might not be street prices, but they provide a ceiling from which everyone negotiates downward. There ought to be a law. ®

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