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Parallels juggles servers for John Q. ISP

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Server management and virtualization vendor Parallels has put out a beta of a new tool that takes a subset of the complex Plesk Panels system management tools used by large hosting companies and offers it up to smaller ISPs that have much less complex systems but similar management needs.

The Plesk tools are now known as Parallels Plesk Panels in the wake of a rebranding effort that is putting the company name and new product names on every piece of software that Parallels sells. Parallels, you will recall, is the result of the seeming merger of two Russian software companies back in late 2007, SWsoft and Parallels, both of which had different virtualization technologies but were in reality owned by the same parent company for years without most people knowing it. Since that time, the company has taken the Parallels name for itself and has been tweaking its product lineup to make all of its products work together and rationalizing product names.

None of that matters all that much to system administrators at small hosting companies who are wrestling with physical and virtual servers every day. It is these admins, says Jack Zubarev, one of the founders of Parallels who is president of the company's service provider division, that Parallels has in mind as it puts out the first beta of Parallels Panel 10 SMB Edition. According to Zubarev, the Panel 10 SMB Edition has some new code is based on the current Plesk Panel 9.2 high-end tool, but includes some new features that will not debut in Plesk Panel 10 next year and has some other features - such as complex configuration for ISP customers and their resellers and usage tracking by client - that is not needed at smaller hosting companies.

Plesk Panel 9.2 is also different in how it is priced, in that the cost of the product is based on the number of domains under its control at a base rate of $39 per month for 30 domains with volume discounting as the number of domains grows. For small hosters and other SMB shops that are looking for a tool to manage their physical and virtual servers - and who typically have from one to three domains under their control - this fee is too high and the existing Plesk Panels software is too complex. The pricing for the Panel 10 SMB Edition has not been set yet, but Zubarev says it will be priced based on the number of concurrent users who make use of the tool and presumably it will have a lower price than the full Plesk Panels tool would at small hosting firms or SMB shops that want to use Plesk. (Otherwise, what is the point?)

Both versions of the Plesk management tools can control Linux or Windows servers running on bare metal or atop various virtual machine hypervisors. (Over 20 different Linux distros are supported with the Plesk tools, and Windows 2000 Server, Windows Server 2003, and Windows Server 2008 are as well). Plesk doesn't touch or otherwise interact with hypervisors, but just sees and manages the operating systems inside virtual machines as if they were running on bare metal.

If you want to manage virtual machines, you are going to have to buy Parallels Automation and its virtualization management module. That tool currently can manage Parallels Containers (the virtual private servers formerly known as Virtuozzo containers) and will be able to take control of the impending bare metal hypervisor that Parallels first started talking about in March. Zubarev says that the virtualization module for Parallels Automation will eventually be able to take control of VMware ESX Server and Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisors, giving Parallels the ability to take control of the inside and outside of physical and virtual servers on the popular choices for commercial customers and hosting companies. (Well, if you don't count XenServer from Citrix Systems).

Parallels had only said that it planned to deliver its bare-metal hypervisor for x64 servers sometime this year, but Zubarev confirmed that the launch will take place before the end of the third quarter.

Parallels Panel 10 SMB Edition is in beta now, and you can get the code here. The software will be released to manufacturing at the end of this quarter and will only be available to Parallels' channel partners at that time. The tool is expected to be generally available in the second week of November. Parallels Plesk Panel 10 will ship in the second quarter of 2010, and Zubarev says that Parallels plans to keep the release cycles for the two tools out of phase by six months.

In a related announcement, Parallels has announced a partner marketplace in conjunction with the Panel 10 SMB Edition that will allow hosting companies that want to deliver software-as-a-service in addition to hosting a place where they can buy and install various application software and sell it to Web-based end users. The way the marketplace works, ISVs work with Parallels to setup the licenses and billing, and then hosting companies sell out into their customer bases. Parallels takes cares of the provisioning, billing, and management of the application services. ®

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