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VMware goes into hyper-drive with vSphere 4.0

Microsoft, Xen take their shots

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Ahead of the four-day VMworld extravaganza in San Francisco next week, server virtualization juggernaut VMware wanted to toss out some numbers to show that its vSphere 4.0 virtualization stack is getting great traction in the market. And because Microsoft can't stand being number two or three in any market, it started throwing around some numbers of its own, showing how its Hyper-V and related management tools could save customers big bucks.

The vSphere 4.0 stack - which is mostly a funny name for the widgets that surround the ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor - was launched on April 21 and started shipping on May 21. The updated ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor has lots more goodies and can span across eight processor cores in a single virtual machine (double that of the prior release), can allocated 255 GB per VM (that's not a typo, but it is annoying), and network bandwidth per VM is now quadrupled to 40 Gb/sec and disk performance is now above 200,000 I/O operations per second.

With the vSphere allocation and dynamic resource balancing tools, customers can create a compute farm with 2,048 processor cores supporting 1,280 VMs, backed by 32 TB of aggregate main memory and 16 PB of storage, and delivering an aggregate of 3 million IOPS.

Small wonder then that plenty of shops using the older ESX 3.0 and ESX 3.5 hypervisors, which are much less capable, are keen on upgrading. In the wake of the vSphere launch, Paul Maritz, the ex-Microsoftie hotshot who now runs VMware as its president and chief executive officer, said that he didn't expect a sudden pop in sales and that while vSphere would have "a very profound effect," it would take "several months for it to fully work its way into the marketplace."

But work its way vSphere apparently has. Ahead of the VMworld event, VMware said today that in the first six months of 2009, it has added over 21,000 new customers to the VMware fold. Obviously, with vSphere only shipping for six weeks of that time, most customers who came to VMware were buying the older ESX Server 3.5 hypervisor and perhaps some of the Virtual Infrastructure 3 (VI3) add-ons for managing hypervisors and virtual machines. But still, adding an average of 121 new customers per day is pretty good for systems software that is as pricey as vSphere is.

The company now has over 150,000 customers, and even at this aggressive pace, VMware will take roughly two years to approach the 230,000-strong customer base that rival Citrix Systems has for all of its various middleware and virtualization products. Citrix wants - and needs - to get more of its XenApp and Presentation Server customers to deploy XenServer and their essentials tools. That was the reason for shelling out $500m to buy XenSource, the company behind the Xen hypervisor, in the first place.

VMware also said today that in the twelve weeks that the ESX Server 4.0 and vSphere 4.0 tools have been generally available, it has shipped more than 350,000 downloads of the various tools. That works out to 140 per hour. It is not clear if VMware is counting ESX Server 4.0 licenses sold by its OEM partners in these stats. Or if the numbers are just restricted to the licenses sold directly by VMware through its Web site and through its direct sales force.

That's a pretty decent download rate, but it sure helps to have your product bundled if you want to tout some numbers. With Hyper-V being distributed with Windows Server 2008, Microsoft could boast that it has shipped 1 million Hyper-V licenses through May of this year, before vSphere even hit the streets. It is not clear how many Hyper-V licenses are out there now - call it 1.5 million? - or how many are actually turned on and used. One thing you can bet for sure: If someone paid for and downloaded ESX Server 4.0 for hundreds to thousands of dollars per license, they are damned well using it.

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