VMware Upgrades Enterprise Server Product

by Rachel Chalmers
Mon, 13 May 2002
This article originally appeared on the451.com:

VMware has announced availability of its ESX Server 1.5. It's part of the company's bid for the enterprise-class server consolidation business. As companies try to cut their IT infrastructure costs, the appeal of server consolidation is mitigated by the difficulty of getting a range of different operating systems and high- and low-priority applications running together on a single machine with minimal or no resource contention.

Even if they are all running on Windows, enterprise applications can be incompatible, some requiring DLLs that will force others to crash. Similarly, different applications have different security requirements, and an administrator from one department may be unwilling to give access to administrators from other departments.

VMware hopes the new release will address these and other concerns. Application owners should be protected from performance and security issues in other virtual machines running on the same system. Each virtual machine runs a complete operating system with its own kernel. Incompatible applications should be able to run side by side.

Context

To president and CEO Diane Greene's evident satisfaction, VMware's last big release, Workstation 3.0, is growing even faster than expected. In December 2001, ESX Server won ServerProven status on IBM's xSeries machines. In February 2002, IBM followed up with a joint development agreement outlining how Big Blue and VMware could work together.

Add sound relationships with other hardware vendors and with Microsoft, and it's no wonder Greene feels the business is in good shape. In May 2000, the company raised $20m from Dell, Azure Capital Partners, Chase H&Q Capital Partners and Goldman Sachs. It has been running on its revenues ever since, and is hiring fast.

Technology

ESX Server 1.5 was built for the datacenter. Besides its uses in server consolidation, it can be used to guarantee service levels for CPU, memory, network bandwidth and disk input/output, or as a cost-effective way to deliver high availability. Administrators can cluster virtual machines inside the same system for development and testing, or between systems for high availability.

The software now supports up to 64 concurrent virtual machines, and with physical address extension (PAE), can make applications believe they have even more than 64GB at their disposal. Resource management has been improved to regulate disk I/O bandwidth for each virtual machine. The new release retains the IBM ServerProven certification on the x330, x350, x360, x370 and x440 platforms.

Resource isolation is an important part of the story. All four critical systems – CPU cycles, memory, bandwidth and disk I/O – are now isolated from each other. That should mean minimal resource contention.

Competition

VMware has little in the way of direct competition in the Intel space. Point solutions for provisioning, server consolidation and high availability – Ejasent, Jareva, Terraspring, ThinkDynamics and the like – take a variety of different approaches, but Greene says they don't offer the isolation a virtual machine can provide. Even products that look like competitors may turn out to be complementary solutions.

Hardware partitioning in IBM's xSeries is a good example. While it does allow systems administrators to build coarse-grained partitions, it doesn't provide dynamic resource guarantees or partitioning down to the sub-1-CPU level, so it's not really a general-purpose server consolidation system the way VMware is.

Similarly, Compaq's process resource manager (PRM) is useful for pinning CPU and RAM to specific processes running inside an OS. That's great for guaranteeing service levels, but it can't offer high availability and server consolidation. ESX Server can do all three.

Conclusion

Other systems offer comparable features, but thanks to the virtual machine approach, no other company seems to offer the breadth of capability of ESX Server. The technology has certain limitations. It's confined to the IA32 architecture, so it's not much use if you want to consolidate SPARC boxes. You'd probably need to turn to IBM for that. Within its frame of reference, though, VMware just keeps delivering the goods. Its technical strength and customer base suggest that it can survive as an independent vendor, and the451 would not be surprised to see it file for IPO in 2003.