Virtually Speaking: Thin Is In

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Sep 18, 2007


Amy Newman
The latest offerings from VMware and Hitachi come from opposite corners to bring virtualization to the hardware level.

The VMworld party may have been last week but the debuts and hookups remain fresh. No virtual hangovers here.

Vendors scurried frantically in the days leading up to the show to make sure they were heard. The phone rang off the hook, as virtual and non-virtual vendors scrambled to get their news out in the wake of VMware's expo in San Francisco.

Acronis added virtualization management capabilities to its portfolio of backup and recovery offerings with the introduction of True Image Echo. Symantec announced a feature bump for Veritas Cluster Server for VMware ESX and Veritas Application Director. Embotics took advantage of the virtual spotlight and unveiled its initial offering: V-Commander, a centralized, policy-based control and management system designed to oversee the lifecycles of large pools of virtual machines by controlling sprawl and automating management tasks.

And that's just a small sampling.

Ultimately, however, VMworld was VMware's party, and the vendor was not without big news of its own. The company announced VMware Site Recovery manager (a disaster recovery solution) and VMware Desktop Manager (a connection broker for virtual desktop infrastructure) along with VMware ESX Server 3i, the most noteworthy and telling of all of its announcements.

Thin has always been in for virtual machines, and it was only a matter of time before the hypervisor dieted down to the hardware level.

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VMware ESX Server 3i embeds the hypervisor directly into the hardware. "It does not rely on a general-purpose operating system, which is where most problems occur," Bogomil Balkansky, senior director of product marketing, told ServerWatch. The elimination of the operating system, "removes a fair amount of security exposure," he added.

ESX Server 3i is currently the only hypervisor on the market that does not incorporate a general-purpose operating system. "Architecturally, 3i is the direction we're going," Balkansky said.

He was quick to note that, "this does not mean the end of ESX server, as we know it." Balkansky said VMware expects the two environments to mutually coexist.

Dell, IBM, HP, Fujitsu Siemens Computers and NEC have already agreed to ship servers containing the new hypervisor. Boxes containing ESX Server 3i are expected to begin shipping by the end of this year.

VMware is isn't the only vendor looking at virtualization on the hardware level. On Tuesday, Hitachi unveiled the latest addition to its BladeSymphony product line: Virtage embedded firmware virtualization functionality for its Xeon-based BladeSymphony 1000 blade servers.

Virtage is a built-in hardware virtualization tool capable of partitioning a blade into 16 logical partitions. Chief System Architect Paul Figliotti told ServerWatch that Hitachi uses the logical partitions in place of "virtual machine" but the functionality is the same.

Virtage is built-in firmware and, like ESX Server 3i, requires no separate operating systems layer. Unlike VMware's offering, however, it's unique to the BladeSymphony hardware and does not involve third-party virtualization software.

According to Figliotti, this enables the blades to safely share resources without the performance hit of traditional software-only virtualization solutions.

Steve Campbell, vice president of marketing and solutions, noted that although Hitachi is not considered a major player in the North America server market and BladeSymphony is fairly new to its shores, the blade system has been available for three years in Japan and currently holds the top spot.

Virtage for Intel Xeon-based BladeSymphony 1000 blade servers is expected to begin shipping in first quarter of 2008. Virtage has been available in North America for Itanium-based blade servers since November 2006.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been following the virtualization space since 2001.

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