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VMware digs deep for more midmarket buy-in

VMware has updated its free, introductory VMware Server product in hopes of reaching more SMBs.

Although a significant portion of the midmarket is already using its products, VMware is making some improvements...

to VMware Server, a product it offers for free, in an attempt to lure holdouts.

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The Palo Alto, Calif.-based virtualization vendor announced recently the release of VMware Server 2, a Web-based version of the original product.

"From a midsized company perspective, we've done a pretty good job of getting those users to use VMware Server already," said Ben Matheson, VMware's director of small and medium business (SMB). "Seventy percent of the 3 million downloads of VMware Server 1 are to SMBs."

Version 2 no longer requires the rich client interface for installation. This Web-based version makes it easier for administrators to manage their virtual servers from anywhere. The new management interface also looks exactly like the management console for VMware Infrastructure 3, the company's enterprise management technology. This will make the transition easier for companies that want to migrate from the free product to the commercial product, experts said.

VMware has added support for six new guest operating systems, including Microsoft Vista, Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Ubuntu 7.10. There is also now support for USB 2.0 devices, which makes it easer for midmarket companies to use peripheral devices in virtualized environments. And there is now a Virtual Machine Interface feature that supports paravirtualization. This allows for easier communication between virtualized operating systems and the virtualization layer.

"The purpose of this product has always been to seed the market with virtualization, to get people who haven't been using it looking at it and thinking about it," said Gary Chen, senior analyst at Boston-based Yankee Group Research Inc. "If you look at midmarket firms, the main barrier [to adoption] is always price. So being free takes care of that. The other is awareness and education. A lot of these people are really busy and just don't have the time to learn about these technologies."

Chen said almost all vendors have free offerings to attract new adopters, but VMware Server 2 continues to be the leader.

"I think theirs is still the most mature, and with version 2 I think they've obviously committed to the product by enhancing it," Chen said.

Jason Villalta, lead systems engineer and system architect at Summit Pointe Behavioral Health, said he uses a combination of VMware Server 2 and the company's commercial bare-metal hypervisor ESX Server in his infrastructure.

"We run all our primary production services on ESX," Villalta said. "We run development services and things that can stand a little downtime on VMware Server."

Villalta said his 500-person, Battle Creek, Mich.-based organization first ventured into virtualization with VMware Server about two years ago, when it was first released.

A lot of these people are really busy and just don't have the time to learn about these technologies.
Gary Chen
senior analystYankee Group Research Inc.
"I would say VMware Server is a great way to get your feet wet with virtualization," Villalta said. "Where I see the server product kind of lagging is with products like Virtual Iron, where you can run higher-performance virtual machines. That's where I've seen the server product fall behind. Not on the utilization standpoint, but on the high-performance standpoint."

Unlike ESX Server, which is installed on a bare metal machine, VMware Server is installed on top of an existing operating system on a server, Villalta said. VMware Server suffers a slight performance hit by having this extra layer of system software. He said free introductory products from VMware competitors XenSource and Virtual Iron Software Inc. install on bare metal machines, which gives them a slight performance advantage.

"You can run Virtual Iron and XenSource at the kernel level and they provide a higher level of performance," Villalta said. "That being said, VMware Server does give you flexibility. You can install it on any hardware and make that the virtualization host."

Villalta said he also prefers VMware's track record.

"It's not necessarily all technical," he said. "Support by VMware is a huge factor. I've had long-term experience with VMware which puts them ahead from a support perspective. Virtual Iron and XenSource are relatively new and do not have a long-term track record."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Writer

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