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July 13, 2006

Virtualization Goes Mainstream

Yesterday the server-class VMware Server 1.0 was formally released with the official price of $0. This news follows Tuesday's announcement by Microsoft that the desktop-class Virtual PC 2004 now has a price tag of $0, too, and that the server-class Virtual Server 2005 will also be free when used with Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition (but not for other platforms—yet). Apart from these big-name products, there's also a horde of specialty virtualization products that also have the price of zero. But the release of VMware Server is the biggest such product released for free, and it signifies a major shift in the positioning of virtualization technology within the industry as a whole.

First and foremost, VMware Server 1.0—which is based on the proven VMware GSX Server, which I use here in my own labs—is capable of running under multiple host operating systems and supports a wide array of guest operating systems as well. Furthermore, VMware Server guests can be run unattended on the host—you can start them when you start the host and connect to them at will.

Conversely, most of the other products only support one platform and only support same-kind guests (i.e. they can only run on Windows XP and can only run Windows guests, or they can only run Linux VMs under a Linux host). Some of the other products also run as desktop applications within the context of a local logged-in user. Thus VMware Server is the most powerful of the virtualization engines to be released with a price tag of $0 to date, and it serves as a capstone on the trend for broader use of virtualization technology as a whole.

There are many ramifications here. Obviously, the slew of products means network managers can now adopt virtual servers into their overall strategies and don't have acquisition costs providing a justification to avoid it. Other than the very-high-end VMware ESX and the midline Microsoft Virtual Server on mainstream XP platforms, virtualization is essentially free wherever you might want to use it.

As a result, we're going to start seeing virtualization become a commonplace technology along the same lines as SQL databases and networked printing. This will be most visible in areas like Web and e-mail applications and other kinds of services that don't really need a dedicated computer, but will eventually branch out into all kinds of areas. This trend is only going to be accelerated as multiprocessor and multicore systems become more prevalent as well. At some point in the next few years, virtualization will become completely commonplace. Certainly some organizations will resist this trend, but on the whole the shift is inevitable.

Interesting times lie ahead, folks.

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Copyright © 2010-2017 Eric A. Hall.
Portions copyright © 2006 CMP Media. Used with permission.