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Enterprise server software vendors move to virtualization

Mar 29, 20063 mins
Data Center

* Vendors work to ensure they are not left out of the virtualization game

Some major virtualization announcements hit the news recently, around a key set of technologies.

At the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco earlier this month, Intel announced Virtualization for Directed I/O (VT-d). VT-d will allow hardware-level mapping of I/O devices (such as network cards) to virtual machines, improving throughput and reducing conflicts. Microsoft was on hand to announce that it will quickly support VT-d in Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 r2, starting with Service Pack 1, scheduled for beta release within 90 days.

Separately, EMC’s subsidiary VMWare announced that its ESX Server will support VT-d by the “second half” of this year. Similarly, SWSoft will support for VT-d in its Virtuozzo product “later in 2006.”

On the operating system side, I was at Novell’s BrainShare conference last week when Novell announced that SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 (SLES 10), due out in summer 2006, will incorporate the open source Xen hypervisor. Red Hat had already announced that it will incorporate Xen into Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 (due toward the end of the 2006), consummating discussions that have been ongoing since 2004. However, Novell will have this capability in available products well before Red Hat, and Novell was already able to show a live demonstration of the integration using the available beta version of SLES 10.

There are no real losers in any of these announcements. Competitors that cannot bask in the latest glow from Intel and Xen, and the vendors that are slower to market may be temporarily concerned. However, this will change with the next round of availability (such as AMD’s Pacifica architecture, with comparable features to Intel’s VT). The winners are the underlying infrastructure vendors, and the enterprises that need them. All of the major operating system virtualization vendors are on board with Intel; both major enterprise Linux vendors are working with Xen. Microsoft, VMWare, SWSoft, Red Hat and Novell are not establishing any new long-term differentiators – the difference in these announcements is fundamentally only timing.

To its credit, Novell recognizes this. It certainly highlighted that SuSE will be first to market with Xen integration, yet Novell is not relying on this as a long-term differentiator. Instead, Novell is promoting its heterogeneous enterprise coverage, breadth of solutions, and strong contribution to open source projects as key differentiators. It has also announced new management solutions to compete with (and in some cases out-perform) the Red Hat Network. The new products will include Novell Customer Center, and an update to ZENworks for Linux Management, to automate configuration, inventory, license, and patch management capabilities for SLES 10. Red Hat will need to work hard on its own products, position, and message to keep up, even if it did announce Xen integration a week before than Novell.

For enterprises, these announcements are all good. They add to the functionality of all the products in the space, without making the competitive landscape any harder to navigate. Bottom line – enterprises that are deploying virtualization over the next 6 to 9 months will have better technology to do it with, regardless of which vendors they choose.