Intel Backs VMware, Microsoft But Xen Celebrates at IDF

The shipment of Intel's enhanced VT-enabled server processors this month, code-named Dempsey, will help extend Xen's footprint, observers note.

That is because the recently released Xen 3.0 open source hypervisor offers support for VT and will virtualize any guest operating system including Windows and Netware workloads, said sources close to Xen.

In the past, Xen supported Linux and Solaris only. Xen 3.0 was completed last December.

Xen will be integrated into next generation SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 from Novell this spring and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 later this year, sources said.

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It will also enable the commercial firm that sprung out of the open source project, Xensource, to ship its new XenOptimizer with support for Windows as well as Linux and Sun Solaris. Optimizer, based on Xen 3.0, is slated to ship in April, sources close to Xensource said.

Xensource executives said having the VT technology available in new server processors and Xen software available for commercial support from Xensource, Red Hat and Novell in 2006 will vastly expand its market beyond Linux and Solaris customers.

"It's a big deal," said Simon Crosby, CTO at Xensource, Palo Alto, Calif. "It brings us the ability to virtualize all operating systems on the x86 architecture, and hands us on a plate a hardware implementation of everything VMware has done over the last five years."

Market leader VMware, for its part, said it plans to exploit Intel's server VT technology to enhance the performance of its leading ESX server. At IDF Tuesday, VMware unveiled that its ESX will offer commercial support for VT by the second half of 2006.

Microsoft, whose own Virtual Server competes against VMware in the Windows-only server space, plans to support VT in its Virtual Server 2005 R2 service pack 1, scheduled for beta release in the next 90 days, Microsoft said at IDF. Microsoft also plans to integrate its own virtualization hypervisor in a future version of its Windows server.

Xen claims that VT incorporates much of the functionality offered in its rivals' respective proprietary virtualization servers.

VMware and Microsoft say nevertheless VT enhances the performance of their platforms and other forthcoming virtual technologies from Intel will help them add value to their commercial leading platforms.

At IDF, for instance, both VMware and Microsoft announced plans to support Intel's next virtualization technology, called Intel Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O (Intel VT-d).

Microsoft developed the specification with Intel. The VT extension helps improve the reliability, performance and flexibility of I/O devices on virtual machines.

One consultant said having several choices in the virtualization software market is important because demand is soaring as customers and their advisers realize the many benefits offered by the technology.

"A lot of customer are looking at virtualization, especially in disaster recovery, compliance and business continuity," said Michael Miller, executive vice president of Consultrix Technologies, a VMware partner and consulting firm in Little Ridgeland, Miss. "In those areas, virtualization is going extremely well. Most everybody wants to have a real-time, full-time hot site disaster recovery scenario but it's something few can afford."