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VMware ESX 3i: Too Little? Too Late?


It was more than past time for VMware to pay attention to the small and midsize businesses, but with free and open-source alternatives already in play, is this a case of too little and too late?

It’s time for another SJVN quiz. How many major companies are making a profit with direct sales of dedicated disk compression programs? How about dedicated Web servers? OK, what about Web browsers? The answers? Zero, zero, and one. Opera is hanging on with all its might.

What do these examples have to do with VMware, and its recently released ESX 3i, a 32MB embeddable bare-metal virtualization hypervisor that can be embedded into servers or storage systems and its work on streaming applications to desktops?

You see, at one time, each of those technologies had several major commercial players. Today, unless you’re a championship software industry Trivial Pursuit player, you’re as likely to know about these companies as you are to know about Sam Brownback’s dead campaign to become the Republican nominee for the presidency. Each of these companies disappeared because their functionality was either incorporated into an operating system or made open source. Sometimes, both factors played a role.

VMware is now facing the same threats, and I see no reason to believe that its fate is going to be any different. Yes, many of the major hardware OEMs are embedding VMware ESX 3i on their servers, but some people seem to be missing the point that AMD and Intel had already been installing virtualization underpinnings at an even lower level: the CPUs themselves. Both processor companies now offer virtualization on their higher-end processors that implement AMD-V and Intel-VT respectively.

Of course, unlike ESX 3i, neither AMD-V nor Intel-VT does a would be virtualization user any good, but the operating system companies have already taken care of that part of the problem. For example, Novell offers drivers to enable Xen to work with both chip technologies not only on its own SUSE Linux distributions but on Red Hat Enterprise Linux as well. Other Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu, also support these chips with Linux’s own built-in virtualization program KVM.

It’s not just Linux; Microsoft is also getting into the act with its own AMD-V/Intel-VT aware virtualization: Hyper-V. While Hyper-V, which will be present in some versions of Server 2008, has been delayed, from what I’ve seen of the beta, it is actually an outstanding virtualization program. Yes, that’s right; I just said something nice about a Microsoft product.

What this means for VMware is that I continue to see a company that will face a sharp, steep decline. For small and mid-size businesses, I’d hold off on spending extra for a server with embedded ESX 3i. Any new server you might buy this year may, with your server operating system of choice, already have all the built-in virtualization goodness you need for no additional cash.

A version of this story first appeared in eWEEK. >

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