What is it about V?

Posted by: Steve Hamm on March 04, 2005

VMware is the software industry’s phenomenal success story of the past year. (Salesforce.com hit its stride the year before) But now along comes a new rival, Virtual Iron, that hopes to not only ride on VMware’s coattails, but to give it a smack on the head. This will be one of the interesting battles to watch as utility computing continues to heat up.

In its essence, this is a battle of basic assumptions. Virtual Iron is betting that Linux will be the big growth driver in data center computing going forward and that many small servers will be racked up in these places like so many books in a library. VMware has spread its bet across the Windows and Linux worlds and believes that, increasingly, data center operators will use fewer machines with more processors in each. Either way, thanks to their advances, get ready to see microprocessors from Intel and AMD make tons of headway in the heavy-duty corporate computing scene.

Two-year-old Virtual Iron, based in Acton, Mass., made its public debut at the always-lively Demo conference a couple of weeks ago. That's the same venue where VMware made its first splash six years ago. Virtual Iron's product, VFe (get it?), allows computing system managers to turn a host of Linux servers into a single virtual server, in real time shifting jobs from one server to another as computing demands dictate. The idea is that the system is much easier to manage this way, since all of the servers run on a single Linux operating system--rather than requiring each computer to run its own operating system. (Linux sellers Red Hat and Novell must be saying "Ouch!") Also, with a setup like this, there's less unused computing power sitting around idle.

VMware, which is seven years old, has a handful of successful products, including one for slicing up the processing power of a single server into a bunch of virtual machines, and another for spanning a group of computers. Virtual Iron claims its stuff is better. "Are we riding on the VMware market? Yes and no. We're taking what they have done to bring awareness, but we're taking it to a new level," says CEO John Thibault.

I'm not technically savvy enough to sort out who has the superior technology. For a solid news story sizing them up read this. But Virtual Iron has its work cut out for it. VMware has a great reputation, a mighty backer in corporate parent EMC, and an enviable alliances with Intel, HP, IBM, and Oracle. Virtual Iron's best bet: win over the people at the same companies that are focusing on Linux exclusively and turn them into allies.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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