A start-up that employs more than 20 staff with computer science doctorates should produce something pretty special. And although VMware is not the first to deliver ‘virtual machine’ software, it is arguably the first to develop it for Microsoft Windows.
Virtual machine software, which IBM pioneered on mainframes in the 1970s, enables users to run multiple operating systems independently
of each other on a single server.
VMware’s initial product enabled Windows workstations to be configured as virtual machines. However the large organisations began to show interest when it introduced a server-based product in 2001. One reason is that many organisations want to consolidate their ‘farms’ of hundreds – in some cases thousands – of low-end, Intel-based servers running Windows-based applications, onto fewer machines that are more powerful and more easily managed.
Michael Mullany, senior director of product management at VMware, explains a typical consolidation. “You can take the existing, unmodified operating system and application from up to 64 low-end servers and migrate them to a big 8- or 16-way Intel server.”
VMware’s software runs on top of Windows NT/2000 or Intel-based Linux, and can host multiple copies of Windows or Linux plus accompanying applications.
Using VMware, says Mullany, US financial services company Conseco Finance consolidated a farm of 135 2-way Intel servers running Microsoft Windows, onto only five 8-way servers running Windows on top of VMware’s ESX Server product.
VMware’s technology has been well received by analysts, such as the Meta Group’s Brian Richardson. His one caveat: it lacks support for true symmetric multi-processing (SMP), because each VMware partition is limited to a single processor. However that limitation should be addressed in the next release of the software in 2003. And because server consolidation is high on the agenda of many organisations, VMware’s investment in doctorate brainpower looks like it will pay off.