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Slicing, Dicing Servers

Companies get logical partitioning options for Intel servers.
Logical partitioning, a longtime tactic used with mainframes and Unix servers, increasingly is an option for businesses that use Intel servers. VMware Inc., a leading software vendor in this market, this week will show off partitioning software for standard Intel servers running Windows or Linux operating systems at the Microsoft TechEd Conference when it introduces new customers and partners.

VMware already has powerful partners. The company recently helped Cisco Systems create a content server that runs Linux and Windows simultaneously, and it plans to unveil a similar deal this week with networking software vendor Novell.

But VMware is going after larger markets with its GSX Server software for departmental servers and ESX Server for service providers. The GSX and ESX software creates "virtual machines" by working underneath Windows NT/2000 or Linux to allocate resources such as input/output slots and memory, tricking each virtual instance of the operating system into thinking it has dedicated resources.

These capabilities can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars on Unix servers or mainframes, but VMware is selling its software for much less: GSX Server is priced at $2,499 per license when downloaded electronically or $2,550 for the software in a box; ESX Server ranges from $3,999 for a single-processor system to $9,999 for an eight-way system.

That kind of pricing could make partitioning popular on Intel machines as well as open new markets. "There's nothing intrinsic in what we do that means we can only work with Intel," says Roger Klorese, product manager at VMware. "We're having a lot of conversations with Unix vendors."

In the meantime, the company is signing new customers. ProTier Corp., a hosting company and provider of integrated application development suites, will demonstrate its Online Development Service at the Atlanta conference. ProTier plans to offer a Visual Studio training service, which will be priced at $99 initially and then $299 a month. Later this year, it plans to offer a complete application development training service online.

VMware lets ProTier support 10 to 20 users on a single four-way server, says CIO Rob Hirschfeld. Without the software, each user would require a server. "With VMware, we can take advantage of idle capacity of Intel servers so customers can access data after-hours, and we generate revenue by load-balancing across servers," Hirschfeld says. "Without the partitioning software, we couldn't do all this. We'd spend so much buying and racking up servers that our costs would be prohibitive."

VMware has a big lead over competitors in trying to make Intel servers more useful via partitioning, Gartner analyst John Enck says. "Nobody is even close to them in the Intel space," he says. "Microsoft will have this in the [operating system] in 2003, but that gives VMware two years" to establish itself in the partitioning space.