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The debut of Virtual Iron 3.5 - Hype or Huzzah?

From Virtual Iron’s Website:

“Virtual Iron Software (www.virtualiron.com), a provider of server virtualization and virtual infrastructure management software solutions, today announced the general availability of Version 3.5 of its enterprise-class virtualization platform. The new release provides for more simple and cost-effective shared storage to facilitate the mainstream adoption of virtual infrastructure management capabilities such as LiveMigration, LiveRecovery, LiveCapacity and LiveMaintenance of virtual servers. The new release also adds single server installation to simplify deployment and configuration.

Version 3.5 provides comparable capabilities to VMware for one-fifth the cost. It is generally available now. Users can try it for free simply by downloading it at http://www.virtualiron.com/free.

‘Cost and complexity are the two major hurdles to broad adoption of server virtualization inside the enterprise,” said Chris Wolf, Senior Analyst, Burton Group. “During the evaluation process, organizations should strongly consider server virtualization platforms that support automated capacity management and virtual machine failover. Virtualization solutions that reduce complexity while automating virtual machine availability are best positioned for widespread adoption and long term success.’

Virtual Iron is one of only two virtualization vendors with the advanced workload migration capabilities required to support automated capacity management and virtual machine failover. With Version 3.5, Virtual Iron has made these capabilities easier to use for the mainstream market by providing support for simpler and more cost-effective iSCSI-based shared storage. This will facilitate the broad adoption of Virtual Iron’s virtual infrastructure management capabilities including LiveMigration, LiveRecovery, LiveCapacity and LiveMaintenance. With Version 3.5, Virtual Iron is also providing the mainstream market with a server virtualization solution that is easier to install, deploy and configure than comparable alternatives. It combines advanced virtualization and policy-based management to deliver all the capabilities and benefits of primary virtualization use cases.”

This is interesting. This is very interesting. Why? Because it signals a full-on challenge to VMware not from a marketing strategy, not from a licensing-hardball strategy, and not from a completely proprietary strategy. Those are the hallmarks of VMware’s battle with Microsoft. This is the first time a seperately available virtualization product, not tied onto the OS by an OS vendor (such as Red Hat and Novell w/ their Linux distros), and therefore single-server-oriented, product has been released that challenged VMware on its home turf.

Here’s a rough equation of the similarities in the products put out by VMware and Virtual Iron:

  • VMware’s ESX / VI3 platforms are bare metal-installed. Virtual Iron 3.5’s virtual services is likewise bare-metal installed.
  • VMware’s Virtual Center manages VMware ESX/Server/VI3 environments. Virtual Iron’s equivalent prodcut is called Virtual Manager (personally, neither name should have passed muster with the folks in marketing, but then again, who likes the folks in marketing?)
  • VMware’s Conveter is meant to take a physical machine and move it across the divide into the realm of the virtual. Virtual Iron’s LiveMigrate is designed to do the same thing.

What has me intrigued the most is this bit of information from the Virtual Iron producti information from their Product Technology Overview paper:

Virtual Iron 3.5 Virtual Manager

From what I see there, it looks like most of the main features VMware’s VI3 offers are present in Virtual Iron 3.5 (VI3 vs. VI3.5… oh, no, that’s not confusing at all…)

Virtual Iron, according to several reviews I’ve read about the beta product, does lack some of the capabilities of VMware’s VI3 suite, but it’s not missing 80% of them, which is roughly the price difference. There’s even a free version similar to VMware’s Virtual Server (though I’m unsure of whether you can manage the free Virutal Iron product with the enterprise edition) It’s also an open-source application (the Xen hypervisor project) warpped in proprietary software. This has become an increasingly common business model amongst OSS companies who wish to get valuable free labor and remarkable community-driven insight while still trying to balance the need to live up to the OSS ideals of giving back to the community and the drive for corporate profitability.

So is it hype or huzzah? I’d say at this point it’s a bit of both. Hype because it’s not a solution that’s going to be everything-to-everyone, people aren’t going to be saying “hark-the-herald-angels-sing” because they’ve been delivered from some oppression in the marketspace, or anything like that… despite what the rhetoric coming out of Virtual Iron says. It’s huzzah because it really is a Small-to-Enterprise business product that will save a lot of money for organizations. It’s hype because it doesn’t have the sort of community built-up around it that VMware has (NOT that OSS community, mind you… I’m talking about the user and vendor community), and so the company isn’t offering virtual appliances, it doesn’t have the huge base of expertise in Net-land, and it doesn’t have the sheer volume of vendors supporting it that VMware has. It’s huzzah because Virtual Iron is going to open up the market as it builds these things. As they expand, and expand they will, VMware will be forced to come into line with a competitive market rather than what was a two-player field (VMware, MS, and that’s really it). Enomalous will grow too, and so will other Xen-based products, not to mention SWSoft and their interesting approach to virtualization (but thats for another time).

It’s time to take this for a spin and see what it can really do… a lot of questions remain. Not so much questions like “Does Virtual Iron Have X?”, but rather, “Is Virtual Iron’s X as good as VMware’s X?”. Is Virtual Iron’s virtual networking as robust as that within VMware’s Virtual Infrastructure? How about smooth VMotion-like migration between virtual hosts? Both of these, and more, remain to be seen, but for now, the product looks good, solid, and like a viable alternative for the Small-Medium business market, an perhaps the enterprise as well.

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