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VMware prepping embedded 'ESX Lite' hypervisor

VMware is working on an embedded version of its virtualization hypervisor that may make its first appearance in Dell 'Project Hybrid' blades later this year.

VMware Inc. is working on a reduced footprint version of its ESX hypervisor, called ESX Lite, that would run directly within a server's firmware, has learned.

According to several sources close to VMware, ESX Lite is real and currently under development. The new lightweight hypervisor would be installed directly on the motherboard, simplifying the deployment of an ESX host and ensuring 100% hardware integration.

Cutting ESX down to fit into firmware is not an insignificant task, a source said. As it stands, a default installation of ESX 3.0.1, VMware's shipping product, consumes about 8 GB of space on a system, across several file systems. But VMware's plans call for ESX Lite to consume orders of magnitude less space – as little as a of couple of megabytes, one source said.

"It's all about minimizing the footprint and moving it off the disk altogether," the source said, speaking anonymously. Benefits of a streamlined ESX hypervisor would include better reliability, since it no longer resides on failure-prone spinning hard disk drives, better security and better performance and efficiency.

Moving ESX off of disks would also benefit server vendors, enabling them to ship a diskless server pre-configured with virtualization technology. If servers are diskless, they run much cooler, experience fewer failures and can be more densely packed.

Gordon Haff, principal IT adviser with Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H., had no official knowledge of ESX Lite, but did say the idea makes a lot of sense. "The logical next step for the hypervisor is to be part of the server -- kind of like on the IBM pSeries," he said. "Right now, virtualization is being made into part of the operating system [Editor's note: as in Windows Server Virtualization, i.e., "Viridian"], and VMware thinks it should be independent of the operating system. If VMware could convince a systems vendor to include it like a super BIOS, so to speak, then they are the ones who are in a controlling role, and not the OS vendor."

VMware was contacted for this story, but declined to comment on rumor and speculation.

Dell, possible partner?

Of course, ESX Lite is not an end-user product. "It would be extremely tightly integrated onto the motherboard or directly within the chipset," a source said. That begs the question -- does VMware already have a customer for ESX Lite, and if so, who?

Of the four main x86 server vendors -- Dell, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sun -- Dell is the most logical choice, one source speculated. Specifically, the source cited "Project Hybrid," the initiative Dell announced last month at a press event in San Francisco.

There, Dell's director of PowerEdge servers Jay Parker described a first incarnation of Project Hybrid servers that will be "optimized for virtualization, both in terms of performance and ease of deployment." Project Hybrid servers, Parker said, will feature a software component -- "unique software capability," embedded in some cases – that will focus on virtualization and energy efficiency. Those servers, some of which may be blades, "are not vapor," Parker said. "They will become a reality in the second half of this year."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director.

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