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New Dell 'VESO' server built on VMware, sources say

Forget blade servers. Details have emerged about a new Dell server line that will feature VMware's rumored ESX Lite onboard hypervisor, for virtualization out-of-the-box.

Dell Corp. is reportedly putting the finishing touches on a new server line it calls VESO, which will feature built-in virtualization capabilities from VMware, has learned.

VESO, according to a large Dell customer who was briefed on the product, will be available in the second half of this year, and will have extended memory and I/O capabilities, simplified iSCSI boot functionality, physical-to-virtual (P2V) migration services, and an embedded hypervisor, most likely ESX Lite.

VESO's promise is that it would be incredibly easy to set up, the source said. "Just plug it in to the network, configure it through a Web browser and you're done," he said.

The addition of an iSCSI boot option suggests that ESX Lite may come in multiple versions. An embedded version residing in memory would be more of an OEM offering, the source said, whereas booting off iSCSI storage rather than a flash drive or firmware could lay the foundation for larger, richer hypervisor environment.

As it stands, ESX is comprised of two basic parts, said Gordon Haff, principal IT adviser at Illuminata in Nashua, N.H. There's the hypervisor itself, and there's the management console, a stripped down Linux kernel that runs on top of the hypervisor and through which end users control the hypervisor.

VMware announced iSCSI support for virtual machine guest OSes with ESX 3 last year, but most ESX shops opt to install the ESX on a local drive, even if they store their virtual machines on networked storage.

Participants on VMware's own VMTN forum also reported details about a forthcoming Dell server, although whether or not it would contain an embedded hypervisor was unclear.

"They are bringing out a conventional unit sized "VM" machine," wrote daniel_uk in a post. "Its got an embedded hypervisor (not sure if this is completely true) more than average RAM slots, and bolsters up on bus speeds and PCI speeds etc."

Other posters discussed a 2U Dell server that would feature dual quad-core AMD Opteron processors and support for up to 256GB of RAM. Current versions of Dell 6800 and 6900 servers support up to 64GB of RAM.

Dell was contacted for this story, but citing company policy, declined to comment on future products or product roadmaps. Dell spokesperson David Lord did say that the company would reveal further details of its "Project Hybrid" in the second half of this year.

HP in Dell's crosshairs
Charles King, analyst at Pund-IT, hadn't heard any specifics about Dell VESO, but wasn't surprised by the idea of virtualization-enhanced servers. "Virtualization is becoming such a major part of day-to-day life in the enterprise, and that means expanding opportunities for the x86 server vendors to bring out platforms specifically for virtualization, in terms of expanded memory and a more robust backplane."

Another analyst, Tony Iams with Ideas International, speculated that a virtualization-specific server would help the company compete against Hewlett-Packard, which has experienced a lot of success with blade servers – a form factor which Dell has moved away from (see 'Dell downplays blades.')

"There's been a lot of change over at Dell, what with Dell 2.0, and a lot of rethinking about what should be in a system," Iams said. "By gaining a foothold in the virtualization space," Iams said, Dell could "find a way to break away from the pack."

Joe Clabby, president of Clabby Analytics, echoed that assessment. "Dell is not a leader in blades," he said. If Dell were able to successfully develop a virtualization-specific server, "it gives them a way to get back in and play without having to fight" and devote engineering resources to a viable blade platform.

Clabby added that, if true, VESO would represent a bold move for the company. "We all know that Dell is a Windows company," Clabby said, "and we're getting to know Dell as a Linux company." Embedding VMware on to its servers would present a third approach that "wouldn't have any of the bulk of an OS [i.e., Windows], or any of the integration problems of Linux, and would let you create these sorts of utility servers that you that let you easily build up and tear down applications."

"It's an incredibly obvious direction for the server vendors to go down," said Illuminata's Haff. If the Dell VESO rumors are in fact true, Haff said, "and Dell does any OK job of it, how could any x86 vendor not go down that road?"

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

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