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VMware kicks off VMworld with embedded ESX Server 3i

Putting rumors to rest, VMware Inc. finally revealed details of its tiny embedded ESX hypervisor as well as new products for automating disaster recovery and managing virtual desktops.

For more on VMware and virtualization:
WMworld 2007: News, product briefs and videos

On the eve of VMworld, XenSource announces embedded hypervisor
VMware prepping embedded 'ESX Lite' hypervisor
Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware Inc. kicked off its fourth annual VMworld conference today with the introduction of ESX Server 3i, a miniaturized version of ESX that confirms long-standing rumors of an embeddable ESX hypervisor, sometimes referred to as "ESX Lite."

VMware also announced two entirely new products: VMware Virtual Desktop Manager, a connection broker for use in virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environments,and VMware Site Recovery Manager, for managing and automating disaster recovery in the event of a data center outage.

But the VMware product announcements promise to be just the tip of the VMworld iceberg, as the industry prepares for keynotes and news announcements from virtually every major computer hardware and software vendor, including IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc., Network Appliance Inc., Symantec Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) and Microsoft Corp., to name a few. Stay tuned to throughout the week as we strive to cover all the goings-on.

ESX Server 3i
As first reported back in June, VMware has developed a version of its ESX bare-metal hypervisor that fits into a mere 32 MB of flash memory, down from 2 GB for the previous version of ESX.

We believe that with ESX
Server 3i ... virtualization [will be] available to pretty much everyone.

Bogomil Balkansky,
senior director of product marketing,VMware Inc.

VMware achieved this feat by stripping out the entire service console -- an optimized and hardened version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 3 -- and leaving behind only the core ESX kernel, explained Bogomil Balkansky, VMware senior director of product marketing.

Separating the kernel and service console has numerous benefits, Balkansky said. "32 MB is a lot smaller of an attack focus in terms of security," he said. Also, embedding the hypervisor frees VMware from a dependency on a general-purpose operating system and eliminates the possibility of reliability breaches introduced by third-party agents.

Perhaps more to the point, VMware believes that embedding the hypervisor will expand virtualization's reach to the mainstream. "We believe that with ESX Server 3i, the startup experience, will make virtualization available to pretty much everyone," Balkansky said.

Of course, the service console has traditionally played an important role in ESX, Balkansky said. With traditional ESX, the service console is used for three basic functions:
  • to execute command line management and run scripts;
  • to house agents that monitor the health of the hardware; and
  • to run third-party agents to provide enhanced functionality for applications such as backup and replication.

Now, with the service console gone, management will be performed through a remote command line interface, Balkansky said. "That shouldn't represent a major change for customers, as the syntax remains the same," he said. The hardware agents that today monitor system health will be replaced by the Common Information Model (CIM) from the Data Management Task Force (DMTF). Rather than placing agents in the service console, VMware is working with its partners to help them leverage application programming interfaces to connect to 3i.

Although no server OEMs had announced server hardware based on ESX Server 3i by press time, Balkansky said he expected most large server vendors to be part of this announcement. Server manufacturers that offer an embedded hypervisor capability will set pricing and disclose packaging themselves.

But going forward, VMware also plans to sell ESX Server 3i itself, as an alternative to the full-scale ESX. "Our expectation is that maybe newer workloads will go on 3i, but there's no reason for [customers] to go back and change things that are already running," Balkansky said. VMware plans to wait to disclose details of VMware-branded ESX Server 3i until after its partners announce their offerings. He added that ESX Server 3i nodes would be fully compatible with existing ESX nodes, making it possible to live migrate VMs between them using VMotion. "There's no change to VMFS [the virtual file machine system]," he said.

But VMware isn't the only virtualization player to offer an embedded hypervisor. XenSource Inc., recently acquired by Citrix Systems Inc., announced an embedded version of its hypervisor, XenExpress OEM Edition, last Wednesday. It too expects several OEM vendors to offer its hypervisor, said John Bara, XenSource vice president of marketing, although again, none had yet publicly come forward. Most server vendors, Bara predicted, would offer end customers a choice between the VMware and XenSource platforms.

VMware Site Recovery Manager
Today also saw VMware's entrance in to the disaster recovery space, with the introduction of VMware Site Recovery Manager for automating the failover and restoration of virtual machines (VMs) in the event of a site failure.

Balkansky said Site Recovery Manager will appear as a tab within VMware's VirtualCenter management console and will integrate with third-party replication functions such as those provided by storage hardware and storage software vendors.

From there, administrators will be able to map VMs in their production environment to VMs at their recovery site, thus enabling admins to test out their disaster recovery plans and automate failover.

Using virtualization to facilitate disaster recovery is nothing new, but Balkansky said Site Recovery Manager's contribution is to simplify and automate these processes.

"Before, if you wanted to capture these key processes, the information would have been in instruction books or manuals," he said. "That's what they mean when they say 'run book automation.' But these run books can be the size of telephone books."

Storage vendor Network Appliance Inc. has been working with VMware to integrate its SnapMirror replication function within Site Recovery Manager. The technology "has dramatically simplified disaster recovery," said Phil Brotherton, NetApp senior director of enterprise appliances and solutions. Without it, "you need to manage the applications and the OS and trigger the failover on the server side." With it, "failover is completely triggered and managed by VMware; [administrators] don't need to know as much about SnapMirror and the Network Appliance OS -- and that's a good thing."

VMware did not specify when Site Recovery Manager would be generally available or how much it would cost.

VMware Virtual Desktop Manager
Last but not least, VMware announced Virtual Desktop Manager 2, a key component of the company's virtual desktop infrastructure strategy.

As a connection broker, Virtual Desktop Manager mediates between thin clients and virtual machines running back in the data center, Balkansky said, and performs the following additional roles.

As a first step, Virtual Desktop Manager logs in and authenticates users against Microsoft Active Directory (AD). It then assigns users a virtual machine, which can be either dedicated to users or taken from a free-floating pool. Finally, Virtual Desktop Manager also manages rights for that VM, Balkansky said, allowing an administrator to terminate or expire a session, for example.

Virtual Desktop Manager is currently in beta and should be available by the end of the year.

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

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