IBM looks to others for virtualization

One month after announcing plans to bring virtualization technology to systems based on its Power microprocessors, IBM Corp. this week revealed a few more details on how it plans to add a new range of virtualization software and technologies, called Virtualization Engine, to its Intel Corp.-based servers.

IBM intends to use third-party software from companies such as Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMWare Inc. and, possibly, Microsoft Corp. to provide the system-level virtualization for its Intel architecture-based xSeries products, said Tim Dougherty, a director of IBM eServer products, in an interview Tuesday. “You should expect that over time we would begin to support Microsoft as well,” he said.

VMWare and Microsoft’s virtualization software lets computers run more than one operating system at a time. IBM recently announced plans to develop similar software for its servers, called Virtualization Engine, that would let them run as many as ten versions of an operating system simultaneously.

Products such as Virtual Server 2004 and VMWare’s GSX Server 3 only make up part of IBM’s virtualization story on Intel, however, Dougherty said. IBM will also build virtualization functionality into its Director, eWorkload Manager and storage software over the next few years as part of Virtualization Engine, he said. “There are a variety of Virtualization Engine technologies that will work in the Intel space,” he said.

On Wednesday, Big Blue will announce that it has tacked another three years on to its strategic partnership with VMWare Inc., meaning that IBM will continue to sell the EMC Corp. subsidiary’s virtualization software with its xSeries and BladeCenter systems until at least 2007.

IBM began selling VMWare’s software in 2002, a year before VMWare was acquired by IBM’s storage rival EMC, but Wednesday’s announcement that IBM’s contract will be extended appears to indicate that the EMC’s ownership is not affecting VMWare’s relationships with rival hardware companies.

“The fact that IBM is coming up with an endorsement of VMWare even after it announced its own virtualization engine, I think, is a pretty strong indication that IBM doesn’t feel too frightened,” said Jonathan Eunice, an analyst with Nashua, N.H.-based industry research company Illuminata Inc.

VMWare has signed similar deals with a variety of hardware vendors, including Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc., and Fujitsu Siemens Computers (Holding) BV.

Microsoft is beta-testing its own virtualization software, called Virtual Server 2004, which is expected to ship within the next six weeks.

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