Microsoft Corp. announced Thursday the beta release of its new hypervisor-based server virtualization technology; a move that puts the Windows Server 2008 feature into its customers’ hands earlier than expected.

The Hyper-V, which was formerly known as Viridian, is available for download online from the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant. The hypervisor, a platform which allows multiple virtual servers and machines to be run on a single physical server, was expected to be released next February as a feature of Windows Server 2008.

Microsoft had originally planned to release the Hyper-V beta with the official release of Windows Server 2008, but decided to give its users a jump on testing out the technology. The product will look to compete with current industry leader VMware, who released its ESX Server 3i earlier this year at VMworld in San Francisco.

As for the timing of the Hyper-V’s full release, Microsoft said it will ship within 180 days of the official release of Windows Server 2008 in first quarter 2008.