Chasing VMware

BEA Systems' WebLogic Server Virtual Edition enables Java apps to run directly on a hypervisor without a standard OS.

December was a big month for virtualization, with two of the leading vendors and an enterprise software heavyweight unveiling spanking-new products.

San Jose, Calif.-based SOA evangelist BEA Systems Inc. announced plans to enter the market with an aggressive roadmap for optimizing the operation of Java applications in virtualized environments.

The company plans to introduce the first product, BEA's WebLogic Server Virtual Edition (WLS-VE) in March. WLS-VE is a version of its Java application server that includes the new Liquid VM technology, which will let Java applications run directly on a hypervisor without a standard OS. Initially, the Liquid VM will work only with VMware's ESX Server hypervisor, says James Sherburne, BEA's director of product marketing, but the company plans to support other hypervisors in the future, including those from XenSource and Microsoft.

There are two pieces to BEA's virtualization strategy. There's bottom-up enablement, which is characterized by the Liquid VM. (Sherburne calls it "our secret sauce.") On top of that is the management piece, BEA's WebLogic Liquid Operations Center, which the company plans to introduce this summer.

BEA has been pursuing its "liquid" computing strategy for about two years. The idea is that by "liquefying" enterprise IT assets through a service-oriented architecture from the bottom of the software stack, enterprises become more flexible and fluid. The company is touting its virtualization solution as a key component of its SOA 360 Degrees initiative.

"Virtualization is the most explosive and transformative technology wave to hit the industry since open source," James Governor, principal analyst and founder of RedMonk, a Denver, Colo.-based analyst firm, said via e-mail. BEA isn't competing with virtualization market leader VMware, he noted, but is taking advantage of the virtualization VMware has enabled. "Abstraction is very powerful, but adding abstraction layers can create performance and manageability issues. BEA is putting forward a proposition that each VM doesn't need its own copy of the OS to function within a virtualized system."

Virtual Freebie
Virtual Iron Software Inc. released version 3.1 of its enterprise-class virtualization platform. The Lowell, Mass.-based startup rolled out its Xen-based server virtualization platform, Virtual Iron 3.0, in October. That release supported Novell SuSE and Red Hat Linux. The 3.1 version adds support for Windows XP and 2003. It comes with a suite of management tools, including LiveMigration, which lets users move running VMs between physical servers; LiveCapacity, which supports dynamic reallocation of resources to VMs; LiveRecovery, which provides automated failover; and LiveMaintenance, which lets physical machines be taken offline without disturbing the VMs running on them.

BEA Systems' WebLogic Server Virtual Edition
[click image for larger view]
BEA Systems' WebLogic Server Virtual Edition enables Java apps to run directly on a hypervisor without a standard OS.

Virtual Iron version 3.1 is priced at $499 per socket. That's about 20 percent of the cost of a comparable offering from VMware. But that's not all. The Virtual Iron product can be downloaded and licensed free when run on a single physical server with up to four sockets. Microsoft and VMware have made similar offers, but both Virtual Server and VMware Server must run on top of a host operating system. Virtual Iron's freebie comes with a hypervisor that runs on bare metal.

Virtual Iron's new pricing scheme brings its products within striking distance of XenSource's XenEnterprise product, which starts at $750 for a two-way server license. Both XenSource and Virtual Iron use the open source Xen hypervisor for server virtualization.

For its part, Palo Alto, Calif.-based XenSource is following the recent release of its XenEnterprise with two new products: XenServer, for Windows standard server environments, and XenExpress, a free offering that enables single virtual machine test environments.

The company bills XenEnterprise as the market's first enterprise-grade, commercially packaged virtualization solution based on the open source Xen hypervisor, which supports both Windows and Linux.

Both Virtual Iron and XenSource are competing with a market monster in VMware. The EMC Corp. subsidiary pioneered virtualization for x86, and it was the only game in town for ages.

"VMware definitely has that first-mover advantage," says IDC analyst John Humphreys. "... So it's going to take a lot to get customers to think about switching. Virtual Iron's pricing is a great first step."

Why is the virtualization market so hot right now? "I don't know that the timing is particularly significant," says Gordon Haff, principal IT advisor at Illuminata Inc., a Nashua, N.H.-based research firm. "But the fact is, users really like this technology. VMware has been growing by leaps and bounds, and [it's] making a lot of money for EMC. The question that remains to be answered is, 'Will the competition's products work as well?'"

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance author and journalist based in Silicon Valley. His latest book is The Everything Guide to Social Media. Follow John on Twitter, read his blog on, check out his author page on Amazon, or e-mail him at

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