VMware's new cloud operating system has finally arrived, after the virtualisation giant announced the worldwide general availability of vSphere 4.
The company first talked about its "virtual data centre OS" last September at the VMworld show in Las Vegas. Earlier this year it christened the product vSphere and last month it was officially launched during a splashy event featuring John Chambers and Michael Dell.
Now the software is on sale. Starting Thursday customers can order any of the six different versions of vSphere, which range from an Essentials package for smaller businesses to an Enterprise Plus edition for large data centres. The software is also ready for download from VMware's website.
VSphere marks a big step forward from VMware Infrastructure 3, the company's existing product. VMware positions it as a "cloud operating system" that will allow companies to centrally manage servers, storage and networks in their data centre as if they were one big computer.
The software includes updates to VMware's core hypervisor that should allow it to handle large databases and other more demanding applications. VSphere quadruples the amount of memory available to virtual machines, triples network throughput and doubles the maximum I/O operations to more than 200,000 per second, VMware says.
A new feature called VMware Fault Tolerance can create a live replica of an application on a different server that can be used in the event of a hardware failure. Also new is vStorage Thin Provisioning, which allows less physical storage to be allocated to a virtual machine, and Distributed Power Management, which can consolidate virtual machines onto fewer machines during periods of low usage.
VMware said it was releasing the software ahead of schedule, although it appears to be in line with its plans for a second quarter release. "I think they had June in mind so they're pushing out a little earlier than they expected," said Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf.
Analysts say vSphere is important for VMware because it will help it maintain its technology lead over Citrix Systems, and especially, Microsoft, which recently entered the virtualisation market with Hyper-V.
The basic virtualisation capabilities are becoming commoditised, with all the vendors now offering their hypervisors for free, and VMware is trying to stay ahead with more sophisticated management capabilities.
It still has more to do, however. The company plans a further upgrade that will let companies transfer workloads between their own data centres and those of cloud service providers such as Terremark and Savvis. VMware still isn't saying when that product will be released.
vSphere starts at $166 (£106) per processor for the small business system and goes up to $3,495 (£2,235) for the Enterprise Plus version.