VMware is to launch a major upgrade of its flagship server virtualisation software. As well as the upgrade, the first in nearly two years, the company is also launching several new tools aimed to wring more savings out of enterprise data centres.

Virtualisation in recent years has gained favour among IT administrators as a way to cut costs through server consolidation, and market research firm IDC estimates spending around server virtualisation will increase to nearly US$15 billion worldwide by 2009.

But VMware says its latest arsenal of virtualisation technologies goes beyond server consolidation to simplify IT operations throughout the data center.

VMware has integrated the new versions of its VMware ESX server virtualisation and Virtual Center management software with several new tools aimed to provide such functionality. The launch of the new suite, collectively called VMware Infrastructure 3, marks the end of a beta programme that began in October of 2005 and involved some 6,400 beta testers.

At the core of the suite is the VMware ESX Server 3.0 server virtualisation software, which boosts the software's virtual SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) capabilities to provide up to four virtual CPUs and 16G bytes of memory for each virtual machine. The extra power and memory will help IT administrators looking to virtualise larger enterprise applications, said users.

One user was impressed by VMware's offering. "We needed to run some Oracle and SQL databases that needed a little more horsepower than two CPUs, but we didn't need anything like eight CPUs, and we needed a little more RAM than the 3.6Gig provided before," said Edward Baldwin, senior network engineer, for Enbridge Energy in Houston.

Baldwin, a beta tester of the software, said it has helped the company save at least a million and a half dollars in the past year.

"We have decreased our purchase of servers, and we've found big savings in less power consumption, less network ports, less SAN ports and less cooling in the cages. And we save each business unit money because when they need a server developed and deployed we can do it at a lower price and a quicker rate," Baldwin said.

Among new features in ESX Server 3.0 are new power-management capabilities designed to orchestrate settings of the underlying hardware and optimise power supplied to the server. On the storage front, the latest release adds support for NAS and iSCSI storage, for virtualisation of infrastructure using lower-cost storage, such as at remote branch offices.

VMware also added new enterprise storage virtualisation capabilities with the addition of a distributed file system, called VMFS 3, that allows users to pool heterogenous storage arrays into virtual volumes.

Version 2.0 of VMware's VirtualCenter management tool, also released as part of the suite, can handle three times the number of hosts and virtual machines as did previous iterations, said the company.

Another new tool VMware added to the mix is DRS, a distributed resource scheduler, which automatically allocates additional resources to applications running in virtual machines when more capacity is needed.

VMware's Virtual Center management tool does not help administrators manage physical servers, but VMWare says it provides the hooks for other systems management software providers to integrate with its tool to manage both physical and virtual servers within the same console. VMware's management tools also do not manage other virtualisation platforms, such as those offered by Microsoft, and VMware would not say whether or not it has plans to extend that capability in its product.

VMware is offering three flavours of its VMware Infrastructure 3 Suite. At the low end is VMware Infrastructure Starter, which is geared for small businesses or remote branch offices and includes the ESX Server and Virtual Center and connects to local disk or NAS storage. Pricing starts at $1,000 per 2-way box. For enterprise consolidation projects, VMware Infrastructure Standard, adds the four-way Virtual SMP capabilities and VMFS 3 for enterprise storage connectivity. It starts at $3,750 per 2-way box. And at the high end of its enterprise offerings is VMware Infrastructure Enterprise, which adds in the VMotion, DRS, HA, and consolidated backup technologies. Pricing for that version starts at $5,750 per 2-way box.