Dell has expanded its partnership with EMC and will now support ESX Server, VMotion and VirtualCenter Management Server software - all by its VMware subsidiary - on certain configurations of Dell's server and storage systems.

Dell customers will be able to purchase pre-tested two and four-processor configurations of the PowerEdge 6650 server with either the Clariion CX300 or CX500 storage systems running the software. It will handle the first level of support calls for the VMware products, with more complex level 2 and level 3 support calls still handled by VMware.

"We think this hits the sweet spot of a configuration that most Dell customers can implement most quickly," said Mike Mullany, VP of marketing at VMware.

VMware makes virtualisation software that allows one application to run on a large number of servers. Its software can also let one physical server operate many different "virtual" operating systems at the same time. The company was acquired by EMC in January.

The partnership helps Dell compete with companies like HP and IBM, which have large in-house software development teams and are pushing software virtualisation as an important component of their hardware strategies. "It's really very important to Dell to put together these relatively deep partnerships in software because Dell has essentially no assets of its own and really no intention of developing assets of its own," said Gordon Haff, an analyst with the Illuminata.

Because Microsoft's upcoming Virtual Server 2004 software competes with VMware's products, Monday's news also says something about Dell and Microsoft, Haff said. "Dell apparently does not intend to be exclusively locked into Microsoft as a management software partner but is looking at other players as well," he said.

Microsoft began sending out beta copies of Virtual Server 2004 to testers last month. The company expects to begin shipping the product, which is based on software Microsoft acquired from Connectix in 2003, in a few months.

At present, Dell sells, but does not support, the smaller-scale version of VMware's virtualisation software, called GSX Server, that is expected to compete directly with Virtual Server 2004, Mullany said. "Dell resells GSX server but it's not considered as strategic for them," he said.

During a conference call Monday, Dell VP of Software Pete Morowski declined to comment on Dell's plans for Virtual Server 2004, other than to say that his company would respond to customer needs.

A supported two-processor PowerEdge 6650 server with ESX Server can be purchased from Dell, effective Monday, for $30,579 (£16,650).