IBM's low-end servers and middleware are set to support XenSource's open-source Xen virtualisation for the first time.

Novell has released its SuSE Linux Enterprise 10 operating system, which includes the Xen virtualisation software. The software allows multiple operating systems to run simultaneously on the same server.

"There's no doubt how important virtualisation has become," said Scott Handy, vice president of worldwide Linux and open-source software at IBM. "Servers are heavily under-utilised." Being able to virtualise their hardware can be a real cost saver for companies, he added.

IBM pledged to support the new SuSE release throughout its hardware and middleware software and provide services support.

As for Xen, IBM will support the technology as part of its Virtualisation Engine software offering on BladeCenter blade servers as well as servers based on x86 chips from Intel and AMD.

Over the next year, as IBM updates more than 500 middleware products including Tivoli, WebSphere and Rational families, the vendor will add in support for SuSe Linux Enterprise 10 and Xen, Handy said.

IBM intends to continue its even-handed treatment of the top two Linux distribution companies - Novell and Red Hat. As soon as Red Hat comes out with its new Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, expected in December, IBM will move to support that distribution, which also includes support for Xen, Handy said.

"Novell has tended to ship technology earlier than Red Hat in the adoption cycle," he added, citing Novell's support for version 2.6 of the Linux kernel.

As for IBM's new support for Xen, that decision won't affect the vendor's existing support for other rival virtualisation software from VMware and Microsoft, Handy said.

He expects that many customers will end up running at least two different virtualisation technologies and some may run all three - Xen, Microsoft and VMware - raising the importance of virtualisation management.