IBM has announced a new tool to manage virtualised data centres even if the centre is running different types of virtualisation software.

IBM's Virtualisation Manager uses a Web-based dashboard for managing different portions of a data centre as one whole system, the company said. Virtualisation Manager will simultaneously run virtualisation software from vendors such as VMware, Microsoft, XenSource as well as for IBM's System p and System i servers. and storage devices.

VMware products specialise in virtualisation on x86-standard servers, while Microsoft Virtual Server manages servers running the Windows operating system and XenSource virtualises open source systems. Virtualisation Manager will give people who run data centres better control of systems from those different vendors, said Peter McCaffrey, director of virtualisation strategy for IBM.

"You need to better manage the environment if you're going to get the full advantage of virtualisation," McCaffrey said.

Virtualisation is a method of improving the performance of data centres by running several software applications, even based on different operating systems, on the same physical server. Because some servers deployed today operate at as little as 10 percent or 20 percent of capacity, virtualisation reduces the need to buy more servers.

Because Virtualisation Manager is Web-based, the data centre can be managed from wherever an IT manager has Web access, he said, and the easy-to-navigate user interface helps reduces operating as well as capital expenses. Virtualisation Manager is a free software download for customers who already operate IBM servers on their networks, even if they also run other brands.

Such virtualisation management products can help reduce one of the major cost areas for data centres, labour, said Joe Clabby, president of Clabby Analytics, an information technology research and analysis firm.

"Management of systems is a very expensive operation," said Clabby, adding that if a simpler management system is available, enterprises can use lower skilled and lower-paid people to manage a virtualised environment. "That savings on their SGA, sales, general and administrative, expenses goes right to the bottom line."

IBM boasts advantages its product has over those from other tech companies but a VMware executive says the whole industry is moving in the direction of simplified management of virtualisation technology.

"All these management vendors are looking at how virtualisation is deployed in the data centre," said Steve Harrod, vice president of technology deployment at VMware, adding that, over time, "you will get basic management capability in a standard form."