VMware has pre-announced major new versions of its data centre product, ESX Server, adding more automation features and increasing capacity.

VMware ESX Server 3 will allow double the number of processors, up from two to four virtual processors. It will also support dual-core processors, as well expanded virtual machine memory limits, up from 3.5GB to 16GB. It adds greater NAS and iSCSI networked storage compatibility too, all of which broadens the potential usage range of the product, potentially taking it deeper into large data centres.

New management software, VirtualCenter 2, allows users to partition hardware and consolidate application workloads with the aim of cutting running costs. According to VMware, it builds on its VMotion technology that allows live migration of running virtual machines without stopping.

Higher availability in the event of a hardware failure comes by detecting failed VMs and automatically restarting them on alternate ESX Server hosts, said VMware. The services select a failover host that can honour the virtual machine's resource allocations so that service level guarantees remain intact. VMware is pitching it as offering the benefits of clustering without extra hardware.

Also new is distributed resource scheduling. This consists of a self-managing cluster with built-in resource and load balancing, that continuously balances VM workloads across ESX Server hosts. Users' servers can then operate at 80 per cent use or higher, said VMware, because an increase in VM activity that saturates an ESX Server triggers automated VMotion live migrations. Running virtual machines are automatically moved other ESX Server nodes to allow resource commitments to be met.

VMware product manager Karthik Rau said: "With the introduction of ESX Server 3 and VirtualCenter 2, VMware provides customers with the ability to drive even higher availability and better flexibility and to apply the benefits of virtualisation throughout the enterprise."

"The new features in VMware ESX Server 3 and VMware VirtualCenter 2 support our plans to further expand our virtual infrastructure," said Paul Poppleton, a Qualcomm engineer. "Using ESX Server 3 and VirtualCenter 2 will allow us to optimise efficiency and resource use across the infrastructure, while driving down hardware and operational costs. With distributed availability services, we can bring complete high availability coverage to many of our production applications at minimal cost. Also with 4-way Virtual SMP and the increased 16GB virtual machine memory limits, we can migrate more of our physical servers to virtual machines.

VMware ESX Server 3 and VMware VirtualCenter 2 are in limited beta testing with a public beta program due later this year and general release at the start of next year.

Server capacity planning
VMware is also moving further into services, raising the bar for new entrants to the virtualisation market. It has announced the availability of a set of server consolidation services that assess a company's infrastructure usage and indentify weak points.