On Monday, VMware introduced two important new virtualization products, VMware Infrastructure 3.01 and VMware Connector 3. These products do much to advance VMware's corporate goals of making virtualization more pervasive and mainstream, while rounding out its virtualization offerings. If you're still on the fence about which virtualization platform to adopt--Microsoft's or VMWare's--they could help you make the decision.

VMware Infrastructure 3.01, as its name suggests, is an updated version of the VMware Infrastructure 3 product that VMware first shipped back in June. This product allows enterprises to manage their virtual machine (VM) infrastructure from a central location while separating the hardware and software allocation pools to better use existing resources. From a product standpoint, VMware Infrastructure 3.01 comprises new versions of ESX Server (3.0.1) and VMware VirtualCenter (2.0.1).

So what's new in VMware Infrastructure 3.01? First, VMware provides complete and unqualified support for 64-bit systems, including Windows Server, Red Hat and SuSE Linux, and Sun Microsystems Solaris. (VMware Infrastructure 3 provided only "experimental" support for 64-bit platforms.) What this means is that customers can now run 32-bit and 64-bit virtualized workloads on the same 64-bit hardware, side by side. This is big news for companies that want to begin porting over applications to 64-bit but need to do testing first.

Additionally, VMware Infrastructure 3.01 includes an amazing migration feature that will allow customers to migrate from ESX Server 2.x to ESX Server 3.0 in place and nondestructively, with no downtime. There are two steps to this migration: First, you move VMs to an ESX Server 3.0 installation and run them alongside any existing ESX 3.0-based VMs you have. To upgrade the virtual hardware to better support ESX 3.0, however, you'll need to perform a single reboot. But you can schedule that for the most optimal time, according to your needs.

Finally, VMware is beginning the long process of localizing its software for other markets as well. Starting with VMware Infrastructure 3.01, the company is providing software versions localized for the Japanese and German markets. VMware intends to add other markets over time, I'm told.

VMware Infrastructure 3.01 is a free upgrade for any customers currently enrolled in support and subscription contracts. VMware tells me that most of its customers are therefore covered.

The second announcement involves a new generation of VMware Converter. This physical to virtual (P2V) and virtual to virtual (V2V) solution allows users to take existing server setups--be they physical or virtual machines--and convert them to new virtual machines. New to this version is the ability to convert a live, running machine without bringing it down as was required with the previous version.

Currently in public beta, VMware Converter 3 is an exciting product. It allows businesses to test production workloads in virtual environments to ensure they can get the performance they need, and it's an excellent way to experiment with new workloads. What's even more exciting is the cost: VMware Converter 3 is free. VMware is making two versions of this tool available beginning today, a version that anyone can download from the Web site, which is limited to performing single machine conversions at a time, and an enterprise-class version that customers can get via their support and subscription contracts.

I should note a few limitations: VMware Converter 3 is available only on Windows and is 32-bit only at this point. However, given the product's focus--typically converting legacy machines to virtual environments--these limitations shouldn't be a huge issue for most businesses. VMware Converter joins the stable of VMware's other free tools, including VMware Server and VMware Player.

Also...Microsoft System Center Essentials 2007 I'm out of space, but I should at least mention that Microsoft this week shipped a public beta version of its upcoming System Center Essentials 2007 product, which is aimed at supplying centralized management functionality for mid-sized businesses (i.e., those companies too big for Small Business Server--SBS--but too small for Microsoft's full-blown enterprise management products). System Center Essentials looks interesting, but you can find out more at the Microsoft Web site.
http://www.microsoft.com/systemcenter/sce/default.mspx