VMware announced early this morning that it is unveiling a new version of its ESX Server software this week at the VMworld Conference in San Francisco. Dubbed VMware ESX Server 3i, this new variant is designed to be integrated into flash memory on server hardware, allowing buyers of those systems to run a functional hypervisor right out of the box.

In a statement announcing the news, VMware Vice President of Product and Solutions Marketing Raghu Raghuram explained that VMware customers "...can now turn on their servers and boot directly into a fully-functioning hypervisor to rapidly and easily realize the benefits of virtualization. We expect this advance to simplify virtualization and make it accessible to customers of all sizes."

In a briefing with Windows IT Pro before the announcement last week, a VMware executive indicated that in order to make ESX Server 3i a reality, the company had to reduce the size of the existing ESX Server hypervisor -- which takes up more than 2 gigabytes of memory space -- to under 32 megabytes, making it possible to copy the software to inexpensive flash memory located on the motherboard of the server hardware.

In a thinly-veiled swipe at competitor Microsoft, the VMware statement stresses that ESX Server 3i "...is the only hypervisor on the market today that does not incorporate a general-purpose operating system, thus freeing it from the many challenges involved in maintaining a general purpose OS."

The existing ESX Server product line will continue to be offered alongside ESX Server 3i. According to VMware, hardware manufacturers will begin shipping server hardware with integrated ESX Server 3i technology by the end of 2007 and throughout 2008.

In addition to the ESX Server 3i announcement, VMware will be unveiling two other new products at VMworld this week: VMware Virtual Desktop Manager and VMware Site Recovery Manager. The former is designed to serve as a connection manager between remote machines and servers running virtualized environments, while the latter facilitates the creation and management of data recovery efforts using virtualization technology.