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Sun Takes On VMware

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Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: JAVA  ) is getting some serious street cred in the open-source community nowadays. The longtime Unix server builder and Solaris scribe is picking up a host of new skills by buying up small, independent companies with world-class products. The latest example could challenge mighty VMware (NYSE: VMW  ) in the desktop and workstation virtualization markets.

What's all this for?
In xVM VirtualBox, Sun has a very capable, albeit specialized, virtual machine platform. Its original designer, Innotek, joined Sun's brand stable last February, on the heels of database builder MySQL and office software project StarOffice. Together, these three acquisitions made sure that I personally use Sun-sponsored software for almost everything I do on a computer, including writing this article using StarOffice offshoot

VirtualBox now helps me run Linux applications seamlessly on this laptop, where Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Windows is the main operating system. It's free software that runs on a variety of Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) -compatible operating systems like Sun's own Solaris, any flavor of Linux, and even Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) Mac OS X. VMware Workstation only runs atop Windows and Linux (though there is a separate application for the Mac freaks out there), so Sun holds a unique card right off the bat.

The target market for this class of virtual machine is a sprawling mix. IT managers can create standard workstation images that will run the same way on any compatible hardware, making for simple and quick management of corporate desktop systems and laptops. Developers can do their testing on a virtual machine, thrash it to bits, and then simply start fresh by going back to the original disk image again. And if you need a variety of operating systems around the house or office but only have a couple of physical machines, well, slap in VirtualBox or VMware and run anything you like.

Anything you can do, I can do better
A head-to-head comparison between the two solutions in InfoWorld comes to the simple conclusion that VMware has a comfortable lead in performance and features -- especially of the enterprise-friendly ilk like policy management and easy OS installation tools -- but it is expensive while VirtualBox is free. Given the attractive price point and the accelerated development once VirtualBox joined Sun, that package is getting some traction in enthusiast circles and small business.

But you know how no IT director will get in trouble for choosing Microsoft software? The same holds true for VMware in its small but growing niche of the software world. Going with VMware in a large enterprise environment is the safe and future-proof choice.

More competition, please!
Competition is good for innovation, and Microsoft seems to have given up on the desktop virtualization space at the moment. And there will always be niches for one package to fill where the other can't go -- yet. I'd be shocked if VMware Workstation couldn't run on Mac OS X in a year or two, now that one of the big boys of computing is leading the way into that potential market. Would Microsoft's Internet Explorer have tabbed browsing if Opera and Firefox hadn't stoked our hunger for that feature? I think not. And without the likes of Nortel (NYSE: NT  ) playing the same cat-and-mouse game with big ol' Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO  ) , our networks might have been ten or a hundred times slower that they are today.

So I wish Sun the best of luck with VirtualBox and its big brother xVM Server -- even if they don't stand a chance to steal VMware's crown. 'Cause you know, they really don't.

Further Foolishness:

Microsoft and Intel are Motley Fool Inside Value selections, VMware is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick, and Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. He really does use MySQL, VirtualBox, and OpenOffice to make a living, though. Nice work there, Sun! You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure is completely hardware-agnostic.

Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (4)

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  • Report this Comment On September 12, 2008, at 11:50 AM, bnyrbl wrote:

    Clarification: VMware Server (used to be called GSX a long time ago and has been around for more than 5 years) is also free and has a MUCH broader feature set. So to say Vmware's product is better but the Sun xVM is free, and therefore competitve, is not true. If both are free and VMware's is better, no one will care what Sun is doing in the virtual space.

    I'm running VMware Server for Windows XP, and writing you this using Firefox and Ubuntu.

    And don't forget, acquiring other smaller companies for your core virtualization technology doesn't make you innovative. VMware invented this game on x86 computers, they've honed it beyond simply running multiple OS's at once, it runs anything on anything, and the 'mac app' you're talking about (VMware Fusion) actually allows you to run your apps from the virtual machine (ie: Windows, or Linux) 'without the need to have a windows/linux desktop, it's a feature called 'Unity'. Meaning, I can have the Windows Version of MS Office running in the Mac desktop completely seamlessly.

    All the vendors have free products, VMware has the best ones (Player, Server, ESXi for the enterprise). Any entry-level product from anyone else are comparatively toys when comparing features.

    But my biggest point here is VMware is free too, and since it blows away anyone else, including MS, for features and reliability and ease of use, and flexibility, there really is no competition.

    But hey, if you like Sun use Sun. But VMware Server lets you do a whack more, and they're both free.

    Did I mention they're both free?


  • Report this Comment On September 12, 2008, at 1:42 PM, cjgiii wrote:

    "it runs anything on anything"

    Not quite. VMware Server does not support Solaris or OpenSolaris hosts. Neither VMware nor VirtualBox supports *BSD hosts.

    "they've honed it beyond simply running multiple OS's at once"

    VirtualBox also has a seamless mode, which I am using as I type this (Firefox in an XP guest on Ubuntu). VBox also has shared folders, USB, RDP support, various vm networking options, etc.

    Also, Sun has no intrusive register-to-get-a-license-key-so-we-can-try-to-upsell system.

  • Report this Comment On September 12, 2008, at 3:11 PM, bnyrbl wrote:

    Well clearly it's a superior product then.


  • Report this Comment On September 12, 2008, at 3:15 PM, bnyrbl wrote:

    And "not quite", stated another way the guest/host OS support for VMware is extremely broad. Their products do do a lot more than simple server consolidation, that's a fact. And if Sun isn't trying to upsell you (which as the consumer, is still optional for you, it's hardly nag-ware), what's the potential for actually increasing revenue? Doesn't revenue have anything with running a company or being competitive too? Last time I checked I thought that was the case.

  • Report this Comment On September 12, 2008, at 5:18 PM, virtualgrl wrote:

    cjgiii: Where do you get your information from?

    VMware server AND ESXi both support Solaris.

    ESXi has full support for Solaris 10 (64-bit and 32-bit), and experimental support for Solaris 9, whereas VMware Server has experimental support for both Solaris 10 and Solaris 9.

    Also, VMware Server fully supports FreeBSD 4.* (almost all versions from 4.3 to 4.8), 5.0, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, 5.5, 6.1

    And these are just the free versions.

  • Report this Comment On September 13, 2008, at 1:12 PM, since62 wrote:

    This is some of the better discussion i've seen on VMware in ages. Unlike the finance boards which are full of pumpers and dumpers with no interest in the stock.

    From what i read Las Vegas next week and VMworld is a big moment for the company.

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