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Virtualization for Free

Although I sense it will slip under the radar a little, today's a big day for the virtualization world, as ESXi is now available for free. As we reported last week, VMware decided to give away the lightweight version of its flagship hypervisor, ESX, as one of the company's first big moves under new CEO Paul Maritz.

Of course, it's easy to by cynical about why VMware's doing this now. Although the company maintains that making hypervisors free follows a historical trend that started with GSX Server, it would be a pretty remarkable coincidence that this happens just as Hyper-V hits the market; in addition, ESXi isn't a mature product that's been on the market for years, like GSX or ESX. In that way, it hasn't followed the normal trend.

The main difference between ESX and the "i" version is the service console: ESX has it, ESXi doesn't (which is also why ESXi is a feathery 32MB). The console is a Linux-based OS that handles certain management functions like backup, hardware monitoring and script execution. But in most ways, the hypervisors are more alike than different: they support the same guests, and can both be patched through VMware Update Manager.

However you slice it, and whatever VMware's motivations, today is a very good day for the industry. As of today, anyone can get into virtualization for free (in fact, it's now cheaper to use VMware for basic virtualization, since ESXi is free, and you need to have Windows Server 2008 to use Hyper-V. Yeah, there's no extra cost for Hyper-V, but the OS isn't free. When the standalone Hyper-V Server comes out later this year, it will cost $28.) There is a healthy offering of hypervisors, with the three most important -- ESXi, Hyper-V and open source Xen -- available for nada. As the immortal Homer Simpson says, "No payments per month -- yeah, I think we can swing that!"

Posted by Keith Ward on 07/28/2008 at 12:48 PM


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