Virtual Iron joins HP partner program

Customers will be able to purchase rack and blade servers with open source virtualization software

Virtual Iron Inc., the open source underdog to virtualization industry leader VMware Inc., has been chosen to join a Hewlett-Packard Co. partnership program and has landed the travel Web site Inc. as a customer.

Virtual Iron has been admitted into the HP ProLiant Partner Program and BladeSystem Solution Builder Program, giving it access to HP's sales channel to sell its virtualization software in HP servers.

HP is going to begin reselling Virtual Iron under its software license and management solution program, which has members including Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp., Symantec Corp. and VMware, said Mike Grandinetti, Virtual Iron's chief marketing officer.

HP ProLiant rack and BladeSystem c-Class blade servers will be able to be shipped with Virtual Iron already installed on them.

By basing its virtualization products on the open source Xen distribution for virtualization, and by using channel partners for distribution, Virtual Iron can provide virtualization support to customers at an average of just 20 percent of the cost of VMware, Grandinetti said.

Open source rivals like Virtual Iron, who give away the software and charge only for support, can put competitive pressure on the larger VMware by undercutting them on price, said Chris Wolf, an industry analyst with The Burton Group.

However, Virtual Iron's product is not as "robust" as is VMware's and large enterprises fully invested in VMware are unlikely to switch to another provider just because the price is lower, Wolf said. But Virtual Iron and other open source virtualization providers could make gains in the medium-sized market.

Virtualization refers to technology that makes it possible to run multiple software applications and operating systems on one physical server, using more of that server's computing capacity. It also has applications in storage networks and other parts of an IT system. chose Virtual Iron to virtualize its ProLiant servers, although it also uses VMware on its Microsoft Windows servers and Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris Zones virtualization product on its Sun servers, said Ron Rose, Priceline's chief information officer.

"What Virtual Iron is trying to do is standardize configurations for virtualized servers in conjunction with HP," said Rose. "Anything that standardizes configuration is always a good thing in the industry."

Rose cited a Gartner Inc. research report that said more than 50 percent of the problems encountered by commercial data center operators are related to "configuration variability." But with Virtual Iron's partnership with HP, the servers will be preconfigured to run Virtual Iron.