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Whenever the word "virtualization" is mentioned, most people immediately think of VMware’s well-known stable of products, but VMware isn’t the only game in town; other virtualization companies are waiting in the wings to steal some of VMware’s thunder. Case in point: upstart Virtual Iron has challenged VMware in the enterprise data center and by leveraging open standards and open-source products, Virtual Iron has become a viable alternative to VMware’s products.

Virtual Iron’s latest stab at VMware comes in the form of Version 4.2, which was released in December 2007. That latest revision to the company’s flagship product addresses several nagging complaints that users had with previous versions of the product.

The major improvements found in version 4.2 focus on speed, continuity and overall ease of use. Solution providers will find the product now offers support for SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 (32-bit and 64-bit) and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 (32-bit and 64-bit), which should make those looking for alternatives to Windows Server 200x quite happy. Version 4.2 followed Version 4, which offered major enhancements over versions 3.x.

Other major enhancements include:

  •  Multi-pathing for virtual server Ethernet and Fibre Channel networks to support business continuity and redundancy.
  • LiveSnapshot™ – virtual server snapshots for hot backup and patch management. These capabilities enable offloaded, space efficient and no-downtime backups on live virtual machines running in production environments and also reduce the time for virtual machine patching in development and test processes.
  • The ability to dynamically increase the size of both disk groups and virtual disks – providing increased storage on demand.

Virtual Iron version 4.2 comes in three flavors; a free version of the software supports up to 12 virtual machines on one physical machine, an Enterprise Edition, which costs $499 per socket, and an Extended Enterprise Version that costs $799 per socket.

Compared to some of the other virtualization vendors in the market, Virtual Iron is offering its Xen-based virtualization products at fire-sale prices. That is not to say that Virtual Iron version 4.2 can do everything that VMware, Cassatt, Egenera and Scalent Systems can do with their products, but Virtual Iron does cover the basics of server virtualization quite well.

What’s more, some of the new features are unique in the market and the other vendors will have to play some catch-up to trump Virtual Iron’s latest iteration.

Adopters will find setting up Virtual Iron straightforward; an included quick start guide speeds through the basic elements and offers valid recommendations when it comes to “networking” nodes and even covers basic concepts, such as network cabling. The idea here is to make it difficult for anyone who follows the documentation to muck up an installation.