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Thursday, January 17, 2008, 03:00 pm PT (06:00 pm ET)

Parallels aims to virtualize Leopard Server and help sell Xserves

Parallels, maker of the popular Parallels Workstation software that enables Intel Mac users to run Windows or Linux within a virtualized environment, introduced its new Parallels Server. The new product, intended to enter beta in the next couple months, is designed to virtualize and manage multiple server operating systems on any Intel-compatible hardware.

When running on Apple's Xserve or other Intel-based Macs, Parallels Server also allows users to virtualize Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard Server. That feature required a change to Apple's license agreement for Server, which formerly required that the software could only be run on a single system and only on Mac hardware. Apple relaxed the limitations to enable Parallels to develop the new server virtualization software. Leopard Server still requires that users acquire a license for each instance of Leopard Server running, and further requires that Leopard Server run only on Apple branded hardware.

Why Virtualize?

While most desktop users are familiar with the benefits of running Windows software on the Mac desktop, the Parallels Server product addresses an entirely different market. Virtualization in a server environment is typically used to test multiple instances of the same setup with a single changed variable. For example, a IT department could run multiple virtualized copies of Leopard Server, each with a different selection of System Updates, patches, or alternative configurations, in order to test for compatibility problems or conflicts. This can already be done by simply throwing hardware at the problem, but virtualization allows all of the different systems to run in parallel on the same hardware, dramatically saving the amount of hardware required to test different configurations.

The other obvious benefit offered by Parallels Server is the capacity to run multiple, different Server operating systems on the same hardware. This is of particular interest to Apple, which is clearly excited by the prospect of selling its Xserve hardware to IT shops that need to run a combination of Windows, Linux, Mac OS X Server, and other server operating systems.

Standardizing on Apple Hardware

Since 2006, the ability of MacBooks to run Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows both natively in Boot Camp or in a virtualized environment such as Parallels Workstation or VMWare's Fusion has resulted in a wide expansion of Apple's laptop sales. Thanks to Intel, Apple can now recommend its desktop and notebook hardware as the standard equipment for educational institutions and businesses running a variety of operating systems, and play up the firmware advantages offered by its Macs (from Firewire Target Mode to NetBoot to simplified hardware driver management) to make rolling out a flexible hardware pool easier, simpler, and more cost effective.

With Parallels Server, Apple will similarly be able to sell its Xserve line to a wider audience, and compete against hardware rivals HP and Dell, who currently lead in the server market by a wide margin. Apple's server tools for remote management and monitoring and its simplified, consistent server hardware line offers to sweeten the deal. Parallels Server also offers its own remote Management Console for handling the virtual servers it runs (below).

The Console can be used to manage multiple physical servers, which are listed in the sidebar. In this screenshot, there is only one physical server "localhost," running four virtual instances, including Leopard Server, Windows Server 2003, the 64-bit version of Windows Server, and the Linux distro CentOS. The number of instances a single server can run is largely constrained only by RAM. Parallels suggested allocating at least a gigabyte for each virtual server instance.

Parrallels Server

The Console tab in the Management Console (below) shows the graphical interface of the server. Parallels representatives reported that the company is working to offer a full command line console access tied to a flexible development kit designed to allow end users unlimited scripting and management features. Using the Detach Console icon, the Management Console can also float each virtual server's display in its own window, enabling administrators to monitor multiple virtualized environments at once.

Parrallels Server