VMware this week will launch the first major upgrade of its flagship server virtualization software in nearly two years, along with several new tools aimed at wringing more savings out of enterprise data centers. Virtualization in recent years has gained favor among enterprise IT administrators as a way to cut costs through server consolidation, and market research firm IDC estimates spending around server virtualization will increase to nearly US$15 billion worldwide by 2009. But VMware says its latest arsenal of virtualization technologies goes beyond server consolidation to simplify IT operations throughout the data center.VMware has integrated the new versions of its VMware ESX server virtualization and Virtual Center management software with several new tools aimed\u00a0at providing such functionality. The launch of the new suite, collectively called VMware Infrastructure 3, marks the end of a beta program that began in October 2005 and involved some 6,400 beta testers.At the core of the suite is the VMware ESX Server 3.0 server virtualization software, which boosts the software\u2019s virtual symmetric multiprocessing capabilities to provide up to four virtual CPUs and 16GB of memory for each virtual machine. The extra power and memory will help IT administrators looking to virtualize larger enterprise applications, said users. "We needed to run some Oracle and SQL databases that needed a little more horsepower than two CPUs, but we didn\u2019t need anything like eight CPUs, and we needed a little more RAM than the 3.6GB provided before," said Edward Baldwin, senior network engineer for Enbridge Energy Company in Houston.Baldwin, a beta tester of the software, said it has helped the company save at least $1.5 million in the past year."We have decreased our purchase of servers, and we\u2019ve found big savings in less power consumption, less network ports, less SAN ports and less cooling in the cages. And we save each business unit money because when they need a server developed and deployed, we can do it at a lower price and a quicker rate," Baldwin said.Among new features in ESX Server 3.0 are new power-management capabilities designed to orchestrate settings of the underlying hardware and optimize power supplied to the server. On the storage front, the latest release adds support for NAS and iSCSI storage, for virtualization of infrastructure using lower-cost storage, such as at remote branch offices.VMware also added new enterprise storage virtualization capabilities with the addition of a distributed file system, called VMFS 3, that allows users to pool heterogenous storage arrays into virtual volumes. Version 2.0 of VMware\u2019s VirtualCenter management tool, also released as part of the suite, can handle three times the number of hosts and virtual machines as did previous iterations, said the company. Another new tool VMware added to the mix is DRS, a distributed resource scheduler, which automatically allocates additional resources to applications running in virtual machines when more capacity is needed. VMware\u2019s Virtual Center management tool does not help administrators manage physical servers, but VMware says it provides the hooks for other systems management software providers to integrate with its tool to manage both physical and virtual servers within the same console. VMware\u2019s management tools also do not manage other virtualization platforms, such as those offered by Microsoft, and VMware would not say whether it has plans to extend that capability in its product. VMware is offering three flavors of its VMware Infrastructure 3 Suite. At the low end is VMware Infrastructure Starter, which is geared for small businesses or remote branch offices and includes the ESX Server and Virtual Center and connects to local disk or NAS storage. Pricing starts at $1,000 per two-way box. For enterprise consolidation projects, VMware Infrastructure Standard adds the four-way Virtual SMP capabilities and VMFS 3 for enterprise storage connectivity. It starts at $3,750 per two-way box. And at the high end of its enterprise offerings is VMware Infrastructure Enterprise, which adds in the VMotion, DRS, HA and consolidated backup technologies. Pricing for that version starts at $5,750 per two-way box.-Shelley Solheim, IDG News ServiceCheck out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.