Sun Acquiring Desktop Virtualization Specialist

Updated: The OEM is buying Innotek, a German company that has developed virtualization software for clients.

Sun Microsystems is delving into desktop virtualization by buying a German company that specializes in open-source software that allows PCs to run applications with a range of operating systems.

On Feb. 12, Sun announced that it plans to acquire Innotek for an undisclosed sum. The acquisition is expected to close in Sun's fiscal third quarter.

As part of the agreement, Sun plans to incorporate Innotek's open-source VirtualBox software into its own xVM virtualization and management platform, which Sun officially unveiled in November. The VirtualBox software works with a number of different operating systems, including Sun's own Solaris OS, as well as Linux, Microsoft's Windows and Apple's Mac OS, and allows users to switch back and forth between the different operating systems.

By adding the VirtualBox software with its own xVM platform, Sun is looking to get into desktop virtualization and give developers an additional tool for creating cross-platform applications. The software also allows users to have access to a host of applications that might not be available on a PCs' base operating system.

While the xVM platform has been designed for virtualization within a data center, the move to buy Innotek gives Sun a way to enter into client virtualization. By 2009, Gartner calculates that there will some four million virtual machines in use, and desktop virtualization could outstrip server virtualization as company's look for better ways to manage the IT infrastructure.

"Where Sun xVM Server is designed to enable dynamic IT at the heart of the data center, VirtualBox is ideal for any laptop or desktop environment and will align perfectly with Sun's other developer focused assets such as GlassFish, OpenSolaris, OpenJDK and soon MySQL as well as a wide range of community open source projects, enabling developers to quickly develop, test and deploy the next generation of applications," Rich Green, executive vice president of Sun Software, said in a statement.

This area of individual desktop virtualization has been coveted by VMware, which offers its ACE (assured computing environment) products for desktop and laptops. The software uses the company's hypervisor to partition a PC into different virtual environments in much the same way it does with a server in the data center.

The result is a desktop or laptop that can offer different virtual environments for different applications, while keeping the base operating system intact. This also allows for better security and management of individual desktops.

Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research, said the acquisition also gives Sun another tool to compete against another VMware product, namely Lab Manager, which allows for application development and testing.

"With something like Innotek software, developers can easily use multiple operating systems without having to load up individual operating systems in order to run code," King said. "It takes a lot of the time and hassle out of software development and I think Sun believes that the Innotek software is very analogous to that."

The expanded virtualization offering also means that Sun has a new way to promote its Solaris operating system on x86 platforms. While Sun has been a long-time customer of Advanced Micro Devices and has developed its x64 (x86-64 bit) Galaxy servers with the chip maker, it also struck a deal in 2007 with Intel to develop servers and technology. In turn, Intel promised to help promote the Solaris OS on x86 hardware.

Virtualization, whether on a server or on the desktop, is key in helping Sun promote Solaris on x86 since it gives developers and Solaris users additional choice, King said.

"It makes creating solutions for the environment much more attractive," he said.

Since it was introduced in January 2007, the VirtualBox software has been downloaded 4 million times, according to Innotek.