SWsoft, the company behind the Parallels Desktop virtualisation software for Mac, expects to release a beta version of a server edition of the software in the next four to six weeks. It is also working on new management tools for the data centre that will control other vendors' virtualisation products.

The company sees Parallels Server as a product for small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) or for departmental use in larger companies, filling the niche between its desktop products and Virtuozzo, its OS-level virtualisation system for data centres.

Where Virtuozzo allows multiple virtual machines (VMs) to run on one machine using a single instance of the same operating system kernel - either all Windows 2003, or all Linux - Parallels Server will allow disparate operating systems to run on the same server. While large companies tend to have the power to force standardization on a single operating system, making Virtuozzo's virtual environment approach appropriate for them, smaller organisations need the flexibility that true virtualisation offers, according to Benjamin Rudolph, director of corporate communications at SWsoft.

Some of the features of Parallels Server, such as full 64-bit support for host and guest operating systems, and support for multiprocessor VMs, should also appear in the next major version of the desktop edition, due in the first half of next year, said Rudolph.

Supporting 64-bit operating systems "is not really necessary on the desktop, but on the server it is," said Rudolph. The feature will take away one of the advantages of Fusion, a rival desktop product from VMware, which already has the capability. Both products continue to evolve and add features: Parallels offered a downloadable feature update for its version 3 desktop software earlier this month, and VMware began beta testing version 1.1 of Fusion on Tuesday.

SWsoft's planned addition of SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) support in Parallels Desktop will allow Mac OS X users to get the best performance from multiprocessor-aware applications such as Photoshop running in either operating system. Currently, virtual machines in Parallels Desktop run on (and emulate) just one processor core, with other cores in the system occupied by the host operating system.

The company's new data centre management tools will debut in Virtuozzo 4, now in beta testing, where they will allow management only of Virtuozzo virtual environments. But SWsoft intends to extend the capabilities in future versions to allow management of other virtualisation systems, including VMware, Xen, and Microsoft's Veridian, said Rudolph.

That move would come as no surprise to IDC research director Chris Ingle. As virtualisation technology itself becomes more of a commodity, virtualisation vendors will be forced to develop innovative management tools in order to remain competitive, he said recently. An IDC study found that while cost is the prime reason in deciding whether or not to virtualize, it is less important than the availability of management tools when choosing a virtualisation vendor.

Rudolph also hopes that other vendors will offer management tools for Parallels Server when it is released: SWsoft plans to open up the APIs (application programming interfaces) to allow that, and some of the software tools in its SDK (software development kit) will effectively be open source, he said. SWsoft hasn't yet chosen the license under which it will release that code, he said.