Sun is set to release the first commercial product in its xVM line of virtualisation software in January 2008. The server management console called xVM Ops Center will support both x86 and Sparc systems running Sun's Solaris operating system as well as Red Hat Linux and SsSE Linux.

Windows support "is something that we are committed to doing but is not currently available in the product," said the company, though a road map was being worked on with Microsoft.

The first version of Ops Center, which is due for release on 8 January, includes patch management capabilities, via the company's Sun Connection tool, as well as its N1 Systems Manager provisioning tool. The management software can support up to 5,000 server nodes, said Sun, which previewed its server virtualisation technology plans at Oracle's OpenWorld 2007 conference in San Francisco last month.

Annual subscription prices for Ops Center, with technical support and remote customer service built in, will range from $100 (£50) to $350 (£175) per server. Sun also is offering a broader subscription plan for $10,000 (£5,000); that offering, known as Satellite Server, includes on-site installation and training in addition to the software and basic support.

Sun plans to rapidly expand and update the xVM product line. In next year's second quarter, the company is scheduled to release xVM Server, a hypervisor that Sun claims will be similar in functionality to VMware's market-leading ESX Server software. Sun also plans to release Version 2.0 of xVM Ops Center at that point.

Although Ops Center is a commercially licensed product, Sun plans to make the software available as open-source code via the OpenxVM it has set up. The open-source code releases will start this month, the company said.

However, it added that users of the commercial product will get technical support as well as access to Sun's subscription-based "knowledge stream," which provides information about patches and other systems management issues.

Sun is entering a crowded virtualisation market that is dominated by VMware and populated by other major vendors, including Microsoft and Oracle, which announced its own virtual server offering at the OpenWorld conference.

James Staten, an analyst at Forrester Research said that most compelling piece of xVM Ops Center for Solaris systems administrators was its patch manager, which "greatly simplifies this painful process."

But Staten added that the new console may have limited appeal, despite the modern look of its user interface. "It's cool for a Solaris admin tool, which is saying a lot in this realm but not saying a lot in the broader market context," he wrote. And even within Sun's user base, he continued, "most Solaris sysadmins are command line guys, so they may not use the UI."

Overall, Sun's virtualisation offerings may be welcomed the most in familiar territory, according to Staten. Sun officials "are making a case that Solaris customers will back up, which is that a hypervisor backed by Solaris should be more robust, secure and reliable than one based on Linux," he wrote.

In addition, Sun has implied that some of the features in Solaris 10 will be integrated with the xVM technology, Staten said. He added that such a move would make xVM "compelling for Solaris-centric or Solaris-only environments."

Chris Kanaracus of the IDG News Service contributed to this story.