VMware ESX Bug Causes Outage

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Users are rightfully annoyed when services like Gmail experience unexpected outages. We've come to expect that our e-mail should be available whenever we need it -- even when the service is provided for free. Imagine your frustration, then, if you found out that software you had bought and paid for had suddenly stopped functioning on a certain date.

This is exactly the problem faced by customers of VMware ESX, VMware's enterprise-class virtualization engine. As of today, due to a bug in VMware's license management software, no new virtual machine instances will launch for customers running VMware ESX 3.5 U2. And so far, there's no fix.

Virtualization software allows customers to split their PCs and servers into separate virtual machines. Each of these artificial partitions acts as if it were a separate computer, complete with its own set of hardware, peripherals, and OS. Because it offers ease of use and increased security, virtualization has become an increasingly popular method of provisioning and managing systems in business datacenters.

Demand for virtualization has grown so much in recent years, in fact, that the market for virtualization software has become highly competitive. Open source solutions have appeared that offer features comparable to commercial products. As a result, many commercial vendors offer basic versions of their products free of charge -- VMware included.

ESX, however, is not that free product. ESX is VMware's flagship offering, and customers often shell out tens of thousands to deploy it on mission-critical servers. And today it stopped working. Ironically, the very system that checks to ensure that only paying customers can run the software is preventing those same customers from using it.

As I write this, VMware is scrambling to release a fix for the product. If you are yourself a VMware customer, you can find more information on the bug and potential work-arounds on VMware's message boards. The company has also posted an advisory in its online knowledge base.

I actually feel a little sorry for VMware. Judging by some of the traffic on message boards, the fallout from this one is going to sting. Here's hoping that the problem can be resolved quickly and that the company can find a way to save face with its customers.

UPDATE: VMware has now made express patches available to fix the bug, and updated versions of the U2 update are available, linked to the article on the VMware Knowledge Base.

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