Redmond-based Microsoft surprised the computing world yesterday with an early release of the firm's Hyper-V virtualization software, as the firm ramps up its competition against virtualization leader VMware. Hyper-V, which is part of Microsoft's Windows Server 2008, allows users of the operating system to run multiple, independent images of the operating system in a single, physical machine. Virtualization is being widely adopted in the enterprise computing market, to help in reducing the amount of hardware required for applications, making it easier to deploy and manage software, and to cut costs in their data centers. According to Microsoft, Hyper-V is now available for download from its web site; the beta of the software works with the firm's x64 Enterprise Edition of Windows Server 2008. In conjunction with the beta, Microsoft also said it will add management and provisioning of virtual machines of both Hyper-V and competing VMware ESX Server through its System Center Virtual Machine Manager tool.