Microsoft Advances Virtualization Strategy

Virtualization technology is becoming a hot topic in the software arena, and nowMicrosoft is upping the ante with its promise to use VT to reduce the cost and complexity of IT management.

Microsoft on Monday announced it has committed significant resources to making virtualization more broadly accessible and affordable for customers. Robert Muglia, senior vice president of the firm’s server and tools business, will outline the software giant’s new virtualization solutions plans at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference taking place in Seattle this week.

“Microsoft’s virtualization strategy contrasts with current alternatives for virtual machine management, which tend to be complex, expensive and require specialized skills,” Muglia said. “We look at virtualization as key technology to help customers achieve self-managing dynamic systems.”

Real Need for Virtual Solutions

Optimizing the use of physical IT assets is becoming imperative as data centers reach their capacity for power and space. The problem intensifies for companies with servers that run at very low utilization. Server utilization rates of less than 5 percent are not uncommon, and many customers’ usage rates fall into the 10-15 percent range, Microsoft estimates.

Hardware virtualization technology is used to consolidate multiple physical machines onto a lower number of physical machines. Virtualization can also be used to rehost legacy environments, which is especially important as older generation hardware becomes more difficult and costly to maintain. Because software is abstracted from the hardware, virtualization is a good solution for disaster recovery environments as well.

Drawing Conclusions

With Red Hat building virtualization into its Linux-based operating system, and Intel and AMD building virtualization functions into their hardware, Microsoft has concluded that it also needs to aggressively move forward with competitive virtualization solutions, according to Ideas International analyst Tony Iams.

VMware put virtualization on Microsoft’s radar screen. Having XenSource on the scene with its hypervisor increases the pressure because it brings all the benefits of an open source solution to bear,” Iams told TechNewsWorld. “So now you have two possible threats against Microsoft’s position. That’s enough to make the company move.”

Three-Pronged Plan

Microsoft’s virtualization strategy has three legs: a hypervisor-based solution, a virtual machine manager and an acquisition.

Microsoft’s hypervisor-based solution is on track to be available with the upcoming Microsoft Windows Server “Longhorn” operating system. Microsoft anticipates having a beta release of Windows Server virtualization by the end of 2006 and plans to release to manufacturing within 180 days of Windows Server “Longhorn.”

“Microsoft has to pay attention because hypervisors run on the bare metal. So now you are talking about a layer of software that directly controls the operation of the hardware. That is what is traditionally done with an operating system like Windows,” Iams explained. “If users start booting something other than a traditional operating system on the bare metal, which is what they would do with a hypervisor, that could have a fairly significant impact for Microsoft’s business.”

Adding Value to Virtualization

Formerly code-named “Carmine,” Microsoft’s System Center Virtual Machine Manager is a centralized, enterprise management solution for the virtualized data center. Microsoft hopes to differentiate itself with this system, which is part of the System Center family of products and is due for beta release within the next 90 days. Microsoft anticipates release to manufacturing in the second half of 2007.

Finally, Microsoft plans to acquire Softricity, whose application virtualization and streaming technologies provide application compatibility and accelerate corporate desktop transitions to Windows Vista. Together, the company said these solutions will provide a comprehensive and well-managed virtualization solution for customers across servers and desktops.

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