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7/12/2010
02:37 AM
Elias Khnaser
Elias Khnaser
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Will Microsoft Win Back Virtualization With Windows 8 and HyperV 3?

Is Microsoft trying to win back the virtualization market by, once again, leveraging its desktop dominance? Redmond has a history of using this strategy -- remember when Novell was its main competitor in the server market? The popularity of Windows on the desktop eventually forced IT to adopt Windows NT. The approach that Microsoft is reportedly taking with Windows 8 and Hyper-V 3 seems strikingly familiar. And that's OK by me.

Is Microsoft trying to win back the virtualization market by, once again, leveraging its desktop dominance? Redmond has a history of using this strategy -- remember when Novell was its main competitor in the server market? The popularity of Windows on the desktop eventually forced IT to adopt Windows NT. The approach that Microsoft is reportedly taking with Windows 8 and Hyper-V 3 seems strikingly familiar.

And that's OK by me.Some background: Last week, information leaked that Hyper-V 3 will be integrated into Windows 8. The information, if confirmed, is significant as it highlights the importance of a Type 1 client hypervisor. You see, if we are able to virtualize desktops using the native operating system functionality without incurring an additional cost, it will trigger adoption of Hyper-V on the server virtualization side. That would help IT unify the virtualization platform and give many of us the ability to centrally manage client hypervisors and use advanced synchronization features.

This is the only way Microsoft can hope to counter or catch up to VMware's vSphere, as the product matures and the offerings become very granular, addressing enhancements in every aspect of virtualization, from storage I/O enhancements to network I/O enhancements and more. The question then becomes, Will vSphere eventually become the very large private and public cloud platform, ceding the SMB space to Microsoft? Or will VMware be able to dazzle us once more with features and functionality that reinforce its leadership across the spectrum?

The interesting thing about this announcement is that Microsoft acknowledges that it has a problem with the current version of Hyper-V; its reliance on the parent partition, which requires a lot of disk space, is an attack surface, and so on. All of these are concerns that I raised months ago in my InformationWeek article "9 Reasons Why Enterprises Should not Switch To Hyper-V"(I will have a follow up on that article soon). Thus it is an extremely welcome step that Microsoft is taking in making virtualization an integral part of Windows 8.

To do this, Microsoft is reportedly expanding on an existing technology, code-named "MinWin." As the original article (in French) discusses, MinWin was introduced with Windows Vista and will be further enhanced into a true bare-metal hypervisor with a very small footprint and no reliance on a parent partition. Actually, it seems MinWin will be smaller than an install of Windows Core.

This approach removes the concerns of an attack surface that I and others have raised, reduces the resource needs around installing Hyper-V, and modularizes it so that only the needed components are loaded. One of the main things Microsoft is working on that will arrive with Windows 8 is the separation of Internet Explorer from the operating system. This means that you will be able to add IE as a component if you need to, but it will not be so tightly integrated with the shell of the operating system. Another feature that Microsoft is working on disintegrating, specifically for MinWin, is the shell itself. MinWin will be an extremely small install base with practically no traditional Windows shell. As you know, the Windows shell is a resource hog; by introducing this thin hypervisor without a shell, you remove unnecessary resource consumption as well.

The French article goes on to talk about another cool feature of Windows 8: the tight integration of App-V with it, to the point where you can run Windows XP, Windows 7 and Linux apps all natively on the operating system, further compartmentalizing Windows and encouraging the use of virtualized applications.

The big question that I have is, Can we run virtualized applications on Windows 8 using just MinWin without loading a virtual machine and full install of an operating system? This would be a great step forward, but I wonder how, and even if, it is possible. What happens to the registry and other dependencies? Certainly, the idea of writing applications that run directly on the hypervisor is interesting, but is it feasible?

Elias Khnaser is the practice manager for virtualization and cloud computing at Artemis Technology, a vendor-neutral integrator focused on aligning business and IT. Follow Elias on Twitter @ekhnaser

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