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Analysis: Microsoft Windows Server 2008 Adds Virtualization -- In Beta Form

The Release Candidate of Windows Server 2008 will include the beta code for Microsoft's much-anticipated virtualization technology. Is that a good idea?
Become Part Of The Trend
The move towards hypervisors is quickly dividing IT services into hardware resource pools and virtual service offerings. Hardware is now viewed as nothing more than a pool of resources that is designed to provide sufficient processing capability for the service offerings. Service offerings -- the services that interact with end users -- are all virtualized so that you can take advantage of the benefits virtualization offers to make sure they are always available.

By treating all hardware resources as host systems for virtual service offerings, you can dynamically control how they interact with users. Virtual service offerings become nothing more than policy-based workloads that can be dynamically controlled to meet demand.

Say, for example, that you are running an e-mail service. During the night, you run two virtual machines to keep the service available. In order to have redundancy and failover capability, these two virtual service offerings are running on two host servers, one each. If one fails, then the two virtual service offerings are moved to the same box for service continuity. Then, when demand for your e-mail services begin to peak, say, around 8:00 a.m. when users start coming in to work, you dynamically launch a third virtual server.

As loads increase, you launch another and another still. When loads begin to decrease, you cut back the running virtual machines. You assign hardware resources in the same way, keeping machines on standby for when you need them. The datacenter becomes dynamic because power and cooling is managed dynamically as you launch physical resources to support the need for virtual services. Your service level agreements determine the policies you create to launch machines on an as-needed basis. And you, as IT administrator, just sit back and watch the workloads pop in and out of existence as policies interact with demand.

Hardware manufacturers will also produce new offerings as everyone realizes that, in order to provide the best of any resource pool, you must have at least two physical servers using shared storage -- it is the only way to ensure service continuity for virtual machines. We’ll see such ‘servers-in-a-box’ appear to address this need for small to medium organizations, or even only for remote sites in larger organizations.

Introducing Beta In Release Code
But with all its advantages, the version of WSv that will ship in early 2008 will be beta code -- and including beta code into a release product shows the desperation Microsoft is feeling in regards to virtualization.

Placing beta code in a release product can lead to serious issues when you run it on production systems. According to Microsoft, the code will not actually be running unless you execute two included updates. However, these updates are in the Microsoft Update format (.MSU) and can easily be executed through scripts, launching the beta product on a system that is intended for a different purpose. This could lead to serious security issues and potentially compromise a system.

Of course, the attacker would need to circumvent User Account Control, the system that ensures no administrative tasks are performed without your knowledge, but given the right situations, this can be done quite easily. Why not prevent this altogether by making WSv downloadable instead of including it with the release code? This way, those who want to test it can make their own decision about running it on production systems.

So although Microsoft's rush to get into the hypervisor market is showing some results, it remains to be seen whether Windows Server virtualization can overcome its current drawbacks just by being free and keep Microsoft in the virtualization game while it catches up with the feature set of existing but costly competing products.

Danielle Ruest and Nelson Ruest are IT professionals specializing in systems administration, migration planning, software management, and architecture design, and the authors of The Definitive Guide to Vista Migration and the upcoming Complete Reference To Windows Server 2008. You can reach them at [email protected].