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Microsoft's Tardy Virtual Server Begins Testing

Virtual machine technology, acquired last year from Connectix, should help with Windows NT migration.
Microsoft formally rolled out the first major beta of its Virtual Server 2004 this week and has delayed shipment until the middle of the year at the earliest.

The software company released beta versions of the virtualization software to roughly 30 customers this week and will release the code to manufacturing sometime in mid-2004, says Eric Berg, a group product manager for Windows server.

When Microsoft acquired the virtualization software assets of Connectix in early 2003, it said it would ship a server product by the end of that year. In the fall, partners working with the code said Microsoft planned to make the beta available in November and ship the product in the first quarter of 2004. One Microsoft product life-cycle Web site last quarter identified late March as the expected shipping date for the product.

This week, one Microsoft solution provider said Microsoft is working out some problems before releasing code. "Virtual Server is delayed," the East Coast partner says. "I'm not sure how long, but I'm told they had performance issues."

Microsoft's Berg declined to acknowledge a delay in the product or the possibility that the shipment of Virtual Server 2004 to the channel might slip until the third quarter of this year. Shipment of product following release to manufacturing typically lags several weeks.

"We're still on track to have product out in the middle of 2004," Berg says. The company in recent months has only specified a ship date during the first half of 2004.

While product delays are less irksome in an economic downturn, this product is highly anticipated by Microsoft and the channel because it's expected to help the software vendor drive NT migrations to Windows Server 2003, one partner says.

"This is all about consolidating the 1999 servers bought to run NT 4.0," says one partner familiar with the progress of Virtual Server 2004's development. "The beta is certainly out. It's clearly not going to ship in March as there is no time for user feedback, but, then again, [the ship date] has not slipped that much."

Since the first customer preview was made available in May, Microsoft has refined the code with new features and bolstered quality assurance, including a "thorough security review," according to a Microsoft presentation provided to CRN.

Microsoft also has added SCSI support and two-node clustering, improved control through an enhanced COM API, and integration with the Active Directory in Windows Server 2000/2003 and with Microsoft Operations Manager, according to the presentation.

Market leader VMware, acquired by EMC Corp. in December, says it's not worried by Microsoft's still-pending entry into the server virtualization software market because of its multiplatform support and VirtualCenter advanced management platform.

"Microsoft is entering the market to solve its NT forward-migration problem, but our approach to the market is our virtual infrastructure strategy," says Michael Mullany, VP of marketing at VMware.

One Microsoft solution provider is skeptical about the mid-2004 release-to-manufacturing date but says he'd rather Microsoft delay it than ship it before it's ready.

"It seems like a fairly aggressive beta schedule. I hope they can live up to their promises. Microsoft hasn't exactly been known for hitting target dates," says Jeffrey Sherman, president of Warever Computing. "Of course, I'd much rather a product--particularly a Microsoft one--be late and work properly out of the gate rather than hitting an arbitrary target data and not being fully fixed."

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