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Microsoft To Launch, License Virtualization For Longhorn

Microsoft's CEO unveiled Wednesday aggressive plans into the virtualization arena.
In an attempt to elevate its standing in the virtual market, Microsoft plans to release Virtual Server Service Pack 1 later this year and, in the next generation of Windows, make its .vhd format open and extensible, said CEO Steve Ballmer Wednesday.

Speaking at the Microsoft Management Summit, Ballmer announced the beta release of Virtual Server 2005 Service Pack 1 and plans for new virtualization support in Longhorn--including opening up the virtual server format for extensibility and introducing "smaller, thinner hypervisor" technology. Ballmer characterized both steps as significant.

Microsoft also plans to support Intel Virtualization Technology, formerly code-named Vanderpool. It also will use virtualization technology acquired from Connectix to enhance and simplify corporate re-imaging of desktops in the next version of Windows. Desktop re-imaging is considered a key area of improvement in Windows management.

"A major area of increased investment is virtualization. If you think of the future, improvements in virtualization technology and enhancements to virtualization will be a key enabler of our enterprise management suite for driving the cost of ownership out of the Microsoft platforms you take care of," Ballmer told attendees of the Las Vegas conference. "It is one of the most significant investments in R&D for us."

Microsoft executives would not say if Ballmer's comments mean that Virtual Server 2005, introduced last fall, would be the last virtual server product for Microsoft.

Eric Berg, director of product management for Windows Management Division, however, acknowledged that Microsoft's plans to broadly license the .vhd format in Longhorn is one way the company can help customers transition to the planned hypervisor technology in Windows. Even so, he said he expects Virtual Server 2005--especially combined with the Service Pack 1 due in the fourth quarter--to remain viable for several years.

Microsoft's moves come just two months after Intel and AMD announced their backing of an open-source virtualization project, known as Xen, at LinuxWorld Expo. On the Windows front, Microsoft will face stiff competition from market leader VMware and other ISVs such as SWSoft.

As part of its virtualization initiative, Microsoft will offer dramatic performance improvements in Virtual Server 2005 Service Pack 1. These include a 50 percent improvement in deploying virtual machines, support for iSCSI clustering and long-awaited support for running virtual machines on 64-bit operating system hosts, namely the Windows Server 2003 x64 server operating system that will be officially launched next week.

Through partners, Microsoft also will work to enhance the performance of Linux in virtual images on Windows servers. The Redmond, Wash.-based vendor also plans to support Sun's Solaris x86, Microsoft executives said.

Microsoft also announced Wednesday the availability of a Virtual Server management pack for its Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2005 monitoring platform that will allow administrators to monitor and perform tasks on multiple virtual machines running simultaneously on the same server. The management pack was first discussed last fall, shortly after Microsoft shipped Virtual Server 2005.

Longer term, Microsoft's System Center modules will improve data center consolidation and simplify running multiple applications on virtual machines.

Ballmer said Microsoft's Virtual PC software for running and testing multiple applications on the same PC is a "blow away" product today. Still, he admitted the company has a ways to go before catching up to VMware's flagship ESX and SWSoft's Virtuozzo, platforms that offer advanced data center consolidation.

Microsoft and VMware both plan to deliver 64-bit host support by the end of 2005. SWsoft's Virtuozzo Linux and Windows virtualization platform will offer enhanced 64-bit support this summer.

"We have a very good product, but I have a list as long as my arm for improvements and new features," Ballmer said.

Microsoft customer and developer Stephen Forte, CTO of Corzen, a financial services data provider in New York, said he uses virtualization software for testing new applications and would use it as alternative to investing in a big rack of servers. He said that cash-constrained SMB companies have as much need for virtualization software and server consolidation as large enterprises.

"Small business does not mean small amounts of data," Forte said. "We have terabytes of data, and we cannot afford a data center. Virtualization is an economical way to reduce hardware investments, and I see a need in small businesses that are bootstrapping and cutting corners."