9 myths of Microsoft's virtualization busted or confirmed

Mike Neil, general manager of Microsoft virtualization

Virtualization is as critical a technology for Microsoft as its operating systems. But an awful lot of fiction circulates about virtualization and Microsoft's role in the market, including Microsoft's true market share, its enmity with Red Hat, and the costs of virtualizing desktops. For these reasons, Microsoft Subnet invited Mike Neil (pictured left), general manager of Microsoft virtualization, to be a guest for a "10 questions for" interview. He offered Microsoft's point of view on the memory overcommitment controversy, the importance of servers with CPUs optimized for VMs and other topics. As with all 10-questions interviews, we sprung our surprise question, too, inspired by James Lipton's Inside the Actor's Studio. We asked Neil to name the technology that would convince an evil alien (pictured right) that the human race was a worthwhile one, and Apple lovers should get a good chuckle at his answer. (But you'll have to stay tuned to question 10 to find out). In the meantime, Neil confirmed or busted nine myths of virtualization. An edited transcript of the interview follows. Editor's note: a special thanks to Douglas Brown at DABCC for his help with this article.

Virtualilzation myth confirmed
Microsoft Subnet: No 1. So we all know that VMware is in the middle of a meltdown. It recently got its hackles up over an IDC report that said Microsoft already has 22% market share. My understanding is that the IDC number included Virtual Server and not just Hyper-V. So there is a lot of mythology around virtualization market share. In what ways is market share important to an enterprise manager building out virtual servers and in that light, what is Microsoft's progress in this area?

Mike Neil: It's about growing the pie, not just share. IT pros want to know that ISVs will write to a platform, and support it. IDC's numbers were about Hyper-V and MS Virtual Server, as well as VMServer and ESX Server, so it covered them all. We have been evangelizing to the ISV community on the support of virtualization. We created the SVVP (Server Virtualization Validation Program) so that ISVs and MS would have a common framework to discuss supported solutions. (We support our apps on Hyper-V and SVVP-validated solutions.) We have seen good traction on this, with SAP recently announcing support for Hyper-V.

virtualization myth busted
Microsoft Subnet: Question No. 2. There is a myth that Hyper-V requires Windows and is not a true bare metal hypervisor. What does Hyper-V run on and why is it important for enterprise managers to understand this?

Mike Neil: Hyper-V is composed of many components. One major component is the hypervisor. This component does not technically require Windows to run, but our management and API sets are based on Windows. We provide Hyper-V as a role in Windows Server and we also provide a free version called Microsoft Hyper-V Server that doesn’t require a Windows license.

virtualization myth busted
Microsoft Subnet: No. 3. VMware says that its memory overcommitment feature actually makes its wares cheaper in production environments in terms of total-cost-of ownership than Microsoft's products (and Xen Server, too). Microsoft (and several users I've talked to) say this is a myth ... although I've also heard that Microsoft is working on a similar feature. Is the "memory overcommitment" a myth and if so, why?

Mike Neil: So first off, how many IT pros configure their production servers to overcommit anything? Customers want an SLA and they want to know what resources are being consumed by a VM. Memory costs continue to come down and the number of DIMM sockets are going up, making this argument moot. We are focused on the efficient use of resources and using those resources dynamically -- pooling the memory of the whole machine and dynamically balancing the memory between all of the VMs, instead of overcommiting a resource that can lead to bottlenecks. So, you can see the caveats on using overcommit in a production environment. As to Microsoft's plans for new memory, we don't look at it as "overcommit" we look at it as "dynamic memory." We want to provide the same benefit without the risk. Watch for future details.

Virtualilzation myth confirmed
Microsoft Subnet: No. 4. One of the biggest all time myths is that virtualized environments introduce new security risks to companies. Is this a myth and what is being done (by Microsoft or partners or others) to secure the virtual environment?

Mike Neil: Security, physical or virtual, is critical to customers and the best approach is defense in depth -- providing security at each layer. You wouldn't remove the firewall just because you run AV, right? So we see VM security at the network layer, host layer, VM layer and guest layers. All are important. We enable firewalls at the network layer through our networking stack. Protection of data at the host and guest through filters looking for AV signatures, and of course we work very hard to secure the VM layer. All of these are important. Lastly, VMware got a lot of interest around adding its VMsafe APIs so that security vendors could plug into ESX. Windows has had these types of APIs for a long time and has a wide ISV security community that provides great products for our customers. Symantec was one of the first ISVs to certify on Hyper-V.

virtualization myth busted
Microsoft Subnet: No. 5. The desktop virtualization myth is that the primary driver of such projects is cost savings. If this is a myth, what are the true benefits of desktop virtualization?

Mike Neil: Sounds like a myth. This is not what we are hearing from our customers, sounds more like a vendor speaking. The value we hear from customers is more around compliance, security and agility. There are fairly high capital expenses in setting up a VDI deployment. This is typically being offset by better data security and compliance with regulations as well as flexibility and agility in deploying new applications or provisioning people. We also see the use of application virtualization (SoftGrid/App-V) providing savings in application management costs.

virtualization myth busted
Microsoft Subnet: No 6. If it is a myth to say that Microsoft's hypervisor isn't great for Linux, what do you say to an enterprise that wants to put Linux in a VM, and maybe wants to use flavors in addition to SUSE?

Mike Neil: We have been working with partners on interoperability and we released the integration components for Linux. Our closest partner today is Novell and that partnership recently passed its two-year anniversary. We are also working with Sun for support of Solaris on Hyper-V (as well as Windows on xVM) and I am also talking with Red Hat about support.

We know customers want to run multiple OSes in their environments. One of the nice things about virtualization is that the customer no longer makes a binary choice of what OS to run, they can run many flavors. Beyond just Hyper-V we are also making our management tools heterogeneous as well with SCOM [Systems Operations Manager] cross platform extensions and SCVMM [System Center Virtual Machine Manager] managing Hyper-V, Virtual Server and VMware ESX.

virtualization myth busted
Microsoft Subnet: No 7. One of the myths about server virtualization is that if more than one flavor is used, management is impossible. Or is that a myth? Can multiple hypervisors (Hyper-V, ESX, Xen) be mixed and matched as one big happy family in the same data center and if so, how?

Mike Neil: Myth busted! SCVMM provides heterogeneous support today. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is using this today to preserve its investment in VMware while also deploying Hyper-V. We have also been working with Citrix to make sure we have a high level of interoperability between our products. Customers can easily move a VM from XenServer to Hyper-V and back. It is going to be critical for customers to manage multiple virtualization solutions from one console as well as manage their physical/virtual, on-premise/cloud environments.

Virtualilzation myth confirmed
Microsoft Subnet: No. 8. Is it a myth that today's hypervisors really need to run on a server with a chip that is optimized for virtualization – or do they work well on older servers? Please describe the performance benefits uses get from optimized chips/hardware.

Mike Neil: Generally VMs don't work as well on older servers. You can't run 64-bit guests, overhead is higher as more needs to be done by software, etc. All x86 server processors from Intel and AMD come with virtualization assists today, and yes these hardware assists make a big difference. We are also working with both Intel and AMD on future enhancements that will improve performance and scalability. [Editor's note: Check out AMD's Hyper-V System Compatibility Check Utility.]

Virtualilzation myth confirmed
Microsoft Subnet: No. 9. Another myth, so analysts have said, is that the main virtualization players are all playing leap frog on matching each other in features. What are the differences in how you guys are implementing similar features (such as Live Migration, Vmotion and/or Citrix’s HA by Marathon)?

Mike Neil: Myth confirmed. The hypervisor is a commodity. More and more features will even move to the hardware layer. What is important is how you use virtualization in the operating system (we call this enlightenment) and how you build rich management capabilities. Management is the killer application. Every hypervisor will have the same basic features over time.

Microsoft Subnet: No 10. This may be the most important question of all. What if one day aliens landed in your office and told you that they were sick of Planet Earth's wars and pollution and that they were going to wipe out all the people – BUT they would leave us alone if YOU could show that we had the technology to make us worthy galactic citizens. What technology examples would you show them?

Mike Neil: Hmm, good one.... There is lots of cool stuff out there, but I'm an OS geek, so I'm pretty excited by things like the kernel and the core hypervisor. I suspect if the aliens aren't OS geeks we are all done for. (Maybe I should just show them my iPod, I worked on that years ago via a company called Pixo).

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