Microsoft whips up virtualization spin ahead of VMWorld

Company set to ship first virtualization management tools, as it touts desktop wares, promises strong recovery to catch VMware on server side, and sets licensing options

Microsoft Thursday went on the offensive saying its first virtual machine management tool would ship next month and spinning its virtualization wares and strategy days ahead of rival VMware’s annual conference scheduled for next week.

Microsoft is pushing a strategy around a single management console as the hub for any number of virtualization options whether they reside on the server or desktop. To that end, the company said development of its Systems Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) 2007, for managing virtual machines running on Virtual Server 2005 R2, is complete and the software will ship next month.

VMM helps maximize physical server utilization, and centralize management and provisioning of virtual machines. The software also helps manage physical servers and is a core piece of Microsoft’s emerging Windows-centric management platform under its Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI).

Critics say the company’s tactic is to push a holistic approach to managing server and desktop virtualization from a central point and to shield its current lack of a viable server virtualization product with a smoke screen centered on its desktop technologies – Virtual PC, Softricity Applications Virtualization and Terminal Services.

Microsoft's virtualization planLooking to build a centralized platform for managing physical and virtual servers and desktops.
SoftwareShippingOn deck
System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2007Microsoft will release first version next month that supports Virtual Server 2005 R2.The next version slated for late next year supports Windows Server Virtualization.
Terminal ServicesMicrosoft calls this Presentation Virtualization but it's nothing more than semantics. It's the same old thin-client server.Early 2008 release of Windows Server 2008 adds features such as application remoting that Microsoft says make it more like a virtualized environment.
Virtual Server 2005 R2The only server-virtualization software from Microsoft is not generally considered an equal to VMware's enterprise platform.Windows Server Virtualization — an add-on to Windows Server 2008 — will ship in late 2008 and is expected to raise the stakes vs. VMware.
SoftGrid Application VirtualizationStreaming applications to desktop that run on dedicated virtualized operating system.Next year will add security features and closer ties with System Center Configuration Manager 2007.

“We are convinced they are trying to change the terms and lingo to defuse the focus on server virtualization to many different forms of virtualization so people stop looking so carefully at how far behind Microsoft is compared to VMware in the server virtualization space,” says Peter Pawlak, an analyst with independent research firm Directions on Microsoft. “They are using the term ‘presentation virtualization' but it is Terminal Services and it has been around forever and no one has ever called it presentation virtualization. There is nothing there that is new or different" in terms of virtualization.

Microsoft says Terminal Services will get new features, including application remoting, when Windows Server 2008 ships early next year.

“If you look at how people think about virtualized desktops a lot of the conversation is about hosting the application in one place and remoting it to another,” says David Greschler, director of integrated virtualization strategy at Microsoft. “ More broadly, we think Terminal Services takes on a new context as we start to think about getting people the resources they need in real time.”

While Microsoft focuses on the desktop, Greschler acknowledges the company is “not the leader” ahead of VMware on the server.

In fact, Microsoft won’t ship its hypervisor add-on to Windows Server 2008, currently called Windows Server Virtualization, until the latter half of 2008.

Ahead of that event, rivals such as XenSource, recently acquired by Citrix, are not standing still. This week, XenSource announced an OEM Edition of its free XenExpress virtualization platform for embedding in servers.

The OEM Edition is pre-installed in system flash or on the server’s hard disk and enables it to boot from multiple BIOS partitions at system power on, thus making it ready for the installation of multiple virtual machines.

VMware also could take the same tack with its products, a move that would help deflect any advantage for Windows Server Virtualization (WSV), which will eventually be built into Windows Server and therefore included by default on server hardware shipping with that operating system.

For now, Microsoft is putting on the best face that it has and looking out into the future when the hypervisor may well be a commodity and Microsoft’s big ticket might be an integrated management platform for both physical and virtual platforms.

As part of its broad DSI initiative, VMM integrates with both Operations Manager 2007 and Configuration Manager 2007. It also integrates with Data Protection Manager 2005, and Microsoft is wrapping those three products and VMM into a bundle called System Center Server Management Suite Enterprise, which is priced at $860.

The suite is licensed to include support for an unlimited number of guest operating systems per server. Users will also need to commit to a two-year Software Assurance maintenance contract.

Support for WSV, however, isn’t scheduled to come until the next version of VMM in late 2008. Microsoft also says that version will offer support for VMware VI3 and Xen. In June, Microsoft acquired Engyro, which builds connectors that plug into Operations Manager 2007 and extend monitoring capabilities to systems including VMware.

“Microsoft has this notion of an enterprise that can potentially manage physical and virtual Microsoft platforms in one console,” says Stephen Elliott, an analyst with IDC. VMware does not offer anything like that nor does Xen. “This is one key area large enterprises are asking about.”

Microsoft also plans to create a mid-market version called System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2007 Workgroup Edition that supports up to five physical host servers and an unlimited number of virtual machines. The Workgroup Edition is priced at $499 and will ship in January 2008.

Learn more about this topic

Systems management company to support VMware virtualization


Virtualization company XenSource unveils OEM edition


Server virtualization goes mainstream


Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.