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Microsoft's Virtual Server to become a 'feature' in 2009

Partition march to Hypervisor

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Microsoft has planned a long, slow death for the Virtual Server product it acquired in 2003.

Redmond will stop selling a standalone partitioning product when the server version of its "Longhorn" operating system arrives. In Virtual Server's place, Microsoft will have a new hypervisor type of technology that will allow different versions of Windows and even other operating systems to run on the same server. Microsoft got its hands on Virtual Server when it bought Connectix, but the relatively low-end software has failed to disrupt the success of more sophisticated software from VMware.

"Today, we have a product called Virtual Server that sits on top of Windows and provides virtualization capabilities," Microsoft SVP Bob Muglia, told ComputerWorld. "In the future, we're going to build the hypervisor and the virtualization stack into Windows. So while it's a whole new set of technologies, much, if not all, of what Virtual Server does today goes into the operating system. It becomes an operating system feature."

Microsoft has frowned on VMware's success with many analysts saying the company fears giving up some of its control over the server. VMware's most expensive product sits underneath the operating system and could arguably be called the dominant operating environment. So far, Microsoft has refused to support Windows running in a VMware virtual machine - or partition, although VMware's close allies IBM, HP, Dell, Oracle and others are there to assist customers.

The hypervisor technology also puts a layer between a physical server and server operating systems and has gained traction with the hardware makers. The open source Xen package is very popular at the moment, and IBM is developing its own type of hypervisor.

As usual, Microsoft isn't exactly on the cutting edge of server software development. Its hypervisor layer probably won't appear until, gulp, 2009 in an update to Longhorn Server. The operating system itself is due out around 2007. It took a painful extraction exercise from ComputerWorld to discover the 2009 date from Muglia.

Will the built-in virtualization capabilities ship with Longhorn, or after Longhorn? - the magazine asked.

"In [April], we talked about it as 'the Longhorn time frame,'" Muglia said. "And it still is the time frame. When we think about operating system generations, I think about the '07 generations of the operating system, say '07-'08 as all being Longhorn, maybe even to '09 for Longhorn R2. Whether it's '10 or '11, we'll have to look to see. It will be somewhere in that time frame we would do Blackcomb [the successor to Longhorn]. So the virtualization features are in the Longhorn time frame, but it's not in the initial release of Longhorn."

Will Microsoft ship the virtualization features for the operating system as a feature pack add-on to Longhorn?

"Maybe. I don't know. It may be in [Release 2] as well, although it's got some fundamentals that require some changes to the OS. It's not like WinFS, where it can just be put on incrementally. It does require some changes, so we're still thinking about how to deliver that."

So the virtualization technology will have to be delivered with whatever operating system release is ready?

"Of some form. One thing we can sometimes do, which we did a lot of in [Service Pack] 1 of Server 2003, is put enabling features into Service Packs and then we turn them on later. So, for example, when we shipped SP1 of 2003, there's code in that Service Pack that gets activated when we ship R2. There may be an ability to do something like that."

Will Longhorn have the enabling capabilities?

"Some will be in there. But it will probably be mostly in the Service Pack of Longhorn Server."

Or you could just go with R2 of Longhorn Server.

"Exactly."

Phew. You can read the whole Computerworld interview here.

Muglia also suggested that, with the hypervisor, customers will be able to create operating system sessions and move them from server to server. This could be useful for more complex workload management and server provisioning operations.

Both Microsoft and VMware plan to tap into new partitioning tools that Intel and AMD are hard-wiring into their chips. This should improve the performance of the virtual machine software, which tends to chew through memory.

It looks like Microsoft plans to "featurize" at least basic server partitioning functions and give the technology away with the OS. VMware, however, apparently has little to fear until 2009. The virtual machine market will keep kicking back cash to the software maker and its owner EMC.

Mainframe and Unix customers are more familiar with partitioning technology and already have higher-end tools than those generally available for x86 machines. ®

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