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Microsoft promises bright, complex virtualization future

Viridian lurches forward

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Microsoft appears to have done the improbable and pushed forward the release of its revamped server virtualization software.

Redmond is currently in the midst of reworking its virtualization wares. It will throw out the Virtual Server product it currently sells in favor of bundling a layer of virtualization software known as a hypervisor with the Longhorn Server operating system. The move will help Microsoft compete with the likes of VMware and Xen, who have already embraced the hypervisor design.

Up until now, Microsoft had been warning that it could take until 2008 or 2009 to ship the hypervisor, code-named Viridian. The software maker expected to deliver the server-slicing product as part of the first update to Longhorn Server.

Today, however, we learn that Microsoft will start beta testing Viridian by the end of this year and plans to ship a working version of the package six months after Longhorn Server arrives. The server OS is due in the second half of 2007.

So, Viridian will likely appear in early 2008, which is significantly sooner than customers have been expecting.

Some Microsoft partners had mentioned to us that the release might be pushed up, and today's official word from Microsoft backs up that speculation.

Along with the hypervisor, Microsoft has a project code-named Carmine that stands as a virtual server management package. Microsoft plans to start beta testing this code in 90 days and ship the software as Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager (MSCVMM) in the second half of 2007. That's a pretty natural next play for Microsoft as it tries to broaden its management portfolio.

Topping off the virtualization news, Microsoft today announced plans to acquire Softricity. The company's "virtualization and streaming technologies provide application compatibility and accelerate corporate desktop transitions to Windows Vista," Microsoft said.

Microsoft is in serious face-saving mode with its virtualization products. The company never made much use of the rather unimpressive Virtual Server product it acquired from Connectix. Microsoft has tried to combat its market share loss to VMware by lowering the price of Virtual Server and, of course, plans to use the tried and true bundling approach when Viridian is ready.

We can't help but wonder how regulators will view the bundling of the hypervisor, but Microsoft isn't being shy about the move.

"Microsoft's virtualization strategy contrasts with current alternatives for virtual machine management, which tend to be complex, expensive and require specialized skills,"said SVP Bob Muglia. "We look at virtualization as key technology to help customers achieve self-managing dynamic systems."

Microsoft is so far behind in the virtualization game that it has been forced into some awkward positions. In April, Microsoft agreed to support Linux guest operating systems running on Virtual Server and even made Virtual Server 2005 R2 available as a free download. More than 200,000 downloads have been had over the past two months, Microsoft said.

VMware currently dominates the server virtualization market with Microsoft competing primarily for Windows customers and upstart XenSource claiming ground in the Linux space. Other folks such as SWsoft and Virtual Iron are fighting for attention as well.

While Microsoft has dangled the prospect of an on-time Viridian arrival in front of customers, wise data center operators will be cautious about planning around Microsoft's software. The company has struggled, to say the least, to get its new flagship desktop OS out the door, so you can imagine that it might have an even harder time with a product that's not key to its future. ®

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