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Gates puts the hype into hypervisor

Microsoft shows off its server virtualisation platform

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WinHEC Linux made a surprise appearance in Bill Gates' opening keynote presentation at WinHEC on Tuesday. Midway through his speech, Gates handed the spotlight over to Jeff Woolsey, lead programme manager for Microsoft's Windows Division, to demonstrate Microsoft's 64-bit server virtualisation software. After showing how the next version of Windows Server will be able to run a full version of Windows Server 2003 in a window, Woolsey then called up another window running Red Hat Enterprise Server Version 4.

Woolsey explained that non-Microsoft operating systems have to be supported in the virtualisation ecosystem to offer interoperability and standardisation across the board.

"Our customers have told us that they want to standardise on a single platform for virtualisation," he said.

"They don't want to use one virtualisation technology for Windows and another virtualisation technology for other operating systems. And, since the majority of operating systems being virtualised are Windows, it only makes sense that we provide our customers the best platform for virtualisation so that they can standardise on Windows server virtualisation and Longhorn Server."

During the demo Woolsey highlighted the product's ability to run both 32-bit and 64-bit servers in separate virtual partitions, or instances, simultaneously. He also showed how the software could support twin or quadruple processors and claimed that multiple windows, or instances, each using up to eight processors, will be possible in the finished product.

The software has a hypervisor base to provide a connectivity layer with the underlying hardware. A hypervisor is a very light operating system running directly on top of the server hardware to control the I/O streams of the various instances – rather like DOS used to work under Windows in the early days. The system also uses an optimised version of the Longhorn server to support the multiple instances. Management of the whole environment is achieved through the new Microsoft Management Console (MMC) interface that will be included with Longhorn.

Microsoft chose WinHEC to talk up its virtualisation software because Longhorn will not be available until next year. At that time the company will be playing catch-up with VMware's ESX Server and XenSource's Linux-based Xen Hypervisor which are both available now.

To whet the appetite of potential customers, Woolsey demonstrated how Microsoft's virtualisation can allow new hardware to be added or changed in any of the server instances without stopping the server.

Claiming this as a differentiator for the product over its competitors, he showed a network card being added to a server configuration and how system memory can be reallocated to increase the capacity of a specific server instance. ®

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