Microsoft gives definition to virtual plans

Microsoft has used WinHEC (the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference) in Seattle to flesh out its plans for virtualisation technology, including its intentions to acquire Softricity, a specialist company for application virtualisation.

Bob Muglia, Microsoft’s senior VP of the Server and Tools Business, has outlined Microsoft’s virtualisation roadmap. Highlighted points include Windows Server virtualisation, specifically that its ‘hypervisor’-based system (multiple operating systems running on the same computer) is on track to be available with the release of Microsoft Windows Server ‘Longhorn’. Specifically, Microsoft anticipates a beta release of Windows Server virtualisation by the end of 2006 and plans to release to manufacturing (RTM) within 180 days of the Windows Server ‘Longhorn’ RTM.

Muglia also highlighted the release – within three months – of its System Center Virtual Machine Manager. Formerly code-named ‘Carmine’, this is a virtualised data centre system, for improving the usage rates of the underlying physical hardware. Its release to manufacturing is scheduled for the second half of 2007.

Following in the wake of Microsoft’s last acquisition – of Whale, the SSL and VPN specialist – Redmond is eyeing the Boston-based Softricity (whose slogan is ‘Virually Anything is Possible’) and its SoftGrid Desktop application. According to Muglia, its application virtualisation and streaming technologies will help accelerate corporate desktop transitions to Windows Vista.

‘Microsoft’s virtualisation strategy contrasts with current alternatives for virtual machine management, which tend to be complex, expensive and require specialized skills,’ said Muglia. ‘We look at virtualisation as key technology to help customers achieve self-managing dynamic systems. Across the platform, operating system, applications and management layers we’re delivering functionality and capabilities that enable our customers to significantly reduce operating costs, drive up server utilization and achieve better return on investment through full featured virtualisation solutions.’

The bigger picture for virtualisation is that IT companies are increasingly looking to ‘sweat their hardware assets’ in data centers. Throwing ever more boxes at the problem is not the best way to optimise performance. Or may not even be possible due to physical limitations coupled with legal requirements to keep certain sensitive data in-house.

According to Microsoft, server usage rates of less than 5 percent are not uncommon, with many customer usage rates falling into the 10-15 percent range. In other words, virtualisation provides a means to more efficiently pool the total resources available. The likes of Intel and AMD, of course, have already been tackling this problem from a hardware perspective. Not forgetting the other major players, for both enterprise software and hardware, IBM and Sun.

Virtualisation can also provide an ‘upgrade’ path for legacy environments as older generation hardware becomes more costly to maintain.

‘As we see higher and higher performance available in the x86 and x64 hardware, customers tell us that they want to get the most performance and flexibility out of their hardware in order to maximize their server investment,’ Muglia says. ‘Windows Server virtualisation will enable customers to increase physical server utilisation, reduce costs and create an agile and dynamic datacentre.’

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