Microsoft continues on virtualization roadmap

At this week’s Tech Ed conference in Orlando, Microsoft Corp. reaffirmed its commitment to its Dynamic IT initiative with a host of virtualization announcements aimed at increasing adoption of the technology among its huge customer base. But while Microsoft’s roadmap seems like a good fit for small to medium-sized firms, one analyst warned that the vendor’s strategy could clash in some heterogeneous enterprise environments.

As part of Tuesday’s virtualization-focused announcements, Microsoft launched a program that will allow any software vendor to test and validate its virtualization software to run on any version of Windows Server. The program will offer cooperative technical support for customers running Windows Server on validated, non-Microsoft server virtualization software. The company said Citrix Systems Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Virtual Iron software have already signed on with the program.

Microsoft also announced four new virtualization certifications for IT professionals, such as desktop support technicians, database administrators and Web developers, as well as a plan to include Forefront Client Security support in its forthcoming hypervisor-based server virtualization technology, Hyper-V.

Bill Hilf, general manager of platform strategy at Microsoft, said most of the company’s announcements at Tech Ed are individually connected to virtualization because of the impending release of both the new hypervisor and System Center Virtual Machine Manager later this fall.

“The main checkpoint into our vision is that we’re not just continuing to add to the capabilities of our software, but we’re also growing our ecosystem to deliver on that,” Hilf said. “We can build amazing technologies and put it into software products, but for the hundreds of thousands of IT administrators and developers out there, if there’s not a way for them to know what they’re using and validate their technologies, this stuff will be dead on arrival.”

Rounding out the laundry list of virtualization-related news from the conference was the announcement of Release Candidate 1 of Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5 – a software tool that allows applications to be run in virtual containers on a network.

And while most analysts agree that Microsoft is one of the few companies that can present a complete view of virtualization technology, the stumbling block for Dynamic IT’s success in large enterprises could be its inability to fit in with products from other major software suppliers.

“Microsoft starts from the assumption that an organization largely has Microsoft software in a primary position for everything in the enterprise,” Dan Kusnetzky, president and principal analyst at the Kusnetzky Group LLC, said. “I don’t believe that’s true of very large organizations.”

Kusnetzky added Microsoft is thinking about its own place in the enterprise and how to expand it, rather than cooperating with other vendors in a heterogeneous environment. Additionally, he said, there has been little talk about how enterprises can handle mainframe or midrange applications that might be running on operating systems such as Unix or Linux.

“If you look at a big organization, there are different groups of people who own different parts of the infrastructure,” he said. “Different people own the network, the facilities and the individual business applications, so anytime you come in with an overarching strategy and try to force that into the environment, you are creating not just a technical challenge, but a political conflict as well.”

But Hilf argued that while making sure its software works well together is a top priority, the company has embraced its role in a heterogeneous IT infrastructure in recent years.

“Our strategy has always been breadth and ubiquity and that’s what has grown the Microsoft business,” he said. “Five years ago we had no story around cross-platform systems management, and today we have a very strong story there – natively supporting and actually actively participating in an open source project to allow our System Center family to work with Linux, Unix and Mac systems.”

He also pointed to the aforementioned program for server virtualization validation as further evidence that the company is working on interoperability with other vendors.

The Tech Ed North America 2008 for IT Professionals conference continues throughout the week.

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