Microsoft embraces third-party virtualization platforms

Oracle Corp. may be signaling its intention to strong-arm customers over to its new virtualization platform, but Microsoft Corp. is doing just the opposite.

As part of news announced last month regarding its virtualization-enabled Windows Server 2008 and its new standalone Hyper-V Server software, Microsoft also unveiled its Server Virtualization Validation Program.

The program, which will become available next June, is intended to help companies using Windows Server in conjunction with third-party server virtualization platforms get support if technical problems arise, according to a posting late last week on Microsoft’s official Windows Server division blog.

The program allows companies such as VMware Inc., or Xen provider Citrix Systems Inc. “to self-test and validate a specific virtualization stack (hardware + hypervisor) to provide customers out-of-the-box support for Windows guest OSes,” Alessandro Perilli, an Italy-based consultant, wrote on his Virtualization.Info blog.

Previously, Microsoft would only try to support Windows Server users using non-Microsoft virtualization if they paid for pricey Premier Support, according to Frank Artale, vice-president of business development at Citrix, who confirmed the vendor’s plans to join the program.

“Now, Microsoft and Citrix can work together to jointly support customers, exchange bug info and solve problems,” he said.

Until now, Microsoft only had a joint support relationship for non-Microsoft hardware virtualization software with Novell Inc. Virtual Iron Software Inc. also plans to join the program, which will enable joint support for Windows Server 2000, 2003 and 2008. Other vendors expressing support are listed online.

Market leader VMware, which has been tangling with Microsoft all year on virtualization, “intends to review and participate” in Microsoft’s program when more details emerge, wrote Dan Chu, vice-president for emerging products and markets at VMware, in an e-mail.

“We’re currently working to ensure that customers receive the support they need, and that VMware environments are optimized for Microsoft operating systems and applications,” Chu wrote. “Microsoft and VMware already handle customer support issues together through TSAnet and the direct relationship between our companies,” he wrote.

“The development of this program further extends Microsoft’s support policies and enhances customers’ ability to choose the right virtualization platform for their environment without worrying about the artificial constraints of support policy.” The program does not apply to Microsoft applications such as SQL Server, although the Windows Server blog hinted that could change.

Oracle executives, in contrast to Microsoft, said during the OpenWorld conference that customers running Oracle applications in non-Oracle virtualization platforms break their enterprise support contract. VMware asserted that Oracle has been supporting their joint customers since 2006. Despite Oracle’s “marketing spin,” VMware is confident that Oracle will continue to its support, pointing to statements by CEO Larry Ellison and language in Oracle’s own support contracts.

Citrix’s Artale noted that this is “an interesting case where Microsoft appears to be much more open than other vendors” such as Oracle. He said he had not yet spoken with Oracle about Oracle’s support plans, though he said any pulling of support would affect Citrix less than VMware. Most of Citrix’s customers for XenServer virtualize Windows Server rather than Linux, he said.