Microsoft set to ship Virtual Server 2005

Microsoft Corp. next month will release Virtual Server 2005, its first foray into server virtualization and a key element of the broad management platform the company is creating for Windows.

The oft-delayed technology from Microsoft allows multiple operating systems to run side-by-side on a single physical machine. The technology will ship on Oct. 1, according to Microsoft officials. A 180-day evaluation copy will be available on Sept. 13.

Virtual Server 2005 runs on Windows Server 2003, which is called the “host” operating system and lets users create virtual machines that can run other operating systems, called the “guest” operating system, including Windows NT and 2000, Linux, Unix, and OS/2.

While users have been anticipating the release of the technology for more than a year, one burning question has been about the support policy for software running inside the virtual machine.

Microsoft said it is only offering support for Windows operating systems that run on the virtual machines and that virtual machines within Virtual Server will be optimized for Windows storage and networking performance.

Microsoft is targeting the virtualization technology at corporations looking to host legacy applications and migrate operating systems, most notably NT for which support concludes at the end of this year. Virtual Server 2005 also is targeted at companies looking to consolidate workloads within their infrastructure or in branch offices, such as directory services, DNS or DHCP. The technology also can be used to support development and testing environments.

“What we are seeing in terms of benefits is that customers are reducing their hardware costs by at least 50 percent and they are seeing big improvements from a productivity standpoint mostly around [server] provisioning time,” says Eric Berg, group product manager for Windows at Microsoft. Berg said Allstate insurance, U.S. restaurant chain Jack-in-the-Box, and health care provider Atlanticare are currently running Virtual Server 2005 in production environments.

Virtual Server 2005 also is a key element of Microsoft’s Dynamic Systems Initiative, a multi-year project to create a self-managing Windows environment. Microsoft will use Virtual Server to add flexibility in provisioning server hardware resources in the data centre.

Microsoft is competing with market-leader VMWare Inc., which has a similar product called GSX, which supports Windows 2000 and 2003 or Linux as the host operating system. GSX supports Windows server operating systems, Linux and Novell NetWare as the guest operating systems. VMWare also has a high performance virtual server called ESX, which runs on its own host operating system, a highly scalable architecture called Hypervisor.

“The analysts firms consistently say we are anywhere from 18 months to three years ahead of Microsoft,” says Michael Mullany, vice president of marketing for VMWare. “There are a lot of features and a lot of work to be added to this virtualization layer over time to take the technology where it can be and we are trying to push the envelope in terms of technology innovation.”

Other Microsoft competitors include SW-Soft, which develops a product called Virtuozzo and will deliver a version for Windows this month, the Xen open source project and User-Mode Linux.

Virtual Server 2005 features Multithreaded Virtual Machine Monitor to isolate virtual machines from each other, CPU and memory resource allocation, virtual networking, Active Directory integration, a Web-based management interface and a COM API, which includes 42 interfaces that let scripts control every aspect of Virtual Server 2005.

Later this year, Microsoft will join Virtual Server 2005 to its management infrastructure with a management pack for Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) that will ship by the end of the year. Microsoft also will add features within Service Pack 1 for System Management Server (SMS), which is due to ship by the end of this month.

The MOM features will provide a centralized platform to manage physical and virtual servers, see and manage host/guest relationships, and perform health monitoring and configuration changes. The SMS features will show Virtual Server 2005 in inventory reports, create a new node called Virtual Machine in the SMS administrative console, and automatically discover host/guest relationships.

Microsoft also is developing a set of migration tools for doing physical server-to-virtual server migrations and virtual-to-virtual migrations for migrating from other virtual machine technologies.

Microsoft said future versions of Virtual Server would bolster reliability with such features as host clustering support and virtual machine failover across physical servers. The company also plans to add 64-bit host server support, support for a multi-processor guest operating system, increase memory per virtual machine to 3.6GB, and add support for new host hardware and operating systems.

Virtual Server 2005 ships in a Standard Edition that supports up to four processors and is priced at US$499. An Enterprise Edition that supports up to 32 processors is priced at US$999. Both versions will be licensed on a per-physical server basis and support an unlimited number of virtual machines.

Microsoft inherited the Virtual Server technology from Connectix Corp., which it acquired in February 2003.

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