Q&A: Businesses Get an “Easy Button” for Software Evaluation with Microsoft’s New Virtualization Program
Nov. 06, 2006
Mike Neil, senior director of Microsoft’s virtualization strategy, explains how the company’s virtualization technologies address organizations’ critical IT needs.

REDMOND, Wash., Nov. 6, 2006 — Virtualization technologies are emerging as one of the most effective ways for customers to make their IT operations more dynamic, enabling them to quickly respond to business needs and lower costs. In a September research report titled "Worldwide Virtual Machine Software 2006–2010 Forecast," IDC analyst John Humphreys predicted that an already strong virtualization software market will expand to more than US$1.8 billion in 2009. The market stands at about $810 million today, up 46 percent from $560 million in 2005.

Virtualization enables IT managers to consolidate physical machines onto a virtualized platform while providing a layer of isolation between different services, software and applications so they can be set up quickly on a multitude of devices, with little or no configuration.

Microsoft is among the leaders in developing a new generation of IT infrastructure technology and tools, such as server virtualization, application virtualization and virtualization management tools, to help customers increase agility while lowering costs.

At VMworld 2006, Microsoft is making available their new virtual hard disk (VHD) Test Drive Program, which allows customers to confidently evaluate enterprise software from Microsoft and its software partners in a fraction of the time. In addition, Microsoft will have booth demonstrations of its application virtualization, server virtualization and virtualization management tools.

PressPass asked Mike Neil, senior director of virtualization strategy in Microsoft’s Windows Server Division, for an update on Microsoft’s virtualization technologies and strategy.

PressPass: What is the VHD Test Drive Program and how does it benefit customers?

Neil: This program enables Microsoft and its partners to distribute their enterprise software and applications within a virtual machine so that IT professionals can confidently and quickly evaluate Windows Server-based software. A similar program for Windows Vista will be available in the first quarter of 2007.

These virtual machines, which are provided in Microsoft’s virtual hard disk image format, are pre-built and pre-configured so that they can be downloaded or distributed for easy setup and evaluation. This allows customers to evaluate software in a fraction of the time it usually takes, such as setting up SQL Server 2005 in minutes instead of hours.

The VHD Test Drive Program is a first for Microsoft software and the more than 7,000 software vendors who can now deliver pre-configured applications within Windows Server-based virtual machines to their customers. Today the program launches with the latest versions of Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition, SQL Server 2005 Enterprise Edition SP1, Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 (32-bit beta) with Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2005, and Internet Security & Acceleration (ISA) 2006 Standard Edition. Partners and customers can expect to see additional Microsoft software added to this program.

We expect more than 20 partners to begin distributing their software via the VHD Test Drive Program later this quarter, including Altiris, BEA Systems, Check Point, Citrix, CommVault, Dell, FullArmor, HP, Network Appliance, Platespin, Portlock, Quest Software, SourceCode Technology Holdings, Symantec and UGS. Over the coming year, we anticipate our partners will use this program to get more than $10 billion in software into the hands of IT professionals to evaluate.

PressPass: What is the significance of this program encapsulating software and applications within the VHD format?

Neil: Microsoft’s VHD format grew out of our desire to create a common language for virtualization technology. The VHD format is essentially the atomic unit of Windows-based virtualization, in that it captures the virtual machine operating system and the application stack in a single file to create the larger virtualized system.

The VHD format was available as a royalty-free license since May 2005. We recently made the VHD format freely available under the Open Specification Promise to drive greater opportunities for customers and partners to realize the value of standardizing on a common virtualization format. In fact, in the three weeks since we introduced VHD under the Open Specification Promise, VHD adoption has more than doubled.

We’ve also seen that the VHD format ensures a uniform product support system, and it provides more seamless manageability, security, reliability and cost-efficiency for customers. The VHD format also offers investment protection for customers, in that VHDs can be migrated from today’s Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 to Windows Server virtualization in the next version of Windows Server, code-named “Longhorn Server,” and today’s Virtual PC to Virtual PC 2007 supporting Windows Vista.

PressPass: What is Microsoft's approach to virtualization technologies, and how does it stand out from competitors' approaches?

Neil: Customers are on a treadmill of complexity and cost that limits the value IT delivers to the business. We’re committed to helping customers manage complexity and achieve agility by delivering systems that automate more of the management load and free IT staff to focus on adding new value. Virtualization helps liberate IT but must be part of an approach to enable self-managing dynamic systems.

These insights really helped to shape Microsoft’s virtualization strategy. We’ve made some significant progress in three areas that we know are industry challenges: licensing, support and interoperability.

We’ve adapted licensing for our server operating system and server applications to make them virtualization-friendly. For example, customers now can run an unlimited number of virtualized Windows Server instances with servers licensed with Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition. This means that by simply licensing the server’s processors with Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition, customers will be able to run Windows Server Standard Edition, Enterprise Edition, Datacenter Edition or a mix of the three without having to track the number of virtual machines or pay for additional Windows Server licenses. Customers and partners are telling us that this added licensing flexibility will encourage virtualization to really flourish in their organizations.

In addition, Microsoft is enabling customers to more easily virtualize hardware and run multiple operating systems. Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2, which is a free download, provides a cost-effective virtualization solution for companies’ production and test/development workloads.

In the next two years, we will further extend those benefits by introducing virtualization services as part of Windows Server “Longhorn.” Resource management – and virtualization - has traditionally been part of the operating system. We will introduce a hypervisor-based virtualization architecture in the Windows Server “Longhorn” timeframe. The hypervisor is a thin software layer between the hardware and the Windows Server “Longhorn” operating system, whereas today’s Virtual Server 2005 is a service that runs on top of Windows Server 2003. This change provides customers better reliability, greater scalability, and dynamic capabilities that allow them to virtualize most workloads in their infrastructure.

PressPass: How does Microsoft promote interoperability and address support, with its virtualization offerings?

Neil: We’re committed to enable and support interoperability on several fronts because customers with mixed environments expect it all to work together. Just last week, we announced a set of broad collaboration agreements to build, market and support a series of new solutions to make Novell and Microsoft products work better together. As part of that, we agree to jointly develop a compelling virtualization offering for Linux and Windows. Earlier this year, we entered a collaborative agreement with XenSource to provide interoperability between Xen-enabled Linux and the Microsoft Windows hypervisor technology to appear in Windows Server “Longhorn.” Microsoft also contributes extensively to standards that promote common technologies, such as common management APIs through the DMTF. Plus, Microsoft offers a support model for specific Linux operating systems running as guests within Virtual Server. We’ve had more than 13,000 downloads of our free virtual machine add-ins to improve the performance of Linux guests when running on Virtual Server 2005 R2.

PressPass: What is Microsoft doing to help customers manage and track the potential chaos of all these virtual machines living in the datacenter?

Neil: The combination of virtualization infrastructure and management capabilities will deliver business agility and dynamic resource utilization with greater levels of efficiency.

Customers have told us that they currently have challenges managing across the physical and virtual environments. That in fact, the management of both environments from a single set of tools is critical to successfully managing their datacenter environments. That’s the approach Microsoft is taking to help in the management area. Today, customers can use System Center Operations Manager for health monitoring of virtual machines running within Virtual Server 2005. We’re extending the virtual infrastructure management capabilities with Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager, which is in public beta today and will be released in the second half of 2007.

System Center Virtual Machine Manager is an enterprise management tool for a virtualized data center. Customers will use it to increase physical server utilization, centralize management of virtual machine infrastructure and rapidly provision new virtual machines. The great part for customers, System Center Virtual Machine Manager is fully integrated with the System Center product family so customers can leverage existing skill sets.

For example, IT managers are challenged with identifying the right physical servers to consolidate using virtualization. Leveraging System Center Operations Manager, IT managers can identify the best candidates for virtualization based on historical data, and use Systems Center Virtual Machine Manager to simplify the physical-to-virtual experience by using block-based differencing technology and the Volume Shadow Copy Service to create the virtual machine at disk speed. System Center Virtual Machine Manager then uses the same intelligence built into System Center Capacity Planner to identify the best host to place the newly converted virtual machine.

PressPass: How is Microsoft's recent acquisition of Softricity likely to help customers manage IT complexity?

Neil: A lot of IT pros tell us it is a daunting task to roll out new applications and updates, as well as support production application environments because the configuration and user management processes for application installation are so complex. 

By virtualizing these configurations and setting, and eliminating the need to install applications, SoftGrid enables IT pros to more easily deploy and update applications since they don’t have to worry that one installation will cause problems with the existing desktop environment.

But there’s a greater significance to this technology than just reducing compatibility testing. When SoftGrid is combined with its streaming delivery mechanism, customers can turn any Windows program into a dynamic service that follows users wherever they go. Integration into the Microsoft management infrastructure means that these application services are easily administered using policy-based management with existing tools. This streamlines almost every aspect of desktop management, from operating system migrations, to business continuity, to reducing the costs associated with software deployments and updates.

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