Next Windows will have tighter virtual ties, Ballmer says

Microsoft's CEO projects a greater role for virtualization as the software company gears up for the Longhorn era.

LAS VEGAS -- Microsoft has, in the past, held its cards close when discussing a product strategy for virtual machine

[Virtualization] is one of our most significant areas of research and development investment.

 Steve Ballmer, CEO, Microsoft

,

 technology beyond what's in its Virtual Server software.

On Tuesday, CEO Steve Ballmer tipped his hand a bit at the Microsoft Management Summit by laying out a broad vision for virtualization that goes beyond merely competing against market leader VMware Inc., a subsidiary of EMC Corp., the Hopkington, Mass., storage software manufacturer. He made it clear that the future of virtualization is not as an add-on product like Virtual Server 2005 or VMware, but as an innate part of the operating system.

"This is one of our most significant areas of research and development investment," Ballmer said. "We think it's a core enabler to improve our management and deliver the lowest TCO platform."

Virtual Server 2005 SP1 now in beta

Microsoft this week released a beta of its Virtual Server 2005 SP1, which has support for non-Windows virtual machines, including Linux. The final version will be available by the end of the year, Ballmer said.

The beta also adds support for 64-bit hardware and boosts performance, possibly by up to 30% overall, Ballmer said.

Microsoft is also licensing, royalty-free, its Virtual Hard Disk to partners. And there is a new Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) management pack available that lets IT administrators check out the health and performance of physical and virtual machines.

As for the future, Ballmer also said Microsoft will build virtualization features and functionality into the Windows platform, which will be available in the next wave of Windows clients and servers, code-named Longhorn. The capabilities will be built into Microsoft's hypervisor technology, which will support chipsets from Intel Corp., Santa Clara, Calif., and Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Sunnyvale, Calif. Hypervisor is resource-allocation software.

Microsoft will also expand its System Center management tools to take advantage of virtualization technology. "Just to compete with VMware was not [Microsoft's] purpose," said Peter Pawlak, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash., consulting firm. "They are driving this into the base of their product."

IT shops put virtualization to the test

The organizations of two IT professionals attending the Management Summit stood as typical examples of how virtual machine

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 technology is being used in many IT environments.

Thomas Fejfer, head of IT for the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration in the country's Ministry of Family and Consumer Affairs, uses Microsoft's Virtual Server to keep hardware spending down.

"We use it to lower our costs on servers," he said. "We have a lot of small applications that run on Virtual Server." The agency's larger applications continue to run on dedicated servers.

Fejfer, who supports about 5,000 users and is in an "almost purely Microsoft environment," also uses virtual machines for testing. "We can very easily build very large test environments with Virtual Server."

VMware's server footprint

Tesoro Corp., a San Antonio refiner and marketer of petroleum products, also uses virtualization technology for software testing and quality assurance. The only difference is that it uses software from VMware.

Todd Hermes, an SMS administrator for Tesoro, said he likes Microsoft's desktop virtualization product, but he sees its server version as cumbersome. "I don't like having to have the Windows OS and then have the virtual processes on top of the OS," he said. "The [VMware software] has, I guess, a lower footprint, so you can use more of the [physical] server for the virtual servers."

For Fejfer, there is a logical next step to meet IT virtual machine needs in the future. "I'm looking for more scalability -- to make it easier to move virtual servers to deploy [computing] power to the systems that need it."

Ballmer emphasizes ownership costs

During his keynote speech, which focused heavily on virtualization, Microsoft's Ballmer told listeners that he missed last year's Management Summit because of meetings with the European Union during the height of its antitrust proceedings. On Tuesday, he voiced Microsoft's commitment to enterprise management and doing it "very, very, very well."

"We are driving forward to make Windows and the rest of the Microsoft platform to stay what is the lowest [total cost of ownership] platform available," he said. "Four, five or 10 years ago, we had very little deep knowledge of problems you face every day. We've come a long way."

Managing Editor John Hogan contributed to this report.

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