Although Microsoft marches on with its plans to make virtualization a part of the operating system, VMware Inc. is piling on the pressure by introducing a thin hypervisor to be integrated directly into server hardware.
At VMworld 2007 in San Francisco this week, VMware showed off the VMware ESX Server 3i hypervisor that will be integrated into server hardware from Dell Computer Inc., Fujitsu, Fujitsu Siemens Computers, Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, NEC Corp. and others. VMware said ESX Server 3i partitions a server into multiple secure and portable virtual machines.
The technology is expected to ship in late 2007.
One expert who has tested the technology praised its ease of use. "It just takes the whole installation process off the table," said David Payne, CTO at integrator Xcedex. "For a normal server, just plug in the USB jump drive and boot it. There is no configuration needed beyond giving it an identity and an IP address.
Microsoft will ship the first preview version of the Windows Server Virtualization hypervisor with a release candidate of Windows Server 2008. The company sent the server code to its TAP customers this week, according to Winbeta.org, a community of Windows beta testers.
The introduction of VMware's new hypervisor, which runs directly on the "bare metal," could mean virtualization will quickly become a feature of the server hardware even though Microsoft wants to see virtualization become a feature of the operating system.
For Microsoft, the job is to get its audience to believe that virtualization software should live as part of the operating system. Microsoft argues that its server virtualization product, which will not be ready until at least next summer, will arrive in time to suit the majority of IT shops. If history repeats itself, the typical rollout time for server operating systems across the enterprise is at least a year or so later than when the server software actually ships.
"We can argue that [Windows Server Virtualization] will be out in nine or 12 months, but by the time we see it, virtualization functionality could be universally a feature of x86 servers," said Gordon Haff, principal IT advisor at Illuminata Inc., a Nashua, N.H.-based consulting firm. "That's a high mountain for Microsoft to climb."
Haff said Microsoft is taking the wrong tack by believing it's important to own the whole virtualization stack. There is plenty of money to be made off of what runs on top of the hypervisor. "Microsoft will continue to sell lots of software inside of other people's own infrastructure," he said. "It can still sell licenses of its own OS, though the details of these licenses on another hypervisor need to be worked out."
Much of the debate around the hypervisor itself is about thought leadership, because the more important aspect of virtualization remains the support community surrounding the technology itself. With Microsoft, everything works from the software layer OS, but VMware has the strength and depth of its partner community.
"People like fancy builds, but when their job is on the line, they want something in that works," Payne said.