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Microsoft focuses on virtualization with Windows Server 8

Microsoft finally dragged Windows Server 8 out into the light at its Worldwide Partner Conference last week, offering up a brief demo and showing off a few of the “100 or more” new features expected to be in the product. What was clear from this glimpse is that Microsoft will place a heavier emphasis on virtualization in the new release.

For instance, it showed off Hyper-V Replica which offers support for at least 16 virtual processors. The new technology also supplies asynchronous virtual machine replication to offsite locations for things such as mission critical data contained in SQL Server databases. This is a direct response to users who have complained about the inability to properly scale the product to handle larger workloads.

Company officials made it a point to say Hyper-V Replica will work with Remote FX and Dynamic Memory, two virtualization capabilities included in Windows Server Service Pack 1 released earlier this year. Windows Server 8 will remain an important building block on which corporate users can build private clouds, company officials noted, which implies virtualization will play a role here, too.

According to Jeff Woolsey, the Principal Program Manager Lead for Windows Server Virtualization who conducted the demo, “Windows Server 8 will be capable of delivering, ‘massive, massive scale’ as well as ‘unlimited replication’ right out of the box in the box,” he said.

Woolsey talked about how Hyper-V Replica can also improve fault tolerance, while side-stepping much of the additional hardware and software costs associated with upgrading to that capability.

While it was good to see the Microsoft at least begin to talk about the product, which Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in his conference keynote now owns 76% of the server market, you have to wonder why it took so long.

According to one Windows Server beta tester I talked to this week, that reluctance may center around not wanting to tip its hand to early to its archrival in the virtualization market, VMware.

“They are making such a big play in (server) virtualization and virtual desktops, they didn’t want to give VMware too much of a head’s up. They are also trying to figure out how to sustain their licensing model as well as take on Citrix and VMware. There is a lot they still have to work through before they roll this out,” he said.

There might be something to that. On the same day Microsoft demoed the Hyper-V Replica-Windows Server 8 combination, VMware trotted out VSphere 5. The new version, perhaps not coincidentally, has with the ability to support virtual machines about four times more powerful than its predecessor, as well as containing improvements to all of its virtualization capabilities.

Unfortunately, VMware also announced a new licensing plan for vSphere 5 that caused a stir among its users. The plan, instead of being based on physical CPUs and physical RAM per server, is based on per-CPU licensing. Many VMware users believe this switch will cost them significantly more.

The new licensing could slow adoption of VMware’s core offerings and, at least for now, tilts the playing field in Microsoft’s favor with its free hypervisor built into Windows Server. But Redmond must be careful not to step on a landmine with a new licensing plan that takes away its cost advantage.

There is no word on when Microsoft might deliver a meaningful code drop of Windows Server 8 to developers. We’ll have to wait until Microsoft’s Build conference in mid-September to get more technical details.

Let us know what you think about this story; email Ed Scannell at

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