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Microsoft skips service pack for Virtual Server 2005

Instead of a SP1 for its virtual machine software platform, Microsoft will roll together several new features and release an interim upgrade.

Microsoft brought its virtualization roadmap into sharper focus late last week with a plan to change a service pack for Virtual Server 2005 into an interim upgrade for a fee.

The company also offered customers a clearer picture of product features during a TechNet webcast on Friday hosted by Bob Muglia, senior vice president for Microsoft's Windows Server division.

Microsoft's IT customers have expressed enthusiasm for virtualization in general, citing it as one of the more important technologies to watch. "For a complex infrastructure, anything that assists toward virtualization is something I will look forward to eagerly," said Kirk Patten, an IT manager at RotaDyne Corp., a Darien, Ill.-based maker of industrial printing products.

Virtual Server 2005 R2

As part of its latest plan for its virtual machine software, Microsoft said it will change the name of Virtual Server 2005 Service Pack 1 to Virtual Server R2, which indicates that the upgrade is not just a security rollup. Customers without Software Assurance in their licensing agreement will be charged for the upgrade.

Microsoft executives said they grappled with the R2 pricing decision. The company settled on charging for the software because of its hefty feature set. Virtual Server 2005 R2, which started its initial beta cycle in April, offers support for non-Windows virtual machines, including Linux, and for 64-bit hardware. It also supports iSCSI to cluster virtual machines across hosts.

Virtual Server R2 is scheduled for release late this year, the company said.

New full release to follow soon

Microsoft also said that it will deliver a beta for a full new release just after the R2 release is

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delivered. The beta for the new release is scheduled for the first half of 2006, with availability of the finished product later in the year, the company said.

The latter release will include the hypervisor technology outlined by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at the Microsoft Management Summit in April, and it will coincide with the Longhorn wave of software in 2006. Microsoft has said its hypervisor -- software that enables multiple operating systems to run on a single processor -- will have a well-defined interface so that other vendors can create support for their operating systems as guests.

Microsoft reaffirmed that its hypervisor will support virtualization capabilities in Intel Corp.'s virtualization technology (VT) and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s Pacifica chip sets. Muglia said the future of virtualization is in thin hypervisors with a virtualization stack built into the operating system, which he said is contrary to the "monolithic" virtualization offered by VMware Inc.'s ESX Server.

How virtualization and blade servers fit together

As far as comparing virtualization with a blade server strategy, Muglia said the two should complement each other because virtualization can boost utilization for any computer. He also said that a software virtualization option can cost less and provide greater efficiency in some scenarios.

Virtual Server Host Clustering won't perform live migrations, like VMware's VMotion, which permits zero server downtime. But Microsoft experts said downtime can be extremely minimal depending on the speed of storage and the amount of memory assigned to a virtual machine.

Other virtualization-related items Microsoft addressed during Friday's TechNet session included:

  • Microsoft's virtualization experts said there will be additions and fixes so that Windows Vista testers can run Virtual Server 2005 and Virtual PC without suffering a performance hit.
  • To boost performance, Microsoft plans to update Virtual PC at about the same time that Windows Vista ships.
  • Microsoft is working with partners to get them to add support of their applications on top of virtualization platforms.
  • Microsoft is looking at technology to provide better patch management of video high density (VHD) images in future versions of its System Center management products.
  • Microsoft is enhancing Systems Management Server (SMS) and Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) to treat virtual machines as a core part of Windows.
  • Exchange Server will support Virtual Server in "the near future."
  • Hot backups for virtual machines may be part of the next major release of Virtual Server, due out in 2006.
  • Microsoft is not currently planning to build a hypervisor or virtual subsystem for Intel Corp.'s Itanium chip.

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