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Microsoft makes its case for virtualization as it rolls out new licensing

Microsoft's says its virtualization all-in-one play is the way to go. New licensing terms for its Virtual Machine Manager reflect that view.

Microsoft released its virtual machine management software to manufacturing this week with new licensing that bundles the software with several other products in the company's Windows management product line.

Virtual Machine Manager 2007 lets IT administrators convert physical boxes into virtual machines and ties into several of Microsoft's System Center products, such as System Center Configuration Manager [SCCM], to manage both physical and virtual machines from one console.

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"You have the same management problems with virtual machines that you have with physical machines," said David Greschler, a director with Microsoft's System Center and Virtualization divisions. "You still need to patch so you have the Configuration Manager, and you need to see the overall health of servers so there's [System Center] Operations Manager. And then you can back it all up with Data Protection Manager and tie the data from all that to Virtual Machine Manager."

Virtual Machine Manager rules of engagement

In that vein, IT shops need to pay an $860 per physical server license fee to use Virtual Machine Manager, which is only available in a package that includes SCCM 2007, System Center Operations Manager 2007 and DPM 2007.

IT shops also must be members of Microsoft's Software Assurance license maintenance program to buy the $860 management package.

IT shops do not have to buy additional management licenses for every virtual machine rolled out on top of that server, Greschler said.

"[IT shops] can have three virtual machines one day and 30 the next and not have to worry about management licensing," Greschler said. "All they have to do is license per physical host."

VMM now manages virtual machines running within Microsoft Virtual Server 2005, a standalone virtualization technology that resides on top of Windows Server 2003. Version 2.0 of VMM will manage virtual machines running within Microsoft's hypervisor technology, Windows Server Virtualization, which is being embedded on the Windows Server 2008 operating system. The next version will manage Virtual Server 2005 as well.

What interests some analysts more are the types of technology VMM will support in future versions.

"Microsoft has talked about interoperability, but what it is doing with the next VMM is not just managing Windows server environments, but adding support to manage VMware and XenSource," said Andi Mann, senior analyst with Enterprise Management Associates, a consulting firm in Boulder, Colo. "It will be encouraging to those holding off on purchasing [virtual technology] if Microsoft supports other vendors' technology."

As it stands now, a license for four virtual machines is included with the purchase of Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition. Microsoft did not disclose the virtual machine licensing terms for Windows Server 2008.

The countdown to 2008 products begins

When Microsoft RTMs Windows Server 2008 sometime in the first quarter of next year, a beta version of its hypervisor technology will also be released. Following the Windows Server 2008 release date, the hypervisor will RTM in 180 days or less, Greschler said.

As for Live Migration and hot-adds for memory, storage and networking -- features that were dropped from its upcoming hypervisor release -- Greschler said they will make an appearance in future versions. He added that he believes most companies are not yet ready for such technology.

In the meantime, the hypervisor will offer Quick Migration, which will let IT managers migrate virtual machines from one server to another. Unlike Live Migration, however, the system will still have to be turned off for a few seconds, Greschler said.

Microsoft is taking a different approach than other vendors by building its hypervisor into the server OS, versus having it as a standalone software layer running on top of the server OS. Some believe that its strategy, coupled with its licensing approach, will bring virtualization to the mainstream.

"The fact that [Microsoft] is making virtualization part of the OS is really going to make virtualization a household name," said Nelson Ruest, principle at Resolutions Enterprises, a Victoria, B.C.-based consulting firm. "[Not] everyone today can afford to move to virtualization, but if they get the technology with the OS anyway, and free licenses for virtual machines on top of that anyway, then it's a no brainer."

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