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Intel obstacles a challenge for Microsoft's Virtual Server

Intel processors weren't designed with virtualization in mind, which may be one of the reasons that Redmond has taken a while to put together its Virtual Server offering, experts say.

Microsoft this week issued a release candidate of its virtual machine software, which includes technology acquired from Connectix Corp. more than a year ago.

The software maker will release two versions of Virtual Server 2005 -- an Enterprise Edition, which supports up to 32 processors, and a Standard Edition, which supports up to four processors. The product is still anticipated to become available in the "second half of this year," said Eric Berg, group product manager in the Windows server group at Microsoft.

Approximately 10,000 customers have tested the technology, in addition to the "tens of thousands" who have downloaded the initial Virtual PC trial software, Berg said.

Analysts said this product has taken

Customers don't have to purchase another management tool to run a virtual machine.

Eric Berg, product manager,

Windows server group ,
an especially long time from the point when it was first acquired from Connectix in February 2003, to its release as a Microsoft product. One reason for that is probably the fact that virtualization on Intel Corp. processors is so hard to do, said Jonathan Eunice , principal at Illuminata Inc., a Nashua, N.H., consulting firm.

"They have some serious impediments to being virtualized, as they weren't designed to be," Eunice said. "You are putting more than one logical computer on every server. If something goes wrong, you aren't just taking down one server. You are taking down five."

Virtual Server can be used in several ways, including test and development environments, to run legacy applications on new hardware, for workload consolidation and in disaster recovery operations, where customers want to reduce their number of physical servers.

Berg said the virtual machine includes a resource manager that lets IT administrators set the appropriate level of resources for each machine. Customers can also set a policy that guarantees a minimum level of performance for each one.

The software includes a programming interface that gives administrators an easy way to script an activity, such as deployment or change and configuration management . IT administrators can also manage the virtual machines using the same tools they use to manage their other servers. "Customers don't have to purchase another management tool to run a virtual machine," Berg said.

Microsoft's toughest competition

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in this market is VMware Inc., of Palo Alto, Calif., which is now owned by EMC Corp., of Hopkinton, Mass. Eunice said one of Microsoft's challenges will be competing for business in enterprises where IT executives want to homogenize their environment, and that environment includes operating systems other than Windows.

"[Microsoft] has a serious issue supporting things other than Windows -- NetWare, OS/2, whatever," he said. "I've heard that Linux will run [on Virtual Server], and that may be enough for some test and development environments. But from a production computing point of view, it can't just run. It has to be supported."

On the plus side, technologies such as Intel's Vanderpool will eventually reduce the cost of virtualized computing. "VMWare is the leader, but it's expensive," he said.

Microsoft hasn't released pricing information for Virtual Server 2005.

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