Q&A: Bringing the Benefits of Virtualization Technology to the Mainstream

REDMOND, Wash., April 3, 2006 — Today at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo, Microsoft announced several new developments in the area of virtualization, a nascent technology that can help customers dramatically reduce their information technology (IT) infrastructure costs. Virtualization technology enables organizations to shave their IT costs through server consolidation, disaster recovery, re-hosting of legacy applications, and software test and development.

In conjunction with today’s announcements, PressPass sat down with Zane Adam, director of product marketing in the Windows Server Division at Microsoft to understand how the news aligns with the company’s efforts to make server virtualization technology more accessible, manageable and affordable. Adam also discussed the role that virtualization technology plays in achieving Microsoft’s larger vision of self-managing, dynamic systems.

PressPass: What did Microsoft announce today at LinuxWorld with regard to virtualization?

Adam: We announced three key things today that help drive our goal of making virtualization a more mainstream technology. First, we told customers that our Virtual Server 2005 R2 product is now available as a no-charge download. Combined with the flexible virtualization licensing now available with Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition, this means there is little barrier to adoption for customers who want to realize the benefits of server virtualization.

Second, we announced the availability of no-charge virtual machine add-ins to run select Linux distributions, along with a technical support model to assist customers as they consolidate their Linux-based applications on Virtual Server 2005 R2.

Our third announcement is about the momentum we’re seeing around our Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) format licensing program, which will drive industry development of solutions to help customers better manage virtual machines. We now have more than 45 vendors signed up in this royalty-free license program, which is more than double the number we had six months ago.

PressPass: Why is Microsoft making Virtual Server available at no charge?

Adam: We see virtualization technology as a key stepping stone toward the vision of self-managing dynamic systems. Self-managing dynamic systems are abstracted IT infrastructures that will ultimately give customers greater flexibility, automation and control. These systems will be completely independent of physical resources, so IT groups will have more time to devote to solutions that increase business value. Toward that end, we want to make virtualization more broadly accessible and affordable so our customers can realize benefits in areas like server consolidation, disaster recovery, application re-hosting, and software test and development.

We believe that Virtual Server is already the best server virtualization technology for the Windows Server System and more than 5,000 customers are using the product today. Going forward, our strategy is to continue addressing customer need for virtualization solutions that are secure, interoperable, manageable and fully supported. We’ll also continue exploring how to provide the right licensing policies for all of the servers and applications running on top in the virtual machine environment. As an example, today we allow customers to run up to four virtual operating systems on one physical system running Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition at no additional cost.

In the Windows Server “Longhorn” wave, virtualization will become part of the Windows platform via Windows hypervisor technology, and our customers will be able to run an unlimited number of virtual operating systems on one physical server running Windows Server “Longhorn” Datacenter Edition. In light of this and other market trends, I believe customers will think twice before spending thousands of dollars for other virtualization products that very well could be at no charge in a couple of years.

PressPass: How will Microsoft support Linux in Virtual Server?

Adam: We will support Linux running as a guest in Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 from both a technology perspective and a 24-hour technical support perspective. This will help customers safely consolidate their Linux-based applications on Virtual Server. With this expanded support, we’re providing software that they can install in the Linux guest operating systems to realize significant improvements and usability enhancements with those guests. Initially, we’re supporting multiple Linux distributions from Red Hat and Novell, which represent two of the most widely used commercial Linux distributions.

But that’s only the start. We’ve made a long-term commitment to make sure that non-Windows operating systems can be run in a supported manner, both on top of Virtual Server and our future virtualization products. The technical support piece is an important part of that commitment. Customers who have questions regarding the interoperability with Linux guest operating systems and the virtual machine add-ins will be able to access the standard Microsoft support process.

PressPass: Can you describe the software component that Microsoft developed for the Linux support?

Adam: We created software that allows customers to extract more value from their existing investments by adding new capabilities — in this case, virtual machine add-ins to Linux guest operating systems. This software improves the usability of Linux running in a virtual machine environment on top of Virtual Server 2005 R2. The additions for Red Hat Linux and Novell SuSE Linux will be available as a download at no charge. We are also demonstrating the software at LinuxWorld in AMD’s booth, running Red Hat Linux guest within Virtual Server 2005 R2.

PressPass: You mentioned VHD earlier. What is it and why is it important to customers?

Adam: The VHD specification grew out of our desire to create a sort of lingua franca for virtualization solutions. VHD, which stands for Virtual Hard Disk, captures the entire virtual machine operating system and the application stack in a single file. As a common virtualization file format, VHD will help provide more seamless manageability, security, reliability and cost-efficiency for customers, and it helps ensure a uniform product support system. Since May 2005, when we began licensing the VHD format royalty-free, VHD has been enabling our partners to innovate new virtual machine management and security solutions. Today, there are more than 45 vendors licensing the VHD format, including Brocade, BMC Software, Diskeeper, Fujitsu-Siemens, Network Appliance, Softricity, Virtual Iron and XenSource.

For example, XenSource is using VHD for management of virtual machine IT infrastructures, protection and recovery. Brocade Communications is leveraging VHD with its new Tapestry Application Resource Manager (ARM) offering, providing rapid mobility of virtual machines across Storage Area Networks. Vendors can also potentially engineer anti-virus solutions around the VHD format, enabling customers to improve the security of their virtual machines. And VHD also supports updating applications, which speaks to its serviceability. 

The other key thing about VHD is that it will be the migration path for customers moving from Virtual Server 2005 to Windows hypervisor, which is the virtualization technology we plan to embed within the operating system in the Windows Server “Longhorn” wave. Ultimately, customers will be able to run VHD in a virtual machine using Virtual Server or run it on top of Windows hypervisor.

PressPass: Customers have made it clear that effective management of virtualized applications and resources is essential. What is Microsoft doing in this arena?

Adam: Microsoft’s goal is to make Windows the most manageable virtualization platform by enabling customers to manage both physical and virtual environments using the same tools, knowledge and skills. We repeatedly hear from customers that they don’t want to deal with the cost and complexity of additional management technologies that are limited to virtualized workloads.

In support of that goal, Microsoft already provides tools to develop, deploy, monitor and update applications that work in both physical and virtual environments. Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2005 Virtual Server Management Pack and Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 Service Pack 2 enable seamless monitoring and updating of both physical and virtual machines. And, we’ve created a Virtual Server Migration Toolkit, which enables customers to do both physical-to-virtual and virtual-to-virtual migrations.

The VHD program I mentioned earlier is also a key to manageability. Through that program, we’re creating an ecosystem of partners who are building solutions to further improve the manageability of virtual machines. Additionally, we are making significant investment in our Microsoft System Center product family to address some of the unique management requirements of virtualization around resource optimization and virtual machine lifecycle management. We’ll continue to add management specific functionality to existing management tools such as MOM and SMS to provide our customers with comprehensive management of physical, virtual machine, operating system and applications.

PressPass: Besides manageability improvements, what else can customers expect from Microsoft in the virtualization arena moving forward?

Adam: As virtualization moves into the mainstream and virtual machines get deployed in larger numbers, our focus will be on helping our customers create dynamic infrastructures. As I explained earlier, that’s the ultimate goal: self-managing dynamic systems. To reach that destination and move virtualization forward for our customers, one key thing we’re doing near-term is releasing a service pack for Virtual Server 2005 R2. That’s scheduled for beta release within 60 days and should be generally available as a download at no charge in early 2007. It will support new hardware virtualization capabilities developed by AMD and Intel, and offer customers some key new functionalities, including better interoperability, stronger isolation to prevent a corrupted virtual machine from affecting others on the same system, and improved performance for non-Windows guest operating systems.

And we’re building virtualization capabilities into the operating system based on Windows hypervisor technology, which we plan to make available to customers in the Windows Server “Longhorn” product wave. Customers who adopt the VHD format can look forward to a smooth transition to Windows hypervisor from Virtual Server 2005.