The Growing Case for Virtualization

LAS VEGAS — Sept. 16, 2008 — A growing roster of customers has discovered that both desktop and server virtualization are no longer technologies of the future; they are cost-effective, secure, dependable, and easy to implement and manage today. The 14,000 IT professionals, developers and technology providers attending the VMworld 2008 virtualization conference this week understand that virtualization has matured into a priority for many enterprises because it allows businesses to reduce their IT costs and be more nimble in responding to changing IT needs.

Microsoft is highlighting several new virtualization product milestones at the conference, including:

  • the recent release of Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V and the release within 30 days of Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 hypervisors;

  • a new version of Microsoft Application Virtualization, available through a new edition of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP);

  • the release within 30 days of System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 along with the rest of the System Center suite of management software; and

  • progress on the company’s work with industry partners to ensure interoperability with non-Microsoft software.

Mike Neil, General Manager, Virtualization Strategy at Microsoft

PressPass asked Mike Neil, Microsoft’s general manager of virtualization strategy, to help us cut through the “noise” at VMworld.

PressPass: One of the key issues that have prevented some businesses from implementing virtualization in the past was cost. But now many vendors seems to be lowering costs or offering special promotions. Why is that?

Neil: The virtualization market has become fiercely competitive, and that’s commoditizing hypervisor prices. But virtualization is about more than the hypervisor; it’s also about management software, and that’s where vendors differentiate themselves.

Microsoft’s comprehensive server virtualization and management solution — which includes management capabilities for both physical and virtual environments — costs about a third of VMware’s competing product. And the upcoming Hyper-V Server 2008 hypervisor will be available for no charge, which makes it even more cost-effective to employ virtualization.

Enterprises that virtualize their IT operations can expect substantial long-term savings thanks to server consolidation, lower power consumption and other economies. But some vendors’ wares will require a higher total cost of ownership than others. For example, because our virtualization software runs on the familiar Windows platform, it integrates easily into most enterprises’ IT environments, and customers have told us that training is faster and less expensive as a result. And being able to manage both physical and virtual servers from one management platform, as you can with Microsoft’s System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008, is another long-term cost savings.

Two other factors that can have a major impact on TCO are interoperability and management efficiency. Most enterprises have heterogeneous IT environments, with software and hardware from dozens of vendors. So we’re working with a number of vendors – such as Citrix, Novell and Sun – to ensure both technical interoperability and coordinated product support. Our work with Citrix, for example, is aimed at making sure Hyper-V and Citrix XenServer interoperate and that customers who use the two solutions can easily move virtual machines between the two environments.

Troubleshooting a problem in a multi-vendor, virtualized environment can be a costly nightmare. That’s why Microsoft created the Server Virtualization Validation Program to help streamline the technical support experience for customers. The program allows Microsoft to offer cooperative technical support to customers running Windows Server and server applications on validated, non-Microsoft server virtualization software. There are eight participating vendors, the most recent additions being Oracle and Unisys, and three products have passed the program so far.

PressPass: You mentioned management efficiency as another important cost factor.

Neil: Yes. In the heterogeneous IT environments I’ve just been talking about, holistic management is essential to keeping operating costs low. I’m talking about being able to manage, configure, provision, deploy and back up all of your assets — physical and virtual, server and client, regardless of vendor — from a single “pane of glass,” if you will.

Only Microsoft bridges all the management islands common in datacenters today. Our System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008, which will be released shortly, allows customers to configure and deploy new virtual machines and centrally manage their virtualized infrastructure, whether running on Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V, Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2, Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 or VMware ESX.

System Center Operations Manager 2007 Cross Platform Extensions are available today in beta with support for the HP-UX, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Sun Solaris and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server operating systems. And System Center Operations Manager also allows customers to fine-tune and monitor the health of applications that are running both in a virtual machine and on a physical machine.

PressPass: Can you give us a real example of how a company saved money by virtualizing?

Neil: I can give you many. One is HotSchedules, a Texas company that provides online labor scheduling services to the restaurant and hospitality industry. HotSchedules offers employees access to their work schedules on the Web and lets them trade shifts online. With nearly a quarter of a million users and 4 million logins per month, HotSchedules has been experiencing phenomenal growth — doubling in size every year for the past few years. But as the company acquired more customers, it had to deploy more servers to support its expanding network, and it quickly ran out of space and began experiencing rising power costs. In the past five years, its monthly energy bills tripled.

Working with Microsoft, HotSchedules has been able to increase its server utilization tenfold, reducing its application servers from 120 to 12. This has allowed the company to cut power costs 77 percent and maximize its margins, making it more competitive.

Another example is MaximumASP, a U.S.-based Web hosting company. Like HotSchedules, this company’s growth led to a proliferation of servers that took increasing amounts of time to provision and manage, hurting business agility. MaximumASP is now using Windows Server 2008 and Hyper-V to consolidate servers and offer more flexible and competitive products, such as high-availability clusters and self-service server provisioning. They anticipate saving US$350,000 in hardware costs by virtualizing 200 servers, in addition to saving on power and IT management costs. MaximumASP is also using Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 to streamline server deployment and management.

PressPass: What other areas of virtualization are becoming popular today?

Neil: Most people associate virtualization with servers, but application virtualization is really heating up. Application virtualization offers capabilities like dynamic provisioning, which allows end users to connect to their applications from multiple devices. Think of it as applications on demand: IT maintains management control over the applications, and users have instant access to them without worrying about software installations, application management or potential software conflicts.

Microsoft’s latest application virtualization package, Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5 (App-V 4.5), was released and will be available soon as part of MDOP 2008 R2. App-V 4.5 is a big step forward toward making application virtualization a universally deployed desktop technology. We’ve included new capabilities that will help IT pros support large-scale virtualization implementations across many sites and provide multiple delivery options, including over-the-Internet application delivery.

App-V has been popular among commercial and public-sector customers, as well as with software vendors. For example, manufacturing-software supplier AspenTech has used App-V to give its process-manufacturing customers faster access to its aspenONE software package, while streamlining interoperability testing and version upgrades. One customer’s deployment time was cut from months to just weeks.

So far there have been almost 10 million units of MDOP sold since it was first introduced.

PressPass: Does virtualization introduce any extra security concerns?

Neil: There are three aspects of security that are different between virtualized and non-virtualized environments. First, customers need to secure the virtualization layer by ensuring they are running virtualized applications on a trusted platform. Second, customers must isolate virtual machines from each other in order to minimize the impact of an operating system inside a virtual machine being compromised. And third, customers must monitor virtual machine to virtual machine traffic.

We see security as something that happens not just at one layer in the system, but at multiple levels. I think of this as defense in depth: security from the network and firewall all the way to the client device. And we’re working with the security ISV community to create ways for virtualization technology to be used to enhance customer security.

We’re delivering an integrated, simplified approach to IT security, identity, access and management so that customers save time, reduce costs and better protect their environment. For example, Windows Server 2008 was designed to provide a secure computing platform across both physical and virtual environments. Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V was created using Microsoft’s Security Development Lifecycle of threat models, code-scanning and security testing, and there are no drivers or extensible code allowed in the Windows hypervisor.

PressPass: Last week, Bob Muglia spoke about how virtualization is a necessary building block for cloud computing. What are your thoughts on that?

Neil: There’s no question that the cloud is a very important next step in the evolution of the datacenter, and virtualization is one of the key enablers of cloud computing – or what we call software plus services. Virtualization enables workloads to move between on-premises software and the cloud.

What’s happening is a transformation in IT, driven by virtualization among other things, that’s allowing the IT department to act more and more like an internal cloud provider. For example, paying per usage is a fundamental characteristic of cloud computing, and organizations that embrace chargeback are better prepared for cloud computing. Virtualization enables the chargeback model.

And when customers start creating either the on-premises dynamic datacenter or a dynamic services-based environment, it’s also critical to understand what makes up the components of an application. So this goes beyond the architecture and into how applications are connected, and what you have to do to expand the resources that an application requires or remove those resources. We’re focusing on how developers can use modeling as a key component to describe an application, through its entire life cycle, from the point of application definition and requirements, through architecture, development, deployment and ongoing operations.

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