Microsoft is pushing further into the virtualization realm, announcing that its Virtual Server 2005 R2 product will provide support for Linux. In addition, the company is now offering the software as a free download.
Virtualization is widely recognized as a way companies can slash I.T. infrastructure costs. By using the technology, I.T. administrators can replace larger, mostly unused servers with smaller, efficient machines that run multiple operating systems.
The technology has increasingly become mainstream. A February survey conducted by Forrester found that, of 1,221 North American businesses with more than 1,000 employees, some 41 percent already had implemented or were planning to implement virtualization software.
At this point, Microsoft is trying to keep pace with market leader VMware and the Xen open-source technology adopted by Linux vendors, including Red Hat and Novell.
An Emerging Commodity
Analysts have said it is only a matter of time before virtualization capabilities are commoditized, as chipmakers like Intel and AMD provide additional support for the technology at the motherboard level. This trend could mean that the battle for the virtualization market could shift entirely to software tools that help manage virtual environments and organize the systems to use the hardware more efficiently.
In offering Virtual Server 2005 R2 as a no-charge download, the software giant hopes to remove the barriers to adoption for customers who want to realize the benefits of these systems.
Virtual Server currently is used by some 5,000 customers, Microsoft said, with users able to run up to four virtual operating systems on one physical system. Down the road, virtualization will be a key component of the Longhorn server platform.
Broader Support Is Key
Along with the free software, Microsoft is offering add-ins to run select Red Hat and Novell SuSE Linux distributions. The company also is offering technical support to help customers consolidate their Linux-based applications on Virtual Server 2005 R2.
With this move, Redmond hopes to ensure that non-Windows operating systems can run on its Virtual Server software and on its future virtualization products.
On another front, Microsoft's Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) licensing program is gaining momentum, the company said, with more than 45 vendors signed up for the royalty-free program, double the number reported six months ago. The VHD technology is designed to capture a virtual operating system and its related application stack in a single file, making the virtualized servers easier to manage.
Linux Influence Growing
"Microsoft has recognized the growing influence of Linux in virtualization, with offerings from VMware and XenSource, and needs some level of support for platforms other than Windows," said IDC analyst Stephen Elliot. "There is a higher risk for Microsoft if they don't collaborate with the Linux community."
Still, Elliot noted that such support is indeed virtual in nature and that it will take years for such non-Windows connections to crystallize completely. "Microsoft still is focused on its own interests, but, with more virtualization tools, we can expect to see an incremental support strategy emerge," he said.
With virtualization, commodity is the name of the game, the analyst said, as businesses continue to define what the new technology means. "It's very popular among enterprises because they can save money through consolidation and disaster recovery," he said. "Microsoft has to get in on this and build a foundation for future data centers."
Forrester Research analyst Frank Gillet offered a similar take, noting that in extending a hand to Linux, Microsoft wants to control the virtualization layer of server systems. "They don't want to cede the high ground to Xen on Linux, or give customers a reason not to have Xen technology under the Windows platform," he said.
To move virtualization forward, Microsoft is providing a service pack for Virtual Server 2005 R2 with a beta release expected within 60 days and a free download coming early next year. It will support new hardware-virtualization capabilities developed by AMD and Intel and offer better interoperability and improved performance for non-Windows operating systems.