Microsoft Fashionably Late to Virtualization Party

Battling furiously to catch up to market leader VMware in the hypervisor market, Microsoft has unveiled what it calls a “feature-complete” version of its Hyper-V product.

A hypervisor is a virtualization platform that lets multiple operating systems run on one host computer at the same time.

Hyper-V is a Type 1 hypervisor, also called native or bare-metal. This type of hypervisor is software that runs directly on a hardware platform as an operating system control program. Guest operating systems run at the second level above the hardware.

A beta of Hyper-V was included with Windows Server 2008 when that product launched last month, and this Hyper-V release candidate provides “updated, near-final code,” Microsoft said. Hyper-V is a key component of Microsoft Windows Server 2008.

Behind the Times

Microsoft lags far behind VMware, the acknowledged leader in the hypervisor market.

“From a product standpoint, they’ve issued a release candidate of their hypervisor, but we’ve had one in this marketplace for a number of years,” Ben Matheson, VMware’s senior director of marketing, told TechNewsWorld.

More importantly, the phrase “near-final code” indicates it isn’t likely to catch up any time soon, barring a miracle.

That’s because a hypervisor is just “the first step” toward virtualization, and customers want “a whole infrastructure suite,” Matheson explained. On top of its hypervisor, VMware has VMware Infrastructure 3, a suite of technologies that sits on top of the hypervisor and let customers “dynamically allocate and move virtual machines around and provide for recovery of virtual machines if your servers go down,” he adds.

Microsoft “is nowhere near to having the technology that customers want,” Matheson added.

About Hyper-V

Microsoft acknowledges that systems management is for customers to adopt virtualization, so it is “focused on delivering a single pane of glass for customers to back up, configure, monitor and distribute software and applications — both traditional and virtual — across desktops, devices and servers using one license,” Mike Neil, Microsoft’s general manager for virtualization strategy, said.

The next version of System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) will manage Virtual Server 2005 R2, Hyper-V and VMware ESX Server, including VMotion. A subsequent version of SCVMM will manage Xen and XenServer.

Among the early adopter customers, the three most common Windows Server 2008 roles run within Hyper-V are Internet Information Services (IIS), application server and Terminal Services.

“We’re really making sure we had a core set of Windows Server roles — IIS terminal services, things like that; and application server and that we had a number of customers testing these within Hyper-V,” Patrick O’Rourke, group product manager, Windows infrastructure at Microsoft, told TechNewsWorld.

Benefits of Hyper-V

Hyper-V “allows enterprises to rapidly provision new instances of applications to meet shifting demands in workloads,” Eric Ogren, principal at The Ogren Group, told TechNewsWorld. “It’s logical that they would find traction with IIS and Terminal Server.”

However, customers are “still cautious” about moving critical business applications, which explains why SQL Server is not on the list, Ogren added.

Hyper-V helps organizations extend the lives of their legacy Windows applications by allowing them to be moved as virtual machines to new operating systems or newer versions of Windows, Ogren said. So, “The expenses of application upgrades can be delayed” and businesses “can manage the devil they know.”

The Back Story

Hyper-V, originally code-named Viridian, has had its problems.

In March of 2007, its first beta launch was pushed back from the first half of 2007 to the second half, and several features were removed — including the ability to move virtual machines between servers while they are still running and the ability to add resources to virtual servers on the fly. Microsoft also cut Viridian’s support for processing cores from 32 to 16.

However, the release candidate of Hyper-V just unveiled is “better performing than the beta” and early adopters’ comments included things like “external deployments have exceeded beta coverage goals,” Mike Neil, Microsoft’s general manager for virtualization strategy, said.

About 75 percent of early adopter customers are running Hyper-V with “some attached storage,” Neil added.

Guest OSes Supported

Tested and qualified guest operating systems include Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2 (SP2), Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10, Windows Vista SP1 and Windows XP SP3.

Some observers have pointed out that other versions of Linux, such as Red Hat, are not supported, but “clearly there are other operating systems out there that are not supported with the release candidate but we’re continuing to evaluate other operating systems to add to the list,” O’Rourke said. “If you look at Virtual Server, there’s a list of about 10 non-Microsoft guest operating systems that are supported.”

Pointing out that customers “know what the key top adoptive operating systems are out there,” O’Rourke said that guest operating systems supported “will be based on customer input.”

It’s the Customer

Microsoft announced that it has entered agreements with HP, Dell, IBM and Fujitsu Siemens Computers, among others, under which these vendors will ship out boxes with Hyper-V preinstalled.

That didn’t sit well with VMware. “We announced in September 2007 that we were embedding our hypervisors in OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) — Dell, Fujitsu, Fujitsu Siemens, HP, IBM and NEC,” the firm’s Matheson growled. “Last month, we announced the upcoming availability solutions for Fujitsu, Dell, HP and IBM that will ship within 60 days.”

Fujitsu Siemens is “already shipping boxes to customers with preinstalled VMware,” one notable customer being a German automobile manufacturer, Matheson said.

Was Microsoft cocking its snook at VMware with the preinstall announcement for Hyper-V?

Not at all: “We’ve had long standing partnerships with all those OEMs for our server business, and continue to have that with Windows 2008 as well as with Hyper-V,” O’Rourke said.

HP, for example, is preinstalling at their customers’ request on its Proliant products — “racks, blades, servers,” — hypervisors from Microsoft, Citrix and VMware as demanded by the customers,” O’Rourke said. “OEMs are looking at ways to help customers adopt virtualization, and they’re offering customers their choice of Citrix Xen Server, VMware’s ESX and Microsoft’s Hyper-V.”

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