Microsoft Acquires Connectix VM Assets

Move aims to allow customers to run NT 4 business apps as a virtual machine alongside the upcoming Windows Server 2003.

Microsoft Corp. has acquired the Virtual Machine assets of Connectix Corp., a privately held company in San Mateo, Calif., that has been involved in Virtual Machine (VM) technology since its inception in 1988.

One of the motivations behind the move, at least from the perspective of Microsofts server group, is to offer a solution that will allow Microsoft customers running an NT 4 line of business applications to continue to run these as a virtual machine alongside the upcoming Windows Server 2003 product family.

Bill Veghte, Microsofts corporate vice president, told eWEEK that while there were things he could do on the tool side with imaging, "the piece that I really needed was the ability to run all the NT4 business applications out there as a virtual machine.

"The only way I know how to guarantee compatibility for those NT 4 applications is to build off of Connectix, which uses COM interfaces. They also use our Win32 APIs pretty aggressively and they use our driver subsystems, so it was a very good fit," Veghte said.

After talking to many customers while on the road to promote Windows Server 2003, Veghte found that those with NT 4 application servers wanted to know what the future was for those applications.

While Microsoft believed there were some inherent cost benefits to customers in scaling to the new Windows platform and hardware, many customers simply did not want to replace their existing applications, which thus represented a high cost to migration for them, he said.

"Thats the area that represented a scenario hole, which is a tough scenario on the NT4 side when you look at the cost structure for the customer. Its expensive to rev that application. But, while many customers are interested in the improvements in scalability, management and security found in Windows Server 2003, the real cost for them is not in the operating system but in those applications," Veghte said.

Veghte is also a firm believer in workload resource management for next-generation applications, where instead of having multiple instances of the operating system, you have a single instance of the operating system and then apply rich policy against it.

"That is, in general, our strategy for next-generation applications, and you can see that architecture flowing into how we develop applications in Visual Studio .Net, with ASP.Net and the process isolation in IIS 6. But I didnt have a strategy for the NT 4 line of business applications," Veghte told eWEEK.

The Connectix product that is of most interest to Veghte and his server team is Connectix Virtual Server, still in beta. It is a powerful enterprise-class virtualization solution for server consolidation and the managing multiple operating system environments.

Virtual Server is a native Windows-based server application that allows users to run a broad range of operating systems in virtual machines—including Windows 2000 Server, Linux, Unix and OS/2—concurrently on a single physical server, resulting in lower capital and operating expenses by decreasing the system administration and management needs as well as the number of physical servers.

Virtual Serveris also designed to run on industry standard Intel servers (IA32), from entry-level through high-performance solutions. Connectix Virtual Server addresses the growing demand for server consolidation, improved server application lifecycle management and enhanced operating efficiencies in data center environments.

The product will be integrated into the server group. With regard to architectural integration, the key interfaces—the scheduler and VMM—had to be tuned, as did the driver sub-system, he said.

"In the concept of a VM you have this relationship between the NT 4 app instantiation and then how the underlying operating system makes those calls down to the driver sub-system. So we are going to put it in the base group, which develops the driver subsystems and the operating system core. We know how to run an NT4 app, but the key thing is getting the performance relative to the core so you are not just switching back-and-forth.

Veghte said he wanted to get a product out to customers by fall. While no packaging or pricing decisions had been made as yet, "Im pretty motivated to help make it as easy as possible for customers to leverage their investments in the NT 4 line of business applications while taking advantage of the advances in Windows Server 2003.

"Given that motivation, I dont see a dramatically different, expensive SKU, but we havent closed on that yet," he said.

Connectix currently also offers a number of client products, including Virtual PC for Windows, Virtual PC for the Mac and Virtual PC for OS2. It is unclear how these products will be positioned going forward.

The Windows Virtual PC, for example, lets users create separate "virtual machines" on top of their Windows desktop, where you can install virtually any PC-based operating system, including OS/2, Linux, Solaris, NetWare or other versions of Windows.

Each virtual machine emulates a complete hardware system—from processor to network card—in a self-contained, isolated software environment, enabling the simultaneous operation of otherwise incompatible systems.