On April 3, the Redmond, Wash., software giant will use the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in Boston to announce that it is making its Virtual Server 2005 R2 Enterprise Edition product available as a free download from the Microsoft Web site.
Until now, Microsoft has sold the software, which was released in December 2005, at a suggested retail price of $199. The Standard Edition, which used to cost $99, is being dropped and will no longer be available.
"Our view is that resource management has always been part of the operating system, and if you look back to the days of the mainframe and Unix, that was pretty much the case.
Over the years, customers have been getting the virtualization capability as part of the operating system," Jim Ni, a group product manager for Microsofts Windows Server team, told eWEEK.
After getting that feedback from customers, Microsoft decided that this was the "perfect time to make virtual server available for free, as this is what they expect and want from us and we are just reacting to that," Ni said.
Also, in the future, Microsoft plans to release the Windows hypervisor in the Longhorn Server time frame as part of the operating system, which reinforces its commitment to giving customers resource management and virtualization as part of the operating system, Ni said.
Asked by eWEEK why Microsoft initially decided to charge the 5,000 customers it says are now using the product, Ni said that when Virtual Server was first released, "the market was pretty early and evolving" and customers were "perfectly accepting" of the fact that this was something they would be charged for.
But, as customers became more familiar with Microsofts virtualization product over time and remembered how they had received virtualization as part of other operating systems in the past, "it has become more and more obvious that we needed to do this," he said.
When asked if the decision to provide the product for free was also a response to the fact that both Red Hat and Novells SUSE Linux were building the Xen hypervisor technology into their server operating systems, Ni said Microsoft had always planned to offer its Windows hypervisor technology for free with Windows "Longhorn" Server.
However, he said, "we have been discussing internally how we incorporate virtualization into the operating system in the Longhorn server wave, and that this was something users would just get with the operating system. We applaud the fact that Red Hat and Novell are now doing this," he said.
Another advantage of giving customers the Virtual Server products for free, he said, is that it opens the benefits of virtualization up to a broad range of customers, while giving them an upgrade path to Longhorn Server and the Windows hypervisor, which will use the same VHD (Virtual Hard Disk) format that the current Virtual Server product uses.
Currently, customers running Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition can run as many as four virtual instances on one physical server at no additional cost. If they want to run more instances of Windows Server, they have to buy another Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise license that gives them four additional virtual instances, he said.
The license for the Datacenter Edition of Windows Server "Longhorn," when it ships next year, will give users the right to run an unlimited number of virtual instances on one physical server, while Windows Server "Longhorn" Enterprise Edition will be licensed to allow four virtual instances.