Microsoft is living up to its promise to reach out and build bridges with the Linux and open-source community and will on July 18 announce a strategic relationship with XenSource for the development of technology to provide interoperability between Xen-enabled Linux and Windows Server virtualization.
The move means that when the technology is available, those enterprise customers deploying Novells SuSE Linux or Red Hat Linux,would have two world-class virtualization solutions built to take advantage of all the things that Linux has to offer, along with the assurances around that, said Bob Muglia, the senior vice president for servers and tools at Microsoft, ahead of the announcement.
Enterprise customers want Microsoft to drive the industry forward, and one of the areas they care about is interoperability with their existing systems, from those that are legacy and proprietary to those running Linux.
"So, we are looking at ways where we can do a great job of interoperating with those other environments. Virtualization is an important trend in the industry as well as a specific area where there are great opportunities for interoperability because of the ability for an operating system such as Windows, with the virtualization technology we are building in, to support Linux in a very native and high-performance way," Muglia said.
While Muglia declined to comment on how the technology developed between Microsoft and XenSource would be made available, he did say the goal was to make it "very competitive and appropriate."
No final decision haS been made on how this joint technology would be licensed, but Microsoft Is committed to making it available very broadly, Muglia said, adding that "this technology is certainly not being developed under the GPL, and there are multiple ways we can bring this type of technology to market and partner with XenSource and others in the open source community to make it broadly available."
Microsoft also recognized the fundamental trend in the server industry toward an industry standard architecture and away from a proprietary architecture, and as that happened, both Windows and Linux will be beneficiaries, he said.
Microsoft has started looking at what it would take to run Linux on its Virtual Server product some 24 months ago, supported that, and had a number of customers using its virtual server product to run Linux.
"But, moving forward, as our hypervisor [code-named Viridian] and virtualization technology in Windows Server gets done, that has deep strategic long-term importance for us, and it is important that we be able to run Linux in an extremely performant and world-class way," he said.
While Microsofts Virtual Server runs Linux "effectively," it is not run in a world-class way.
Linux has taken a specific, technical track toward virtualization, known as paravirtualization, wherein the implementation of the operating system, Linux, enables high performance virtualization, he said.
"In Virtual Server we dont take advantage of that. What we want to do with the Windows hypervisor and virtualization technologies is to be able to run Linux in the same manner that Xen runs it and to be able to do it in a way that is effectively comparable to what Linux and Xen can do together. As such, XenSource was the natural partner for this given their strong experience in virtualization in general and Linux virtualization in particular," Muglia said.
Frank Artale, the vice president of business development at XenSource, told eWEEK that Xen is being incorporated into Novells SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 platform, as well as in upcoming enterprise Red Hat Linux releases, and said that, from a technical perspective, Linux has a protocol through which it talks to the Xen hypervisor.
"One of the significant pieces of the work we have going on is to provide an adapter between the Xen hypercall API and the Microsoft Windows Server virtualization hypercall API, so there will be adaptation to allow existing Linux implementations that are Xen enabled to run on the Longhorn Server that has been enabled with Viridian," he said.
Also, specific optimizations will be added to optimize Linux performance as it runs on top of Longhorn Server in the form of drivers to enable specific forms of I/O partitions, in particular network and disk I/O, Artale said.
XenSource has been doing some internal research and design work around this over the past six months based on public disclosure from Microsoft around Viridian. The collaboration announced July 18 would enable this to progress to the next level, he said.
There is also a common heritage between Viridian and Xen in terms of design, he said, adding that this joint product release would be timed to coincide with the Windows server virtualization release of Longhorn Server, which is "on Microsofts schedule."
While Artale conceded that this link-up would draw some attention in the open-source community, it is important to realize that successful open-source companies are based on use value, which implies broad adoption and demand.
"There is no better reward for any software developer than having a rich base of potential users, and that is one of the reasons we at XenSource are doing this," he said, adding that the open community should feel great that an API that they developed is broadly available on every platform available.
For its part, HP, a Microsoft partner and avid supporter of Linux and open-source software, welcomed the news of the new relationship between Microsoft and XenSource.
"This is a significant move as anything that broadens the community and enables open source to thrive, while addressing the crossover points with Microsoft, is all goodness," Christine Martino, the vice president for HPs open source and Linux organization, told eWEEK.
The move was also a recognition from Microsoft that it is competing in a market where Linux and open-source software are a serious player.
Microsoft is being "very pragmatic here and recognizing the draw that Xen has and the importance of that," she said.