Microsoft Virtual Server Eases Migrations

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2003-05-06

Microsoft Virtual Server Eases Migrations

Microsoft Corp. is giving customers a preview of the pre-beta code for its Virtual Server, which it acquired when it bought the virtual machine assets of Connectix Corp. in February.

At that time Bill Veghte, a Microsoft corporate vice president, told eWEEK that one of the motivations behind the move was to be able to offer a solution that would let the companys customers running a Windows NT 4 line of business applications continue to run these as a virtual machine alongside its latest Windows Server 2003 product family.

While there were things Veghte could do on the tool side, with imaging, "the piece that I really needed was the ability to run all the NT 4 business applications out there as a virtual machine," he said.

"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," he said.

In an interview with eWEEK this week, Alfredo Pizzirani, a group product manager in Microsofts Windows Server group, said that there had been a lot of customer interest around the product.

"So we are responding to those and making the current version of the product available at using code VSCP. But the caveat is that at this point it is not performance-optimized or feature-complete, so customers should not use it for benchmarking or put it into production as yet," he said.

An example of missing functionality: The virtual machine code does not allow for a virtual SCSI drive to be created as yet, but that will be in place by the final release, Pizzirani said.

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Microsoft is targeting Windows NT 4.0 customers running legacy business applications with the Virtual Server technology, which will allow them to use virtualization to still run these on , released last month.

While virtualization technology can be extremely useful in some situations, it is not a technology that solves all customer problems. It is, however, particularly suited to those departmental lines of business applications running on Windows NT 4.0.

"These applications did not have large transactional volumes and were important to one part of the business but not mission-critical for the company as a whole," Pizzirani said.

But customers are not looking at a virtual solution for enterprise applications like those from SAP and PeopleSoft, which are critical to keeping businesses operating and have high transactional volumes.

Customers want to put these applications directly on the hardware so there are no performance lag; they could also cluster it so there is failover and they are isolated from hardware failure and/or other problems, he added.

Other traditional server uses such as for file and print also do not benefit from the virtual machine scenario, he said.

"The technology is going to help primarily with the moving of legacy applications up to the current version of the operating system. The other thing it will help with is server consolidation, where these legacy business applications use only some 10 percent of the server that they run on. People are thus looking at consolidating that.

"Now, as you know, the applications do not really coexist well on the same server as frequently they were not written for that, so virtual machine technology can help them with that," Pizzirani said.

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While Microsoft has not made any decision about pricing and whether Windows Virtual Server will ship as a stand-alone product, be provided as a free add-on or embedded into the Windows server kernel, it has decided that the software that runs inside the virtual server will be licensed in exactly the same way as in the physical machine world.

"Say a customer creates two virtual machines, which each run Windows Server 2003. They will need two server licenses, and whatever applications they are running within those virtual machines must be licensed the same way as if they were running on physical hardware. If they are running multiple copies, theyll pay for multiple licenses," Pizzirani said.

This is not expected to have a large impact on customers, as the primary scenarios for the virtual technology is NT 4 legacy application migration and server consolidation.

Microsoft is also hoping that Windows Virtual Server will drive demand for Windows Server 2003, particularly from NT 4 customers. "NT 4 is outdated technology with certain limitations in terms of scalability and reliability," Pizzirani said. "So people have very good reasons to move, and hardware manufacturers are also coming out with hardware that no longer supports NT 4. People are aware that at some point they will have to move off NT 4.

"But migrating applications is a difficult thing as it requires significant testing on the new platform, upgrading to a new version and the like. We are trying to make this transition easier for them," he said.

Microsoft customers are largely interested in the Virtual Server solution to save on the cost and complexity of upgrading the application software more than anything else, with the hardware also being a big concern, he said.

Microsoft is also looking at a code refresh, or beta, later in the summer, and it is likely that this will still be made available to all interested parties. The Windows Virtual Server developer team is hoping for a product release before the end of the calendar year, Pizzirani said.

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