Microsoft has a big surprise planned for not just those of its own customers using virtualization, but for those in the open-source community as well.
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.
Microsoft Promises More Interoperability,
Microsoft will also use LinuxWorld to announce the availability of virtual machine add-ins for Linux, which until now have been beta tested only by a closed group of Linux customers.
“This will let customers have greater usability for Linux-based virtual machines running on top of Virtual Server. It is a really broad effort from Microsoft to foster interoperability, and is based on customer feedback. This is a big step in that direction,” Ni said.
These add-ins can be downloaded from the Microsoft Web site and installed in Linux guest operating systems to improve interoperability with Virtual Server 2005 R2 and enhance guest and host synchronization, mouse and display drivers, and SCSI disk emulation, he said.
Microsoft is demonstrating the software at LinuxWorld, at AMDs booth, running a Red Hat guest operating system within Virtual Server 2005 R2.
Microsoft is also introducing a new 24/7 technical product support model for Linux guest operating systems running on Virtual Server 2005 R2, which will be covered under existing Microsoft support contracts.
People needing that support will be routed to a technical team at Wipro Technologies, based in Bangalore, India. The Wipro team has domain expertise in Linux and in troubleshooting Linux guests running on Virtual Server, Ni said.
As a result, Microsoft will now support the following Enterprise Linux distributions: Red Hat Enterprise Linux 2.1 (Update 6); Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 (Update 6); Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 and Novells SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9. Standard distributions supported include Red Hat Linux 7.3, 9.0, 9.2, 9.3 and 10.0.
Microsoft will also use LinuxWorld to announce that more than 45 vendors have signed the royalty-free license of its VHD virtualization file format since May 2005. New licensees include some of the top open virtualization vendors like XenSource, Virtual Iron and Softricity, as well as Brocade, Diskeeper, Fujitsu-Siemens and Network Appliance.
“The VHD format is key, as it allows vendors to understand what the hard disk does, how you write to it and how it stores the virtual machines. It encapsulates the entire guest operating system and application stack in a single file, so understanding that file format lets them build better management and security products around it and translates into a great ecosystem for customers,” Ni said.
This news comes at the same time as VMware, of Palo Alto, Calif., uses LinuxWorld to announce that it is sharing, license-free, its core virtual machine format and specification—technology customers use to manage, patch, update and back up virtual environments.
Dan Chu, VMwares senior director of developer and ISV products, said the move is just another step in the companys push to create a larger ecosystem around virtualization. Included in the companys virtual machine specifications are virtual disks, which are the containers for the disks used by the operating system running in a virtual machine.
Microsofts Ni welcomed the VMware news, saying it was “great, and we certainly applaud them in their efforts to open up their standard as well,” but he acknowledged that the two standards were incompatible.
But Microsofts VHD agreement allows third parties to convert from its VHD to their own format as long as this is bidirectional, thereby allowing Microsofts and its customers tools to be able to understand the intricacies of the file format, he said.
He also said Microsoft would welcome it if VMware would sign Microsofts licensing agreement and understand its file format, but was evasive as to whether Microsoft would sign a similar licensing agreement from VMware, saying this would ultimately depend on what Microsoft heard from customers.
Ni also gave a road map for Virtual Server 2005 R2 Service Pack 1, which has been pushed back. This is now scheduled for beta release in the second quarter of this year, with general availability likely in early 2007. SP1 will support the hardware virtualization capabilities developed by AMD and Intel.
The service pack also will support Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service, providing better support for backup and disaster recovery, he said.
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