Virtual Server to Be Free

Microsoft's move may advance adoption of virtualization.

Microsoft is giving customers of its Virtual Server 2005 Release 2 Enterprise Edition and the open-source community a free ride.

On April 3, the Redmond, Wash., software company announced at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo here that its Virtual Server product, which allows users to deploy virtualization technology, is available as a free download from the Microsoft Web site ( virtualserver).

Until now, Microsoft has sold the software, which was released last December, at a suggested retail price of $199. The Standard Edition, which used to cost $99, will no longer be available.

"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.

Microsoft plans to release the Windows hypervisor in the Windows Server "Longhorn" time frame as part of the operating system, which reinforces Microsofts 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 [became] more and more obvious that we needed to do this," Ni said.

When asked if the decision to provide the product for free was also a response to the fact that both Red Hats Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Novells SUSE Linux were building the Xen hypervisor technology into their respective server operating systems, Ni said Microsoft had always planned to offer its Windows hypervisor technology for free with Windows Server Longhorn.

However, Ni 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."

Another advantage of giving customers the Virtual Server product for free, Ni said, is that it opens the benefits of virtualization to customers, while giving them an upgrade path to Windows Server Longhorn 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 Edition license that gives them four additional virtual instances, Ni said.

The license for the Datacenter Edition of Windows Server Longhorn, which will ship 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 also announced 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.