VM Addition Offers Path for NT 4.0

Microsoft Corp.'s acquisition last week of virtual machine technology will offer a way to migrate older applications.

Microsoft Corp.s acquisition last week of virtual machine technology from Connectix Corp. will offer legacy Windows users a way to migrate older applications. But the move is raising questions among corporate customers about possible future virtual server and client licensing problems.

With the purchase of the Connectix assets, Microsoft will enable customers to run legacy Windows NT 4.0 applications in a VM environment alongside the companys forthcoming Windows Server 2003 product family, due in late April.

Microsoft and Connectix engineers are slated to start working together on Connectix Virtual Server, which is still in beta, and release it near years end as a Microsoft product.

To some enterprise users, the move is an acknowledgement that many NT 4.0 applications will perform poorly or not run at all on Windows Server 2003. Furthermore, they fear that whatever VM solution Microsoft crafts will be problematic and costly.

"Microsoft licensing has always been expensive and complicated, so why should this be any different?" asked Jack Beckman, an application programming manager for Service Centers Corp., in Southfield, Mich.

David Robert, a systems manager for a global consulting and engineering company in Cambridge, Mass., agreed, saying licensing will be key. "Im not sure if Microsoft will move to a per-processor licensing model, but if there is a major trend toward fewer servers, it will have to try and make up for the revenue by charging more per server license," Robert said.

Robert also said he would be reluctant to move to and run his NT 4.0 applications under a 2003 server VM. "Why would you bother going through the headache if your current NT 4 server and application are running fine?" he asked.

Bill Veghte, corporate vice president of Microsofts Windows Server group, told eWeek that no packaging or pricing decisions have yet been made for the new VM software. "But I want to help make it as easy as possible for customers to leverage their investments in the NT 4 line-of-business applications while taking advantage of the advances in Windows Server 2003. Given that motivation, I dont see a dramatically different, expensive SKU," he said.

Roy McDonald, CEO and president of Connectix, in San Mateo, Calif., said that the licensing issue will be a complicated one for Microsoft. If a customer has 10 one-processor servers and they are consolidated on a four-processor server, the user would then have 11 operating systems on a four-processor machine, McDonald said. "Is the customer likely to feel good about paying 11 royalties? My guess is theyll be comfortable paying for half of that, so theres going to have to be some serious strategy work around that," he said.

Microsoft officials, in Redmond, Wash., are hinting that VM functionality eventually may be built into the Windows kernel. "Clearly its always easier if it all arrives on one CD and gets installed one time," said Jim Hebert, general manager of Microsofts Windows Server Product Management group.

Service Centers Beckman said he would prefer the VM technology to ship as a stand-alone product. "If Im not going to use it, I dont want to pay for it. Theres also already too much in the kernel," he said.

Still, some companies adopting Microsofts .Net platform arent interested in the VM technology. Greg Scott, an IS manager at Oregon State Universitys College of Business, in Corvallis, said he has no interest in licensing virtualized clients.

But, while hardware costs have become almost irrelevant in making server decisions, the cost of the operating system, databases and other applications has become much more significant. "We are waiting to see the pricing structure for the Windows 2003 upgrade before making any decisions," Scott said.