The software maker announced the new program ahead of VMwares VMworld show, where it will give booth demonstrations of its application virtualization, server virtualization and virtualization management tools.
The VHD program is a first for Microsoft and for the more than 7,000 software vendors that can now deliver pre-configured applications within Windows Server-based virtual machines to their customers, said Mike Neil, senior director of virtualization strategy for Microsofts Windows Server Division, in Redmond, Wash.
The VHD format captures the VM operating system and the application stack in a single file to create a larger virtualized system.
The program launches with the latest versions of Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition, SQL Server 2005 Enterprise Edition SP1, Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 (32-bit beta) with Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2005, and Internet Security & Acceleration (ISA) 2006 Standard Edition.
More Microsoft software will be added to the program over time, Neil said. "This program enables Microsoft and its partners to distribute their enterprise software and applications within a virtual machine so that IT professionals can confidently and quickly evaluate Windows Server-based software," he said, adding that a similar program for Windows Vista will be available in the first quarter of 2007.
The virtual machines are pre-built and pre-configured so that they can be downloaded or distributed for easy setup and evaluation, allowing customers to set up SQL Server 2005 in minutes instead of hours, Neil said.
"We expect more than 20 partners to begin distributing their software via the VHD Test Drive Program later this quarter, including Altiris, BEA Systems, Check Point, Citrix, CommVault, Dell, FullArmor, HP, Network Appliance, Platespin, Portlock, Quest Software, SourceCode Technology Holdings, Symantec and UGS," he said.
Microsoft also anticipates that its partners will use this program to get more than $10 billion in software into the hands of IT professionals to evaluate over the coming year.
The VHD format has been available as a royalty-free license since May 2005, but was recently made freely available under the Open Specification Promise.
"In the three weeks since we introduced VHD under the Open Specification Promise, VHD adoption has more than doubled. The format also offers investment protection for customers, in that VHDs can be migrated from todays Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 to Windows Server virtualization in the next version of Windows Server, code-named Longhorn Server, and todays Virtual PC to Virtual PC 2007 supporting Windows Vista," Neil said.
Microsoft has also adapted licensing for its server operating system and server applications, allowing customers to run an unlimited number of virtualized Windows Server instances with servers licensed with Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition.
"This means that by simply licensing the servers processors with Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition, customers will be able to run Windows Server Standard Edition, Enterprise Edition, Datacenter Edition or a mix of the three without having to track the number of virtual machines or pay for additional Windows Server licenses," he said.
Those benefits will be extended over the next two years through virtualization services, which will be part of Windows Server Longhorn, in which Microsoft will introduce a hypervisor-based virtualization architecture, he said.
The hypervisor is a thin software layer between the hardware and Longhorn, in contrast to the current Virtual Server 2005, which is a service that runs on top of Windows Server 2003. "This change provides customers better reliability, greater scalability and dynamic capabilities that allow them to virtualize most workloads in their infrastructure," Neil said.
Microsoft is also committed to interoperability on several fronts, he said. The week of Oct. 30 it announced a set of broad collaboration agreements to build, market and support a series of new solutions to make Novell and Microsoft products work better together.
Earlier in 2006, it also entered into a collaborative agreement with XenSource to provide interoperability between Xen-enabled Linux and the Microsoft Windows hypervisor technology to appear in Windows Server Longhorn.
Neil said Microsofts recent acquisition of Softricity will help customers, as once Softricitys SoftGrid is combined with its streaming delivery mechanism, customers will be able to turn any Windows program into a dynamic service.
"Integration into the Microsoft management infrastructure means that these application services are easily administered using policy-based management with existing tools. This streamlines almost every aspect of desktop management, from operating system migrations, to business continuity, to reducing the costs associated with software deployments and updates," Neil said.