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Microsoft Jumps Into Virtualization Fray

Microsoft has not just released the cat among the pigeons by releasing Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V, it is the cat among the pigeons.

Both its allies and its competitors are fluttering about and squawking at the news.

Microsoft's supporters are, understandably, happy to be able to stretch their wings, while its competitors are keeping a stiff upper lip and pointing out that the Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) hypervisor (define) is a first-generation product and, therefore, will lack a few capabilities.

Hyper-V's roots lie in technology from Connectix, which developed virtualization software for Windows and Apple Macs, and was acquired by Microsoft in 2003.

"This has been in the works for a very long time, and it's an expected announcement," VMware group manager for product marketing John Gilmartin (Microsoft did not return a request for comment at press time).

Indeed, Microsoft's been a player in the virtualization space since February 2004, when it released its first beta of Virtual Server 2004 in hopes that this would get customers to migrate to Windows Server 2003.

VMware is squarely in Microsoft's sights, and did the expected, with Gilmartin pointing out that Hyper-V is a "first-generation product" and therefore "doesn't have the features and capabilities our customers are asking for."

"We have tens of thousands of customers running our products in their production environments because we offer the reliability and capability they need," Gilmartin added.

Tim Walsh, director of corporate marketing at Virtual Iron, which offers a platform based on the open source Xen hypervisor, said that VMware is "the most advanced solution, it works at the high end of the market, and can support features from server consolidation to development and test optimization, which are at the low end of the food chain, to disaster recovery, high availability and high capacity."

Virtual Iron's product has "features comparable with VMware but costs less and is lots easier to use," according to Walsh. The company targets the SMB market.

While Microsoft's Hyper-V supports consolidation and testing, it can't support high availability and failover, which are critical for market penetration because "more than half of the users of server virtualization are adopting it to support things like disaster recovery and business continuity," Walsh said.

Competition in the Enterprise

That deficiency will hamper adoption of Hyper-V in the enterprise, he added.

Another competitor doubting Microsoft's ability to compete in the enterprise virtualization space is Sun, which uses the Xen open source hypervisor.

"We're happy to see Microsoft come out with this offering, but Hyper-V is primarily about Windows, and we see heterogeneity, or the ability in the data center to address multiple systems being key," Vijay Sarathy, senior director of xVM, Sun's virtualization line

Sun's offering can "address Windows and a variety of Linux variants as well as Solaris (define) and Open Solaris (define)," Sarathy said. (In addition to Windows, Microsoft's Hyper-V also supports two versions of SUSE Linux).

Hyper-V also does not offer live migration, which Sun will unveil in August; instead, it has QuickMigration, which "isn't the same because it halts the system, customers' processes and applications will shut down for some time and they'll be inconvenienced," Sarathy added.

However, Paul Ghostine, vice president of the Provision Networks Division at Quest, whose company unveiled the first hosted Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) for Hyper-V in April, is optimistic about the Microsoft hypervisor's chances.

SQL Server in a virtual machine

Because Hyper-V comes with Windows Server 2008, "if you buy a Windows Server 2008 license for SQL Server, for example, you can automatically put up that SQL Server in a virtual machine," Ghostine said.

Although it's a first generation product, Hyper-V has clustering capabilities, VMotion-like capabilities and SCVMM, which lets users manage both VMware and Hyper-V virtual machines, Ghostine added. VMotion is the technology that migrates virtual machines from one physical server to another.

And, as Hyper-V gains ground in the SMB space, "Microsoft will gain more experience, expand its feature set, and be able to take on the enterprise market as well," Ghostine said.

Hyper-V enterprise ready?

Dave Malcolm, chief technology officer at Microsoft certified partner Surgient, whose Virtual Lab Management applications accelerate the application development cycle, says Hyper-V is enterprise-ready.

"We were working with Connectix before they were acquired by Microsoft, and we're in integration tests with Hyper-V now, and I'd say Hyper-V is ready for the enterprise," Malcolm

Surgient supports Hyper-V, VMware, Citrix and "others who provide hypervisors," and, while "VMware is probably ahead on some management capabilities, there are some things there that Microsoft will roll out over the next couple of service packs," he added.

"I don't think people will notice the difference between Hyper-V and VMware."

Sean Derrington, Symantec director of storage management, believes Hyper-V, Citrix and other hypervisors actually offer enterprises more flexibility than VMware's hypervisor does.

"With Hyper-V, it's a question of how organizations will be able to manage application resources in a consistent way to the physical world, and Hyper-V is close to the open source hypervisor that Citrix uses for Xen Server, and Red Hat, Oracle, Novell and Sun use," Derrington

"These are fundamentally different from VMware's; not all the architectures for x86 are designed the same way VMware is."

Ultimately, Microsoft's sheer size and power will push it to the forefront.

"The big advantage that Microsoft brings to the table here is that it's Microsoft, and that, for a lot of Microsoft shops, especially in SMB, will mean going Microsoft will be the path of least resistance to get into virtualization," Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff by e-mail.

Even existing VMware customers might be tempted by Hyper-V, Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Mark Bowker

"They'll evaluate Hyper-V and see what workloads they can begin running on a virtual machine," he said. "Remember, virtualization is still in its infancy and the market is huge."

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