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Microsoft Strengthens Virtualization Strategy

Microsoft is continuing its push toward server virtualization as a consolidation and migration strategy with the announcement on Monday of a strategic acquisition and two new product updates.

The company announced the purchase of Softricity, a privately held, Boston-based developer of virtualization technology that works with Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager, formerly known as Server Management System, or SMS. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Also coming from the company is virtualization technology with the Windows Longhorn Server, due next year, and a new virtual machine technology that works with System Center Configuration Manager.

Virtualization has become an increasingly popular solution in a world where power and cooling hundreds or thousands of Intel-based servers is a major headache. It's also a big help in migrating from one operating system to another.

Virtualization allows a very powerful computer to run multiple operating systems at the same time and coordinate in sharing system resources without causing conflicts, such as two applications trying to use the same device at the same time, which would likely cause a crash.

While it's very possible to load up one computer, particularly a 64-bit computer with its enormous memory footprint, with an application server, a database server, a mail server and a file and print server, it isn't a good practice. If the database crashes, it could take down everything else.

However, running each server in its own virtual environment allows system managers to allocate needed resources and, more importantly, build isolated environments around those servers, so it protects the other applications if one fails, Jim Ni, Group product manager for Windows Server told

Microsoft will begin testing the hypervisor software for virtualization by the end of this year and ship it within six months of the release of Longhorn Server, due late next year.

Hypervisor is a very thin layer of code that runs between the hardware and the operating system and is focused on resource management.

It only installs the absolute necessary Longhorn Server software needed to run Windows in a virtualization role. The benefits are much greater performance and scalability because of the thinness of the primary OS, said Ni.

From there, you can install more Longhorn features if you want, or other operating systems.

The second piece is the Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager, codenamed "Carmine," which Microsoft expects to start beta testing within 90 days. SCVMM will be integrated into SMS and offer new features to the existing product.

"This is in response to customers telling us that they are not looking for another highly specialized management tool, they want to leverage the investment they've made and supplement them with new tools when necessarily," said Bill Shelton, group product manager for Windows Server.

SCVMM is focused on virtual server management. It looks at what is running on individual servers, from chipsets to middleware, and helps manage the consolidation of several servers into one.

It also helps manage existing virtual machines, so if one physical machine has to come down, it identifies what servers are running on it and helps move the workload or send out notification of downtime.

The Softricity acquisition rounds out the Windows strategy by letting applications run on one version of Windows while being hosted on another. The most common method for executing an application on a different application was through Terminal Services, but some applications don't work well in this scenario.

Softricity creates a virtualized instance of that application in the data center and streams it down to your desktop in a sandbox environment, so the application can be used by a Vista desktop even if it's written for Windows 2000, said Ni.

Virtualization is expected to be a major topic of discussion at Microsoft's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) taking place this week in Seattle.

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