Microsoft's Virtual Push

Redmond announces new virtualization components, shows up at VMworld.

Microsoft on Sept. 6 announced plans to release to manufacturing its System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) 2007, the enterprise-class management component hat has been missing from its Virtual Server 2005 virtualization platform. The SCVMM (code-named "Carmine") is tightly integrated with the Microsoft System Center family of system-management products, and will be generally available in October, the company said. An upcoming version will manage virtual machines (VMs) and apps running within Windows Server 2008 (code-named "Viridian").

The SCVMM is a standalone server application used to manage virtualized machines running on Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2. Microsoft had been working on the application for about two years when the Redmond software maker in May said it plans to leave it out of its evolving hypervisor package. (One wag called the move a "virtual lobotomy.") Microsoft says that more than 20,000 public beta users have taken the new SCVMM for a test drive. According to Chris Stirrat, who runs the team that built SCVMM, Microsoft's own internal IT group has been managing 100 percent of its virtual environment with the application since beta 2. That's 86 physical hosts running 1,224 VMs.

In a recent blog posting Stirrat wrote, "It has been a long road. ... It's not easy bringing a competitive version 1 product to market, especially in a newer industry that is moving quickly."

VMware is almost single-handedly responsible for the current virtualization boom, and now commands 65 percent of the virtualization market, according to Yankee Group Research Inc.

The next version, Stirrat says, adds "some key customer-driven features," including the ability to manage other virtualization environments -- specifically VMware and Xen. Microsoft's customers want a single solution that manages all hypervisor technologies, he notes. "And when I say we will manage these environments, I mean really manage them -- covering all the key scenarios they offer.

From a single console and a single command line you'll be able to manage Virtual Server, Viridian, VMware and Xen."

Microsoft made the announcement a week ahead of the suddenly splashy VMworld 2007 event (Sept. 11-13), which, thanks in no small part to conference sponsor VMware Inc.'s record-setting IPO, grabbed the virtualization spotlight. VMware pioneered the re-emergence of virtualization technology with the development of the first hypervisor for the x86 architecture in the 1990s. The company is almost single-handedly responsible for the current virtualization boom, and now commands 65 percent of the virtualization market, according to Yankee Group Research Inc.

Microsoft Moving on Virtualization
Microsoft is far behind VMware in the virtualization space, but to be fair, everyone is. By its own estimates, VMware commands about 70 percent of the market in sales of virtualization technology. But analysts expect Microsoft to move strongly into this market over the next few years. Redmond was actually among the sponsors and exhibitors at the fourth annual VMworld event. During the conference, the company made several additional announcements:

Windows Server Virtualization CTP: The company disclosed plans to release later this month a community technology preview (CTP) of Windows Server Virtualization (WSV). This release will coincide roughly with the shipping of the first Windows Server 2008 release candidate. That release is expected to provide customers and partners with code to begin planning and testing, and to provide feedback to Microsoft.

Quickstart for Get Virtual Web portal: The company launched its Quickstart for Get Virtual Web portal at VMworld. Microsoft Gold Certified Partners will be able to use the site to promote their virtualization expertise, jointly develop and publish case studies of their virtualization implementations and co-present with Microsoft in IT pro webcasts to promote their services. Partners also get access to how-to and sales and marketing content as well as e-learning content, including the Virtual Server e-learning course and upcoming Windows Server 2008 with virtualization e-learning courses.

Microsoft Installer Utility: The company unveiled the Microsoft Installer (MSI) Utility for Microsoft Application Virtualization. This is a utility for Microsoft's SoftGrid Application Virtualization solution. It's designed to "bridge the gap between traditional physical control of installed applications and the new paradigm of virtual applications," the company says.

VM Standards Initiative: Microsoft is working with VMware, Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and XenSource Inc. (the commercial backer of the open source Xen hypervisor) on an open specification that would make it possible to run a virtual machine on any vendor's hypervisor.

Citrix Virtualization Alliance Extended: Microsoft and Citrix Systems Inc. announced that they had "strengthened their longtime integration alliance in the desktop and application delivery market" by standardizing on the Microsoft Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) format as a common runtime environment for both virtualized operating systems and applications. According to a jointly issued statement: "This collaboration will result in future versions of Citrix's Desktop Server and virtual application solutions adopting the Microsoft VHD format. At the same time, Microsoft plans to adapt a future version of Microsoft SoftGrid Application Virtualization for both the desktop and Terminal Services to the VHD format." The two companies also plan to collaborate on emerging virtualization technologies and virtual infrastructure-management tools.

The Art of Virtualization
This last announcement underscores the dynamic nature of the current virtualization market. Microsoft has a strong partnership with Citrix, but also with XenSource, which is being acquired by Citrix. Both companies declared their intention to deepen those relationships when the merger was announced in August. But Neil Macehiter, principal analyst at Macehiter Ward-Dutton, is skeptical.

"It's going to be interesting to see what happens with the company's relationships with Citrix and XenSource in light of the acquisition," he says. "Despite the positive statements in the press releases, I see this as a net loss for Microsoft. Citrix now has the assets to offer a virtualized desktop environment at the back-end and front-end. This also has implications for the Novell relationship, given that SuSE bundles the open source Xen hypervisor."

“I see this as a net loss for Microsoft. Citrix now has the assets to offer a virtualized desktop environment at the back-end and front-end.”
Neil Macehiter, Principal Analyst, Macehiter Ward-Dutton

VMware co-founder and CEO Diane Greene told reporters during a press Q&A following her conference keynote opener that VMware believes virtualization technology should be embedded in the hardware. Her company's new EXS Server 3i (unveiled at the show) is a "thin" hypervisor, which will serve as the architectural foundation for VMware Infrastructure 3, the company's flagship virtualization-management software. It's small enough to fit on a flash memory chip and can be embedded directly into servers and storage boxes.

But Microsoft has said the hypervisor -- the bare-metal software that decouples the operating system and applications from their physical resources -- should be part of the OS, and it plans to offer it on Windows. That's the essence of the company's virtualization strategy, Macehiter observes.

Technical details and an evolution download of Microsoft's SCVMM 2007 are available now on Microsoft's System Center Web site.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance author and journalist based in Silicon Valley. His latest book is The Everything Guide to Social Media. Follow John on Twitter, read his blog on, check out his author page on Amazon, or e-mail him at

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