Software Giants Differ on VM Support

Microsoft and others embrace virtualization, but support varies.

As if to dispel any doubt that virtualization is a hot topic in IT, major vendors are rushing to adopt the technology.

Virtually every tech player is either working on its own hypervisor, embracing solutions from industry leaders or, in Microsoft's case, both.

Microsoft in November said its Hyper-V virtualization technology will be available both as a standalone server and bundled with some Windows Server 2008 editions. A beta was released in December. The final product is slated to debut within 180 days of the first-quarter Windows Server 2008 launch.

The company will also offer validation testing to enable third-party virtualization providers to try out their goods on the upcoming server.

"The goal is to validate Windows Server for these solutions. We'll validate our own [virtualization], but VMware is out there, Xen and Citrix are out there," says Jim Ni, group product manager for Windows Server marketing. The tests should be available midyear.

That's interesting, given the consensus that, as one partner notes, EMC Corp.'s "VMware scares Microsoft to death."

"The somewhat surprising thing here was news of the standalone server, since Microsoft has insisted that the hypervisor belongs in the operating system," says Al Gillen, VP of systems research at IDC. Some might construe the separate SKU as a way to defuse any claims of bundling and the associated anti-trust worries.

Oracle Corp. muddied the waters when it announced its own Xen-based virtualization and suggested it would not support third-party hypervisors, including the very popular VMware. The stance is consistent for Oracle, which typically restricts support to its own stack.

Jim Ni, Group Product Manager, Windows Server Marketing, Microsoft

"Oracle has not certified any Oracle Software on VMware virtualized environments," Oracle says in a statement. Any problem that can't be reproduced on or traced back to apps running natively on the host OS won't be supported. The company says customers will be referred to VMware for support.

"What's confusing is that Oracle continues to support Red Hat Linux 4 and 5, along with its own Linux," Gillen says, noting that those OSes all implement virtualization internally.

"Oracle is trying to optimize a hypervisor for their environment and they really can't do that inside Linux for the simple reason that it would fork the code. They have to do it externally," Gillen says.

Oracle did say it will continue to support the hypervisors bundled with supported Red Hat Linux 4 and 5. "They're supporting the OS the way they promised but may not support the implementation," Gillen notes.

Virtualization for Developers
One thing's for sure: Virtualization, whatever its provenance, is incredibly valuable for developers who need to test their work.

"I carry around a portable hard drive with a complete Microsoft VM on it for testing," says Michael Drips, a developer based in Folsom, Calif. "It lets you rapidly set up an environment to test whatever you need to do."

Gillen concurs: "Any developer who's not already using VMs had probably [better] get going. As a developer I can have a dozen clients virtualized. If I have a problem, I can blow it away and spin up a new [instance]."

The good news is that with these new entries, the cost of virtualization will fall.

VMware Inc. offers a free server but charges for management tools. The company estimates the total list price of a virtualization solution running on Windows Server 2008 Data Center Edition will be just under $20,989, while a comparable all-Microsoft stack will be $21,147.

Hyper-V will cost $28; Microsoft maintains that no management tools are needed for small installs. Larger accounts will need the Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) in the $1,290 System Center Server Management Suite.

A standalone version of VMM will be available to midmarket accounts in January for $499.

About the Author

Barbara Darrow is Industry Editor for Redmond Developer News, Redmond magazine and Redmond Channel Partner. She has covered technology and business issues for 20 years.