Dan's Take

Microsoft Virtualization: Good Enough

It's not the leader in any category, but it doesn't have to be. In some cases, it only has to present a viable alternative.

As with most vendors, Microsoft combines three different approaches to addressing enterprise needs: partner with another supplier to access the needed technology and capabilities; build a product to address those needs; or buy another company or its technology.

What's clear when examining Microsoft's approach to virtualization as a whole is that the company isn't striving to offer the best in each area of the Kusnetzky Group 7-Layer Model. Instead, the company is addressing about 75 percent to 80 percent of enterprise requirements in a way that's compatible with its suite of products; this is designed to induce an ever-greater reliance on Microsoft products and services. The goal is making enterprises believe that adopting Microsoft's approach and products is simply easier, more cost efficient and "good enough" to help them get by. Let's examine them category by category.

Access and Application Virtualization
The company first introduced Microsoft Terminal Services as an option for Windows Server 2003. The goal, according to Microsoft, was to make it possible for Windows-based applications to display on hardware offered by many suppliers of PCs and thin-client computing devices. Microsoft continues to offer support for its own Windows-based PCs, laptops and other computing devices.

To get into application virtualization, Microsoft first partnered with Softricity to offer ways to encapsulate Windows apps. Softricity's Softgrid made it possible for apps to be encapsulated (called sequencing) and either streamed down to remote Windows clients or installed on them. Apps executed in a virtual environment allowed a greater level of isolation and security. This also had the benefit of making it possible for apps developed on one version of Windows to live happily on a later version without requiring recoding or rearchitecting that application to work in the new environment.

Processing Virtualization
This category includes clustering software, parallel processing software, OS virtualization and partitioning, and virtual machine (VM) software. Microsoft has partnered with many companies, including Platform Computing for parallel processing, NCR for clustering technology, VMware for VM capability and with several suppliers to offer containers, a form of OS virtualization and partitioning.

As the use of each of these types of processing virtualization technology grew, Microsoft offered its own products to address these needs, placing it in direct competition with its former friends.

In the case of VM software, Microsoft acquired Connectix and its Virtual Server in February 2003, which placed Microsoft in direct competition with its friend VMware.

Network, Storage and Management Virtualization
For the most part, Microsoft still relies on partners, such as Cisco, Juniper and others, for network virtualization technology.

On the storage front, Microsoft has added storage virtualization features to its server OS, but still relies heavily on partners such as EMC, NetApp, HDS and others for a complete storage virtualization story.

Microsoft has a number of different products for managing different types of virtual environments. These include Microsoft SAM for software asset management; Microsoft MDM for mobile application and device management; and Microsoft MOM for comprehensive -- and Microsoft-focused -- operations management.

Microsoft relies on many partners for comprehensive, multi-vendor management tools.

Dan's Take: Comprehensive Strategy
Like many suppliers, Microsoft offers products that fit in many of the virtualization layers, and continues to rely on partners to address the requirements of other layers. When an individual market gets big enough -- often $500 million -- Microsoft makes its move and either develops its own competitive technology or acquires a former partner to compete in that market.

For the most part, Microsoft offers products that support a Microsoft-centric computing environment, and partners with others to support multi-vendor computing environments.

It's important to consider that Microsoft's strategy typically is based on continuous refinement, rather than trying to do everything, for everyone, everywhere, always. Because of this strategy, technology gets integrated into its software, and improves with each release.

About the Author

Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. He has been a business unit manager at a hardware company and head of corporate marketing and strategy at a software company. In his spare time, he's also the managing partner of Lux Sonus LLC, an investment firm.

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