Looking forward to Windows Server Virtualization

Okay, I’m English, so I spell virtualisation with an “s” but Windows Server Virtualization is a product name, so I guess I’m going to have to get used to the “z” in the title of this post…

Over the last year-or-so, much of my work has been concerned with server virtualisation technologies from both Microsoft and VMware (I haven’t really looked at the SWsoft Virtuozzo or Parallels products yet, although I am interested in some of the desktop integration that the latest version of Parallels Desktop for Mac offers). The majority of my efforts have been focused on consolidating server workloads to increase operational efficiency (hence the lack of focus on desktop products) and even though Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 is a very capable product, it is severely constrained by two main factors – a hosted architecture and a lack of management products – consequently I find myself recommending VMware Virtual Infrastructure because Microsoft doesn’t have a product that can really compete in the enterprise space.

Yet.

A couple of years back, I wrote about Microsoft’s intention to move from hosted virtualisation to a hypervisor-based architecture (in VMware product terms, this can be compared to the differences between VMware Server and VMware ESX Server) and Windows Server Virtualization (codenamed Viridian) is the result.

Last week, I was alerted (by more than one Microsoft contact) to the presence of a video in which Jeff Woolsey – Lead Programme Manager Windows Server Virtualisation team – demonstrates Windows Server Virtualization and System Center Virtual Machine Manager and, if it does everything that it promises, then I see no reason not to use the Microsoft platform in place of VMware ESX Server and Virtual Center for the majority of enterprise clients.

I’ve never doubted Microsoft’s ability (given sufficient time) to grab a huge slice of the x86 server virtualisation market and later this year we should see a new version of Windows Server (codenamed Longhorn) arrive along with Windows Server Virtualization. Soon after that, unless VMware produce something pretty fantastic, I predict that we’ll start to see Microsoft increasing its dominance in the enterprise server virtualisation market.

In the video I mentioned above, Jeff demonstrates that Windows Server Virtualisation runs as a role on Windows Server Core (i.e. a lightweight version of the Windows Server operating system using fewer system resources), allowing for an increase in the number of running virtual machines. Because Windows Server Core uses a command line interface for local administration, most access will be achieved using remote management tools (VMware ESX Server users – does this sound familiar?). Microsoft are keen to point out that they can support an eight-core virtual machine, which they consider will be more than enough to cover the vast majority of enterprise-class workloads; however I imagine that VMware would release a patch to allow this on ESX Server should it become necessary (they already support 4-core virtual SMP).

Continuing to look at what Windows Server Virtualization will offer, according to Microsoft UK’s James O’Neill:

  • There will be no support for parallel ports and physical floppy disks – floppy disk images will be supported.
  • The remote management protocol will change from VMRC to RDP.
  • The virtualization layer will provide the RDP support (rather than the guest operating system) so there should be no more of a problem getting to the machine’s BIOS or accessing guest operating systems that don’t support RDP than there is today with VMRC.
  • The web console interface has been replaced with an MMC interface.
  • It will not be a chargeable product (as for Virtual Server 2005 R2 and Virtual PC 2004/2007); however what James doesn’t point out (and that I think is likely) is that the management products (see below) will have a cost attached.
  • Windows Server Virtualization will require 64-bit processors (in common with most of the Longhorn Server wave of products).
  • It will support 64-bit guests.
  • It won’t be back-ported to Server 2003 (even 64-bit).
  • It will support today’s .VHD images.

What I have not yet managed to ascertain is whether or not Windows Server Virtualization will allow the overcommitment of resources (as VMware ESX Server does today).

From a management perspective, Microsoft is planning to release a new product – System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) to manage workloads or both physical and virtual resources including a centralised console and new functionality for P2V and live migrations. VMM will organise workload by owner, operating system or user-defined host group (e.g. development, staging and production) as well as providing direct console access to running virtual machines (very like VMware Virtual Center). For the other side of management – that of monitoring the health and performance of physical and virtual workloads – there will be System Center Operations Manager 2007 (a replacement for MOM).

In my experience of implementing virtualisation in an enterprise environment it’s not the technology that presents the biggest issues – it’s the operational paradigm shift that is required to make the most of that technology. Overcoming that hurdle requires a strong management solution, and that’s where Microsoft has been putting a lot of work in recent years with the System Center range of products.

Until now, it’s the management of Virtual Server that has been the product’s Achilles’ heel – the combination of VMM and Operations Manager will provide a complete solution for both physical and virtual workloads – and that is potentially Microsoft’s unique selling point – competing products from VMware require learning a new set of tools for managing just the virtual infrastructure, whereas Microsoft is trying to make it easy for organisations to leverage their existing investment in Windows Server administration.

Quoting Mike Neil, Microsoft GM for Virtualisation Strategy in a recent post on where [Microsoft's] headed with [virtualisation] (via John Howard):

“We want to make Windows the most manageable virtualization platform by enabling customers to manage both physical and virtual environments using the same tools, knowledge and skills”

They may just pull it off – Windows Server Virtualization plus Virtual Machine Manager and Operations Manager may not be as all-encompassing as VMware Virtual Infrastructure but it will come close and it’s probably all that many organisations are ready for at the moment.

16 Comments

  • Tuesday 13 March 2007 - 7:36 | Permalink


    Mark, this was certainly good sum of MS Virtualization…Road Map.
    But Whatever might be product or whichever might be product in the customers are going to be benefited by it. Not only Cost but factors like Product quality(testing), Experience in virtualization technology and convenience (corresponding to your existing enviornment) would be factor which will change(shift) Paradigm. Existing customers would not turn over to MS but new customers would have better options.

  • John Gregory
    Wednesday 14 March 2007 - 8:57 | Permalink


    Mark

    I work for a company who are about to emabrk on a big virtualisation project using VMWare. After reading your article would it be more prudent to wait for the Microsoft offering – especially as it looks like going to be cheaper – its just a matter of how far off it is – will it be available on the TAP Program for example?

  • Wednesday 14 March 2007 - 11:22 | Permalink


    vmzare,
    You are absolutely correct that there are huge benefits to virtualisation (whatever the product); however it does require a different way of thinking – not “servers” but “services” and not “virtual servers” but a “virtual infrastructure”. In my experience that has been quite something for the operational teams (and their management) to get their heads around and has held back virtualisation projects – that was the paradigm shift that I referred to.

    I also find that there are many customers who are either putting off virtualisation projects, or who run a largely Microsoft-based infrastructure and are talking to VMware because there is no other credible alternative at the moment. I believe that in a year’s time there will be three credible options in the enterprise space – ESX Server, Xen (which I ignored in this post) and Windows Server Virtualization – at which time the market will be very different.

    You are right that existing VMware customers will not turn over to Microsoft, but those who are holding back will certainly consider Microsoft as an option.

    Mark

  • Wednesday 14 March 2007 - 11:40 | Permalink


    John,
    I imagine that Windows Server Virtualization will be available with support from Microsoft on some form of early-adopter programme. In any case, much of the upfront work (assessing the existing workload and identifying suitable virtualisation candidates) is equally valid whatever the eventual platform. By the time that is complete you may well find that Windows Server Virtualization is available.

    Don’t get me wrong – VMware Virtual Infrastructure is an excellent product – all I’m saying is that this time next year there may be at least one credible alternative, including a Microsoft solution – something which is currently missing in the enterprise space.

    (Your IP address suggests that you are based in Europe – feel free to drop me an e-mail if you would like me to put you in touch with colleagues who may be able to help further.)

    Mark

  • Wednesday 21 March 2007 - 20:45 | Permalink


    Microsoft UK’s James O’Neill has confirmed that Windows Server Virtualization will indeed support overcommitment of memory resources (in a similar vein to VMware ESX Server) through page sharing and memory reservations.

    Mark

  • Monday 2 April 2007 - 20:35 | Permalink


    Mark,

    Interesting top up on the Windows Virtual Offering, i saw the early stages of this product at TechEd 2006.

    After using Vmwares range for the last 2 years I am going to find it hard to look at and justify a move to products such as the MS offering, the Xen offerings and the Virtual Irons of the world if I am commited now when Virtualisation is becoming mainstream to the market leader.

    The technology being offered looks competitive to VMware and this is the best thing that could happen to the Virtual industry however the age of VMware is 25% that of Microsoft so this needs to be beared in mind in terms of R and D and future development.

    On a technical side do you really think that the way the MS offering manages resources could be as robust and flexible as VMkernel? Personally i am yet to be convinced, it is certainly going to be an interesting battle to watch…..while I use Vmware in virtual comfort!

    Dan

  • Monday 2 April 2007 - 21:20 | Permalink


    Hi Dan,
    I’m glad you found this post worthwhile. I reckon that most people who are already committed to the VMware product set will share your view and find it difficult to justify a move to Microsoft; however it strikes me that many organisations are sitting on the fence at the moment, dabbling with small virtualisation implementations whilst they work out if virtualisation is the right technology choice for them (and, if it is, whether they are prepared to invest in VMware enterprise products, which are not exactly inexpensive). The arrival of an enterprise-class solution from Microsoft gives them a real alternative (possibly for the first time, although you rightly point out that Xen is becoming viable too).

    I have no doubt that VMware will remain strong in the market, but I’m also pretty sure that they will be less dominant once Windows Server Virtualization starts to gain some traction.

    I also have a suspicion that you may also be right about Microsoft’s resource management cf. VMkernel (that’s why I asked James O’Neill for some more details) – I guess only time will tell but it’s worth noting that Microsoft rarely has the best product in any segment yet they have the broad product range (backed up with marketing expertise) and there are very few organisations who don’t already rely on Microsoft software to operate key elements of their infrastructure. This may well be one of those cases where having the best technology isn’t what it’s about – being “good enough” and selling the message to those who make the purchasing decisions could get them a long way.

    it will be interesting to re-read this post in 18 months time, with the benefit of hindsight!

    Mark

  • Tuesday 3 April 2007 - 19:47 | Permalink


    Mark,

    Thanks for the swift response.

    I think you should build a forum of some kind as it will be good for people (certainly in the UK) to network. Rather than it being bombarded by teenage geek admins like VMTN!

    I am in the same mind as you as to how this virtual war will progress. As I said it can only improve the Virtual industy. I really wouldnt want a monopoly to be in place in the virtualisation industry like there is in the OS world.

    On the MS side i am interested to see what levels will be free for consumers.

    Dan

  • Tuesday 3 April 2007 - 23:10 | Permalink


    Dan,
    Nice idea re: forum but I’m struggling to keep my head above the water with the blog, day job and family commitments as it is!!!

    :-)

    Cheers, Mark

  • Sunday 8 April 2007 - 12:58 | Permalink


    Join the club!

    They are very high maintenance. If you start one up and see what audience you attract ill moderate for you if you like.

    Dan

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