The Microsoft virtualization strategy and the Softricity acquisition

Posted by Staff   |   Thursday, June 1st, 2006

The last week announcement of new Microsoft virtualization strategy at WinHEC 2006 conference brought in big interest.

The importance of announcement and the technical complexity of products (the so-called Windows hypervisor will be integrated in the operating system itself) also raised customers confusion, now trying to understand how new products will address problems today they are solving with Virtual Server.

Mike Neil, Virtual Machine Technologies Product Unit Manager at Microsoft, accepted to sit down with virtualization info and clarify some important points about Windows Server Virtualization (WSV), Virtual Machine Manager (VMM), Softricity acquisition and more, in an exclusive Q&A session: Windows Server virtualization (WSV) is going to be delivered as stand alone package, within a Service Pack, or will be part of a possible Longhorn R2 version?

Mike Neil: The packaging and ship vehicle for Windows Server virtualization is still to be determined. Windows Server virtualization is being developed as an integrated part of Windows Server Longhorn and will be delivered within 180 days of Longhorn RTM. We’ll update customers and partners prior to the beta release.

VI: Windows Server version will be able to offer WSV or customers will need a special version? Something likes Windows Server 2007 Virtualization Edition?

MN: Windows Server virtualization is a platform technology that will be an integrated component of Windows Server “Longhorn” so it’ll be available as part of the operating system.

VI: Windows itself will be installed inside a WSV virtual machine? If so there will be a way to avoid using it?

MN: Windows Server virtualization is composed of three major architectural components: the Windows hypervisor, the virtualization stack and the new virtualized I/O model.

The Windows hypervisor runs under all of the partitions and provides the very basic virtualization services to create secure and isolated partitions. The virtualization stack runs as a component of Windows in the parent partition, and the virtualized I/O model has components that run the parent partition and communicate with counterparts in the child partition to provide enhanced I/O capabilities.

For a user to be able to create and run virtual machine and get all of the features and value of Windows Server virtualization they will use all three integrated together.

VI: The new Server Core feature of Longhorn will be able to offer a WSV role?

MN: Good question and one that we’re working on to finalize so we’ll have to get back to you later. There are certain roles available in Server Core right now and we are evaluating what other roles might be available in Server Core installations for RTM.

VI: WSV will be able to import virtual machines made with other virtualization platforms (VMware products and Xen in particular)?

MN: We are not planning to convert other virtualization solutions directly, but we are enabling third parties to provide customer solutions.

Microsoft is licensing our VHD format royalty free and will fully document the new WMI interface that we are developing as an industry standard through the DMTF. With this information, third parties can provide solutions that can convert other virtualization formats into a format that is compatible with Windows Server virtualization.

Additionally, users of Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 will be able to migrate to Windows Server virtualization, preserving their investment in Virtual Server today.

VI: WSV will feature high availability features, like Virtual Server 2005 already do today? (I’m talking about host OS failover capability)

MN: Windows Server virtualization will offer many high availability features to help customers produce a resilient platform for consolidation and business continuance.

Windows Server virtualization will offer guest-to-guest clustering for cluster aware applications. It will also offer host-to-host clustering that allows the automatic failover of all virtual machines to a backup host should the primary host fail. And it will allow the live migration of a running virtual machine from one host to another with little or no downtime, which can be used for servicing a host for planned downtime.

Windows Server virtualization will leverage the significantly enhanced clustering capabilities of Longhorn Server. These include a new best-of-both-worlds quorum model that produces a hybrid of Majority Node Set (MNS) logic and Shared Disk Quorum model. This new hybrid design allows geographically dispersed clusters with or without shared disks.

VI: Is WSV adhering virtualization standards VMware proposed and other vendors are considering? Or Microsoft is going to launch its own standardization?

MN: Microsoft is working with industry organizations and partners to foster interoperability and standards on many fronts:

  • Microsoft is working with the industry in the DMTF on standards for virtualization management. As part of this effort we are working with HP, IBM, XenSource and VMware as well as other partners in the industry
  • Microsoft is working on industry hardware standards for device virtualization through the PCI-SIG
  • Microsoft also provides royalty free licensing of our virtual hard disk (VHD) format
  • Microsoft will license the hypercall interface for the Windows hypervisor and a preliminary version of that interface will be provided to WinHEC attendees on their conference DVD

VI: Will WSV be able to provide hot modification of virtual hardware also for non-Windows guest OSes?

MN: Windows Server virtualization allows for the hot-addition of RAM and CPU resources to a running virtual machine. This is done through industry standard mechanisms as part of the ACPI interface. It is then dependant on the non-Windows guest operating system to supports these ACPI interfaces correctly.

VI: Has Microsoft any plans to support other operating systems (Sun Solaris 10 in particular) with WSV?

MN: We have no plans to speak of today. We’ll continue to poll our customers and partners for input on interoperability and expanding guest OS support within Virtual Server and Windows Server virtualization.

Microsoft is making our hypercall interface available to other operating system vendors if they wish to enhance their operating system to take advantage of the Windows hypervisor. Conference attendees of WinHEC will receive an draft of the hypercall API on their conference DVD.

Mike, now let’s try to clarify some points about the announced System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM), previously knonw as codename Carmine.

VI: VMM will be mandatory for WSV administration? If not, what customers will be able to do without it?

MN: Windows Server virtualization will come with a new MMC-based UI that was demoed during the Bill Gates keynote at WinHEC.

This new UI allows the administration of virtual machines on a host running Windows Server virtualization either locally or remotely. System Center Virtual Machine Manager will provide data center level virtual machine management features integrated with the System Center suite of management products. System Center Virtual Machine Manager will mange both Microsoft Virtual Server and Windows Server virtualization hosts.

Additionally, Microsoft is working with a broad set of management partners to ensure that Windows Server virtualization and Longhorn Server can be managed.

VI: There are any plans to provide a VMM version not requiring Active Directory?

MN: System Center Virtual Machine Manager beta 1 will require Active Directory and the initial thinking is for the final released product to be the same. However, the primary reason for getting the software into customers’ hands in beta form is to identify opportunities to improve the software.

Active Directory is currently required for security purposes to ensure that access to images on the network is authenticated and secure. Active Directory also provides benefits by allowing the SC VMM administrator to identify and understand all the physical servers running virtual machines that are installed in their environment and the use of Distributed File System to replicate images automatically across the network.

VI: Which opportunity will have partners to add value to VMM?

MN: We are working closely with our partners to help them understand where we are making technology investments and how they can help extend and enhance the solutions we deliver in this space….such as V-to-V and V-to-P migration, non-Windows OS configuration and image transport over SAN infrastructure.
Since System Center Virtual Machine Manager is based on top of Windows PowerShell – the new command line shell and scripting language for Windows – there are many opportunities to enhance and orchestrate its functionality through Windows PowerShell.

Mike now I’d like to ask you something about another couple of hot topics: Softricity acquisition and offering for Apple Mac OS.

VI: Is the Microsoft acquisition of Softricity confirmed?

MN: Our intent to acquire Softricity was announced at WinHEC. The acquisition is expected to close 30-45 days.

VI: What’s the strategy about application virtualization? I mean: do you plan to deliver a unified platform offering application and server virtualization at the same time?

MN: Our goal is to provide an integrated, comprehensive and cost-effective virtualization solution for our customers.

We are making significant investments both at the platform and management level to accomplish this goal. We look at virtualization at three different levels – machine, OS and application — as each level provides different levels of isolation and granularity.

Machine virtualization provides the most isolation with the least granularity, while application isolation provides the least isolation with the most granularity.

Softricity provides application virtualization that complements our other virtualization technologies – Virtual Server, Virtual PC, Windows Server virtualization and System Center Virtual Machine Manager.

With this addition, Microsoft is able to provide customers with a broad range of virtualization technologies to choose from, to achieve the right balance between flexibility, isolation and performance.

VI: If so is this going to happen for the launch of Windows Server Virtualization or there will be a further delay to achieve the task?

MN: The Softricity acquisition doesn’t impact the schedule of Windows Server virtualization.

VI: You probably know a company called Stream Theory just filed a lawsuit against Softricity and others application virtualization companies for application streaming technology. Is this going to impact in the acquisition process?

MN: I’m aware of this matter, but it’s not appropriate to make any assumptions or statements with respect to it.

VI: Few months ago Microsoft declared its intention to offer a virtualization solution for the new Apple Mac OS X on Intel architecture. Are you still on this path? If so there are raw dates for release?

MN: We haven’t declared intentions to develop a virtualization solution for Intel-based Macs. Microsoft’s Mac business unit remains in the best position to provide a fully integrated non-dual boot solution that works with Windows. This team is working with Apple to incorporate changes in the OS that could allow a Virtual PC solution to work on Intel-based Macs. We’re still in the process of investigating a universal version of Virtual PC.

Mike, the last one question is about another virtualization technology Microsoft seems to be interested in: OS partitioning.

VI: Can you tell something more about Microsoft efforts in OS partitioning you mentioned one month ago?

MN: During his WinHEC keynote, Bob Muglia stated that Microsoft is making some long-term investments in this space.

It will be a few years before you see these investments come to market, but we think that OS level virtualization is a very important component in our overall virtualization strategy. It provides an additional option for customers trying to balance isolation and scalability.