Microsoft Fights VMware As it Flirts With Linux

New technology allows for closer interoperability between Windows and Linux than we've seen in the past, and also puts it at loggerheads with technology offered by VMware, whose virtualization technology has been taking the industry by storm.

The early release of Windows Server 2008's Hyper-V Beta signals that Microsoft is well ahead of schedule in a key area of development. But it's not shocking: Part of the reason is that the Hyper-V technology started with the Xen source code, so the company had a big head start.

Microsoft partially funded the Xen project. In a big way, this is why the beta release supports Linux interoperability. Microsoft plans to support some enterprise Linux distros in the long term -- the first one being SUSE Enterprise 10 with SP1. To expand its integration capabilities with other Linux distros, the Windows Server 2008 group is opening up a testing program through Microsoft Connect's site. (Solution providers have to apply to get into the testing program.)

Xen runs deep inside Hyper-V's veins. Hyper-V provides components for synthetic network adapter, synthetic storage controller and Xen's Hypercall adapter. When running a Linux virtual machine, Xen calls are translated into Hyper-V hypercalls.

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Microsoft released a list of nine servers that support the current Hyper-V Beta, and additional servers that could be deployed on which Microsoft offers no gaurantees.

Other servers with similar chipsets might actually work as long as the servers include embedded virtualization. However, CMP Channel Test Center engineers are continuing to examine the software and its specifications to determine the exact hardware requirements that will satisfy the installation on additional servers. That information has not been supplied by Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft.

The beta is also limited to running only one virtual SCSI and one virtual network controller. This is sufficient to test a virtual machine but not to scale it. High availability is supported in the beta.

Hyper-V's core works outside the device driver layer so it can be made highly secure, since it only creates isolated partitions. The steps to get the service up and running are simple:
-- Install the server software
-- Open the management console
-- Choose the option to start a new virtual machine.

That's it in a nutshell.

Hyper-V is also an integrated service in Windows Server 2008, so it is not a hosted platform. The integration gives Microsoft a huge advantage over VMware because customers can get two products for the price of one.

However, there's more to virtualization than hypervisor technology. Managing virtual domains in large data centers requires sophisticated tools. VMware offers a wealth of enterprise management tools and so does its partner community. XenSource recently shifted its product line to align it more with large data centers. Other than VMware and XenSource, other hosted virtualization platforms will probably not be able to compete head on with Windows Server 2008.

As the name Hyper-V implies, Microsoft is providing basic virtualization and management support in Windows Server 2008. Engineers are in the process of testing the technology -- more details will merge as a greater look is taken into Hyper-V, the new Virtualization Management Console and other key Windows Server 2008 services.