Partners Watch As Microsoft Rattles VMware's Cage

In addition to allowing Windows Vista Home Basic and Windows Vista Home Premium to be used in virtual environments for the first time, Microsoft is deepening its partnership with Citrix to boost interoperability between Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V and Citrix XenServer, and will work with Citrix to bring to market a set of new desktop virtualization offerings.

Microsoft also announced its acquisition of Calista Technologies, a San Jose, Calif.-based startup that focuses on optimizing the performance of virtualized desktops and applications, a move that solution providers said fills an important gap in Microsoft's virtualization portfolio.

Chris Ward, senior solutions architect at Greenpages, a solution provider in Kittery, Me., says the expansion of Microsoft's partnership with Citrix, which last October bought Xensource for $500 million, has far-reaching implications for the virtualization market.

"I believe Microsoft knows that Hyper-V cannot deliver the same level of performance as XenSource, VMware ESX, and Virtual Iron, so they're assisting Citrix with creating a migration application for moving virtual machines from Hyper-V to XenSource," said Ward.

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Microsoft's mantra is that virtualization can play a role from the desktop to the data center, and Jaymes Davis, virtualization practice manager at Entisys, a Concord, Calif.-based solution provider, says the graphical and audio capabilities Microsoft gains from the Calista acquisition are clearly intended to rattle the cage of VMware, which lacks these features.

"VMware is ahead of the market in protecting the data center and resources, but when you start bringing the desktop into the data center, there are another set of requirements that need to be handled, such as audio and video capabilities," said Davis. "These are all things that the Citrix environment has today with the Xen desktop, and this is primarily where VMware is losing out in the desktop scenario."

Hyper-V, the centerpiece of Microsoft's server virtualization plans, is slated for release within 180 days of the Windows Server 2008 RTM, and entered beta testing in December. But solution providers who've been testing Hyper-V are frustrated over its inability to perform live migrations with zero downtime, which is a key feature for enterprises.

"From a technical aspect, I can't say that Hyper-V has lived up to all of the hype," said one Microsoft Gold partner, who requested anonymity. From what I've seen of it, it's basically a new revision of Microsoft's Virtual Server product, as it still requires a base Microsoft Server 2008 OS to ride on top of, even though it will run on top of the Core version."

While Hyper-V does improve upon the performance of Virtual Server 2005, Hyper-V still leaves a lot to be desired compared to competing offerings like VMware ESX, Virtual Iron, and Citrix Xensource, the source added.

One solution provider who partners with both Microsoft and Citrix downplayed the significance of Microsoft's announcements. "As a reseller, I'm finding it harder to recommend Microsoft to my clients. It always seems like Microsoft has their hands in every technology on the planet, but then they half bake it and send it out to the world to find all the mistakes," said the source, who also requested anonymity.

Still, the arrival of Hyper-V could potentially have a huge positive impact in the channel, in the sense of forcing vendors to significantly beef up channel resources to compete with Microsoft's formidable partner program, said Greenpages' Ward.

"We've seen some movement from other virtualization vendors to quickly ramp up partner delivery resources in order to compete with the 60,000 plus partners Microsoft has worldwide," he said.