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Microsoft Launches Virtualization Blitzkrieg

Virtualization vendors, watch out: Microsoft is officially in the game, and a series of major news announcements show that it's playing for keeps.

That's the message from an event held Monday at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Wash., where the software giant dished up a series of major announcements on the virtualization front and kicked off what is likely to be a virtualization marketing campaign that drives the whole market forward.

Microsoft in the next 30 days will begin offering the standalone version of its Hyper-V virtualization hypervisor -- which previously cost $28 and is also part of Windows Server 2008 -- as a free download, a chess move of sorts that follows VMware's decision in July to do the same with its ESXi hypervisor.

Mike Neil, general manager of virtualization at Microsoft, says the convergence of several different industry factors is causing more companies to decide that now is the time to take the virtualization plunge.

"Our message is get virtual now," Neil said. "We're saying that the products are there, the price is right, and the technology is there to support virtualization. This is the point where the industry and market will take off."

Within the next 30 days, Microsoft will also release System Center Virtual Machine Manager, which gives administrators the ability to manage both physical and virtual servers, and can also handle management of VMware's ESX. Microsoft sees the management piece as its major advantage over competitors, and hasn't been shy about highlighting it.

According to Larry Orecklin, general manager of Microsoft's System Center and Virtualization Group, this management flexibility will be key as the virtualization market grows and more companies see the costs of deploying the technology fall within their reach.

"Virtualization is much more available and attractive to customers than it has ever been. And with that availability, and the integration of the technology into the broader set of Microsoft offerings, we think this is really a great time in the industry," for virtualization to take off, said Orecklin.

When Microsoft released Hyper-V to manufacturing in June, some solution providers bemoaned its lack of a Live Migration feature, an important enterprise class feature that's included with VMware's ESX. But on Monday, Microsoft said when it releases Windows Server 2008 R2, currently slated for 2010, the product will include Live Migration capability.

Chris Ward, senior solutions architect at Greenpages, a solution provider in Kittery, Maine, applauds the addition of Live Migration but notes that VMware has had this capability for more than three years. "This really isn't anything special, just Microsoft trying to play catch up with everyone else in the market," he said.

Jaymes Davis, virtualization practice manager at Entisys, a Concord, Calif., solution provider, says Microsoft's virtualization strategy in the past was a bit murky, but Monday's announcements go a long way toward helping partners make sense of the company's direction.

"This puts virtualization on a platform where we can make inroads into enterprises and leverage licensing scenarios for disaster recovery and business continuity," said Davis.

Microsoft is bringing to market a much more approachable virtualization solution than those of its competitors, in terms of both price and the simplicity of using the technology, Neil said. "That's one real strength we have: We know how to make virtualization fit into the environment," he said.

Rick Wininger, technical focus lead for virtualization at FusionStorm, a San Francisco-based solution provider, expects Microsoft's entry to the virtualization space, and the significant marketing muscle it's sure to wield, to later be seen as a landmark moment.

"There have got to be 100 different virtualization products, most of which are practically unknown," said Wininger. "But now all of a sudden here's Microsoft with Hyper-V, and now everyone's really interested in virtualization."

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