Microsoft Touts Virtualization In Server 2008 R2 SP1

Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 is now in public beta and is slated for launch in the first half of next year. The update includes a pair of key new features: Dynamic Memory, which allows memory on a physical host to be distributed to virtual machines running on that host; and RemoteFX, a set of desktop virtualization enhancements that allows video and other rich content to be delivered to desktops, laptops and thin clients.

Rand Morimoto, president of Convergent Computing, an Oakland, Calif.-based solution provider and Microsoft partner, says Dynamic Memory not only improves memory management in Hyper-V environments, it's also going to force VMware to find different ways to attack Microsoft.

"Dynamic Memory is something that VMware has been digging on Microsoft about," said Morimoto. "But VMware is running out of things to say they do better than Microsoft."

Microsoft's view is that virtualization is an operating system feature, and it's been steadily filling in the gaps in its portfolio. VMware, meanwhile, still holds a commanding lead over Microsoft and Citrix in enterprise virtualization market share, but it has been busily identifying and playing up weaknesses in Microsoft's virtualization story.

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When Microsoft added Live Migration in Windows Server 2008 R2, VMware started focusing on Dynamic Memory. But Chris Ward, senior solutions architect at Greenpages, a solution provider in Kittery, Maine, doesn't agree with Microsoft's assertion that Dynamic Memory feature in Hyper-V is a major new addition.

"Dynamic Memory is nothing close to what VMware has had for years so far as memory over-commitment and transparent page sharing," Ward said.

RemoteFX, a feature that stems from Microsoft's January 2008 acquisition of Calista Technologies, makes server-side GPUs appear to VDI clients as a local resource and extends rich media to thin clients. It's an enhancement to the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) in Remote Desktop Services (RDS, previously known as terminal services).

RemoteFX is a compelling feature for VDI environments, but the fact that it requires Hyper-V could be a stumbling block for some customers, according to Ward. "No one in the enterprise space will touch Hyper-V with a 10-foot pole, and those that do will come begging for their VMware within 6-12 months. I’ve seen it happen numerous times," he said.

Convergent Computing, however, has found RemoteFX to be useful for training internal consultants. Previously, when the company needed to stream training videos to remote consultants, it had to do so over the Web. With RemoteFX, Convergent can handle video streaming through RDS and maintain direct connection to its internal business apps, said Morimoto.

"With RemoteFX, we can now provide high definition video to RDS remote users," said Morimoto. "Instead of slow, jerky, low-resolution video, we are now pushing professional-grade video within a normal remote desktop session."

The new features in Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 will give Microsoft ammunition for cost comparisons with VMware. At Microsoft's partner conference last month, COO Kevin Turner invoked the well-worn mantra of the "VMware tax" in describing how Microsoft is ready to compete with VMware on a "feature by feature" basis.

"With R2 [Microsoft is] matching up. We've got some stuff. They've got some stuff," Turner said in a keynote at the event.

But for Greenpages, which handles both VMware and Microsoft virtualization deployments, Microsoft's cost-savings argument rings hollow.

"No way does Microsoft have a better product. After you add up the pricing/licensing costs of the management infrastructure, manpower, and additional hardware that's needed, it may be equal in price, but it's not cheaper by any stretch," said Ward.