Improved Windows virtualization -- is it worth the wait?

Windows admins at TechEd say they might wait for the software giant to catch up with VMware before testing large-scale virtualization projects.

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BOSTON -- Microsoft may be lagging behind competitor VMware Inc. in the virtualization market, but Windows administrators might just wait for the software giant to catch up before testing large-scale virtualization projects in their shops.

It was standing-room only at a session outlining Microsoft's virtualization roadmap and strategy here this week at TechEd, the software maker's largest annual event. Many users at the session said they had used virtualization for limited tasks but were eager to take the technology further.

Richard Benfield, a senior image developer with Wachovia Bank in Winston Salem, N.C., said his company had been using VMware's GSX server for an offshore project but now wanted to virtualize computer images that are currently created through a lengthy process with a physical machine. Despite what Benfielf said was a satisfactory performance from GSX server, he was more interested in Microsoft's virtualization platform.

"I think Microsoft is playing catch-up with VMware, but I like Microsoft products better," he said. "If I could, I would rather use some of their stuff."

Microsoft has acknowledged the growth and interest in virtualization over the last year with several announcements related to its virtualization product line. In April, it released the first service pack for Virtual Server R2. According to Microsoft, the latest upgrades to the product include support for hardware-assisted virtualization and improved backup and disaster recovery.

But the current virtualization offering is not enough to compete with VMware yet, said Peter Pawlak, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash. Microsoft will likely continue to lag behind in the virtualization space until the release of its next planned virtualization offering, Pawlak said.

Windows Server virtualization, code-named Viridian, is the next-generation offering on Microsoft's virtualization roadmap. Pawlak said he thinks many Windows shops might be waiting for the hypervisor-based product before deploying large virtualization projects.

"The current news from Microsoft is basically just a placeholder," he said. "But they know the importance of this. They are putting a lot of resources into it because the feeling is they must get it right."

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Key features in Windows Server virtualization will include 64-bit guest and multiprocessor support. Although it may not offer any clear performance benefits over competitors, Pawlak said he thought Microsoft customers might see advantages in choosing to virtualize with Windows over choosing a VMware product. "One advantage Microsoft has is in a wealth of work already done in device drivers," he said.

Windows Server virtualization will be available with the upcoming Microsoft Windows Server, code-named Longhorn. Additionally, the software company is releasing an enterprise management product for virtualized data centers called System Center Virtual Machine Manager. Neither product will be available until 2007, prompting the question of whether users are willing to keep waiting, said Pawlak.

Tobias Staley is one of those people who is considering whether to wait. Staley, an administrator with Fountain Tire Corp. in Alberta, Canada, came to the session interested in virtualization for server consolidation. "I was hoping to find out if it's worth waiting six months or more for Microsoft to catch up," he said, adding that he had not made up his mind following the TechEd presentation.

Brian Thompson, a systems administrator with Socket Communications Inc. in Newark, Calif., said he is a virtualization veteran using three VMware GSX servers to host 25 virtual machines. Still, as the manager of a largely Windows shop, he was interested in Microsoft virtualization products and cited several reasons why, including support issues.

"If you are running something like Sharepoint on a VMware server, Microsoft cannot guarantee that application if it's in a VMware environment," said Thompson.

This article originally appeared on SearchWinIT.com.

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