Server app virtualisation in Microsoft's sights

Summary:The switch to cloud is putting the focus on application management, and Virtual Machine Manager is changing to deal with the shift, according to Microsoft's System Center head Ryan O'Hara

Microsoft's server and tools head Bob Muglia recently noted that businesses are looking to use cloud computing in different ways: some intend to use it to revamp their IT infrastructure, while others just want to extend their existing setup. Upcoming updates to Microsoft's System Center portfolio of management tools — which includes Virtual Machine Manager, Operations Manager and Configuration Manager — add in cloud support geared to meeting these needs.

At its TechEd event earlier in June, Microsoft gave attendees a demonstration of Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) v.Next 2011, focusing on how it expects server application virtualisation to uncouple applications from the operating system and so give businesses more flexibility in managing workloads.

Ryan O'Hara, Microsoft's senior director for the System Center management suite, talked to ZDNet UK about the background to these latest Microsoft technologies for managing physical and virtual PCs. He also spoke about what the company expects from Intune, a forthcoming cloud-based PC management option targeted at small and medium-sized businesses.

Q: What is behind the integration of Microsoft's Forefront security suite and Configuration Manager?
A: Anti-malware and PC health is now a part of the overall PC lifecycle. The idea of System Center and Forefront working together is to give a more unified experience across that lifecycle.

Does that mean in the future people won't be able to use Forefront without using Configuration Manager?
They will need a Configuration Manager infrastructure, that's absolutely the case. They could use something else for PC management, but it's our hope that we'll demonstrate enough value in Configuration Manager that they won't want to do that.

That makes a lot of sense for organisations above a certain size, but what about smaller companies?
Customers using Configuration Manager and Forefront today span from the largest of the large through to organisations roughly of 500 PCs. Somewhere around 250 to 500 PCs, the dynamics of the IT organization change. There's a line where there's no longer a desktop administration team; you have more of an IT generalist staff. It's at that point where the care and feeding of infrastructure like that no longer makes sense.

For those customers we have Windows Intune, which is in beta testing today and will be brought to market within the coming year. Windows Intune is a hosted cloud-based service for managing and securing PCs. It allows IT generalists to focus on setting policy and managing PCs, instead of the infrastructure of PC management.

We think that over time, enterprises will also want to take a look at Intune, because cloud-based desktop management is really attractive in terms of changing the cost model. So as the features in Intune mature and reach greater parity with [System Center], it becomes a real option for enterprise customers.

Could Intune also be used with cloud-based virtual desktops?
It certainly has that kind of potential for future scenarios. Management of virtual desktops and virtual application packages like App-V are not in the Intune capabilities that are in beta today. But certainly you could foresee something like that in future.

Virtual Machine Manager 2008 is a key component of System Center. How has it evolved in the forthcoming VMM v.Next 2011?
We've been demonstrating a technology called server application virtualisation. This packages a server-based application, so its state is separated from the operating system. Traditional server applications tend to...

Topics: Cloud, Networking

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