I've been trying to sort out how Microsoft plays in the rapidly moving world of virtualization technology for industry standard systems. I've spoken with over 50 different companies who are actively trying to carve out their niche in this world. I'm sure that there at least 50 more out in the market that have been too busy to chat with me.
Microsoft is trying to play a major role in virtual machine software. It has an entry in access virtualization as well. It would claim that its development tools and runtime environment constitute application virtualization. It would also point out that SQL Server has strong support for parallel, multi-machine server configurations as well. From the sidelines, however, this set of tools appears to be a confused mess of separate technologies rather than the cohesive environment it could be.
I believe that there are forces at play back in Redmond and Bellevue that will bring things together if the leaders of Microsoft will allow it.
Much more than virtual machine technology
As I've mentioned before, virtualization is far more than merely virtual machine software. I've pointed this out to Microsoft over and over again over the last twelve years. I've touched on this in a number of posts.
The tool I use to better understand virtualized environments and where specific products fit was published the post Sorting out the Layers of Virtualization. Virtualization touches on many different layers of hardware and software and was a key factor in the mainframe-based datacenter in the past. It is going to play the same role in the industry standard system-based datacenter of the future.
Like a crab
Long ago, I learned that the best way to understand the direction Microsoft was going was to contemplate a crab. A crab looks one way and walks another. Microsoft does the same thing. It's far better to watch what it does rather than listen to what it says. Microsoft has a long history of saying one thing and doing something else. Sometimes, the words and the deeds are vaguely related. Sometimes, what is said seems to be calculated to move industry thinking away from a better approach being offered by a competitor rather than clearly defining what Microsoft is going to do to help its customers.
If we look at the software Microsoft offers, it is easy to see that the company plays in nearly every layer of virtualization. It offers products or capabilities (Windows itself has "sucked up" quite a bit of technology over the years) in the areas of access, application, processing, and storage virtualization. It also has the beginnings of management for its own virtualized environment but, is sorely lacking in the management of the overall environment.
If Microsoft seems not to be part of the exciting industry dialog that occurring about virtualization today, we can't attribute that to a lack of technology. Microsoft clearly has developed or acquired technology that give it a strong voice in the discussion.
Why is it, then, that Microsoft seems to be on the sidelines of the amazing industry rush to virtualize every aspect of the functioning of solutions based upon industry standard systems? It is clear that there are two different issues here.
The first is a narrow view of what virtualization really means. Microsoft's view seems to be that virtual machine technology is virtualization. End of story. This, by the way, is something I discussed with them many times over the years and this focus hasn't changed until very recently.
The second is a patchwork quilt composed of many different types of licenses and terms and conditions that are applied to its operating systems, its development tools, its data management products, its access technology and its applications making it very difficult or very costly to apply virtualization technology effectively. This, by the way, is true both of virtualized client and server environments.
Microsoft is just addicted to nailing down software to a specific piece of physical hardware and is trying to bring that approach into the fluid, rapidly moving world of virtualized environments. In the world of virtualization, everything is logical, not physical. Microsoft's effort to tie each piece of its software to physical systems is a major inhibitor to virtualized environments.
Trying to understand the whole picture
In my attempts to understand what Microsoft is doing, I asked my contacts at the company to point out public documents that lay out Microsoft's plans, its products and its licensing policies. They were happy to try to help.
Creative use of incompatibilities
Unfortunately, everything they pointed to was in a format produced by Office 2007 that is not compatible with Office 2003, StarOffice or OpenOffice.org. I was facing one of Microsoft's creative use of incompatibilities that force people to upgrade to a different version of one of their Microsoft's products even though the one they're currently using is good enough for the tasks they perform.
It was pointed out to me that there is a compatibility kit that will, at least, allow Office 2003 to work with documents, spreadsheets and presentations produced in the new format. Unfortunately, the only way to get them was to allow Microsoft's Website to load the "Windows Genuine Advantage" software.
You're stealing and we know it
Windows Genuine Advantage checks what's running on a person's system and reports back to Microsoft. It appears to continue checking the system and reporting something back to Microsoft on an ongoing basis. What is it reporting? No one knows. Furthermore, once someone installs this software, they find it very difficult to remove it. It is increasingly difficult to download anything from Microsoft's Website without having this software installed as well.
Windows Genuine Advantage appears to be based upon the belief that all of Microsoft's many customers are stealing from Microsoft and Microsoft is going to catch them in the act. Although I have licenses for all of the software I'm running, the attitude this software demonstrates really puts me off and I don't want it on my system. This attitude as also contributes to the growing interest in open source software.
I'll keep at it
So, gathering data for my review of Microsoft and its policies is taking a bit longer than I would have liked. I have gotten access to quite a few pieces of data and am starting to review it. I'll report what I learn to you.
Have any of you been able to put this patchwork quilt of product versions, licenses as well as business terms and conditions together into an understandable model? I'd love some help.