Delivery of Microsoft's Virtual Machine Manager beta adds credibility to virtual story

On April 16, 2006, I wrote (in another unnnamed tech pub) about Microsoft's plans for a virtual machine management platform , then code-named "Carmine," which was being designed for Microsoft's much touted virtulization hypervisor under development, then code named "Viridian."These product promises were downright ethereal at a time when market leader VMware was printing money and preparing its version 3.

On April 16, 2006, I wrote (in another unnnamed tech pub) about Microsoft's plans for a virtual machine management platform , then code-named "Carmine," which was being designed for Microsoft's much touted virtulization hypervisor under development, then code named "Viridian."

These product promises were downright ethereal at a time when market leader VMware was printing money and preparing its version 3.0 virtual infastructure, and Microsoft's entry level virtualization product, Virtual Server, languished as virtual laughingstock outside of a small minority of Microsoft's most loyal, tightknit ecosystem of customers and partners who actually used it.

Two years ago, Redmond's so-called virtualization platform of the future was vaporware,  a marketecture whose blueprint seemed to be conceived out of Microsoft infamous marketing machine (rather than its labs) and concocted as a way to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) about a rival whose brainchild, like Netscape's Navigator,  posed a serious threat to the Windows kingdom.

Virtualization, after all, crushed the lucrative per CPU economics of the Windows server and in VMware circles, relegated the modern operating system to the trashpile. The Redmond brass, which bid unsuccessfully (and quietly) for VMware (and lost out to a more generous EMC), was in a bit of a panic, but acted quickly to make up for lost ground.

Microsoft executed perhaps one of the smartest partnerships of its history -- a  technology sharing pact with XenSource, the open source alternative to VMware, whose virtualization knowledge is very deep, and very respected.

Microsoft's virtualization story is a lot more credible these days. Its planned virtualization management platform, now formally named System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008, was delivered into pubic beta testing today at the Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas, well within the 60 to 90 day window Microsoft promised after the public beta delivery of its Viridian hypervisor, now formally known as Hyper-V.  

The first feature release test version of Microsoft's HyperV hypervisor, dubbed a release candidate, was made available last month and promised for shipment in August. With the System Center VMM expected to ship shortly thereafter, it looks like Microsoft will have its bona fide virtualization platform after all.

Today, Microsoft said the platform will allow customers to "configure and deploy new virtual machines" and "to centrally manage their virtualized infrastructure, both virtualized and physical servers and applications, whether running on Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V, Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 or even VMware ESX Server. "

 Consultants who are steeped in virtualization technology say that Microsoft's virtual machine management platform is not up to par with VMware's more sophisticated Virtual Center, as it lacks live migration capabilities.

And despite the support for VMware ESX, it's no doubt that Microsoft's hypervisor and virtualization management platform will likely be used predominantly by Microsoft-centric customers in Windows-centric environments. Still, that's a pretty healthy demographic given that Microsoft owns about half of the server OS space.

And let's not forget that Microsoft has a lifelong partnership with Citrix, XenSource's new owner.  I'd bet good money that the software giant will get more out of that deal than compatibility with Xen software.

No doubt, the OS giant will try to revolutionize the economics of the virtualization software market, appealing to its massive installed base of small, medium, and enterprise volume customers whose expansive and complicated licensing agreements with Microsoft defy even the most adept economists' attempt at ascertaining true product cost. In any case, the pricetag for the hypervisor and manager will be sufficiently buried as if it were indeed part of the Windows server (as originally planned) and to the satisfaction of the purchasing agent and to the CIO who knows a bargain when he or she sees it. 

VMware has continued to rule the market, even as the code names of both Microsoft products have had version 2.0 successors. Still, the laughing is tapering off as Redmond's promises turn into deliverables.