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Virtualization is hot because Windows is not.

Like many frustrated Unix weenies I bear a long standing resentment for the way Microsoft simply obliterated the enterprise server market back in the mid 90’s. Whether your favorite flavor was Solaris, HPUX, AIX, or IRIX (mine!

Like many frustrated Unix weenies I bear a long standing resentment for the way Microsoft simply obliterated the enterprise server market back in the mid 90’s. Whether your favorite flavor was Solaris, HPUX, AIX, or IRIX (mine!) a Unix guy grew up with things like reliability, uptime, shared resources, multitasking, simple interface and openness.

You gotta hand it to Microsoft who entered an extremely competitive market place for enterprise servers and blew it away with a cheap OS. I don’t know how many times I heard IT directors say.

“I can buy a Windows NT system for half the cost of a Sun box. And I don’t have to spend any money on training because anyone out of high school can manage a Windows box.”

Well a funny thing happened on the way to cheap server nirvana. Those brilliant IT directors soon realized that they were buying Windows on a project by project basis. In other words, every new application required a new Windows box. That happens to be the way most IT departments work and it is a good thing for Microsoft because that is the way Windows works! As anyone who ever tried to do anything compute-intensive on their desktop while their Symantec Anti-virus program was doing a scan knows, Windows is horrible at multitasking. Want a DNS server? Get a new HP Proliant and load it up with Windows Server. New HTTP server? New database server? New device to drive the video monitors at the security checkpoints at the Detroit airport? Buy a new system. Oh, is there a problem with memory leakage? No worries, just rewrite your SLA’s so they say “less than 5 minutes unscheduled downtime per day” and reboot every system at midnight. Need better uptime? Buy two servers per application. They are cheap.

Just two problems. IT projects are not as long lived as companies and resources need to be re-purposed occasionally. Also, there is just so much room in the data center for power hungry heat spewing servers. And wouldn’t it be nice to run more than one application on an under-utilized server that does not look so cheap anymore?

Along comes VMWare, a scrappy little company that though it would be cool to allow users to switch between OS’s on their laptops. What really appealed though was the ability to run multiple instances of Windows on the same hardware. One instance for each application! Voila, virtualization. VMWare solved a huge problem that Microsoft and IT buyers had created for themselves. How huge? Look at VMWare’s valuation after last week’s IPO: approaching $25 Billion!

Is this bad? Maybe not. Maybe it is just a natural adjustment in the way the world works after the disruptive effect of Microsoft entering the enterprise market. It is just frustrating to Unix people who are left saying "I told you so."