Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Take A Test Drive Of Microsoft's Virtualized Server Software

Windows Server software is available in a virtualized format for what Microsoft is calling its Test Drive Program.

Microsoft is taking a step toward the world of virtualized software products by making Windows Server 2003 Release 2 Enterprise Edition available in virtualized format for what it's calling its Test Drive Program.

Microsoft announced its VHD (virtual hard drive) Test Drive Program on Tuesday at VMworld 2006 in Los Angeles, the third annual user group meeting of virtualization vendor VMware.

SQL Server 2005 Enterprise Edition Service Pack 1 is also available for download off Microsoft's site as a virtualized file. And early in 2007, Windows Vista will be made available for similar, 30-day trails. The goal is to let potential customers evaluate and test the products more quickly, without requiring an on-premises server set-up, says Mike Neil, Microsoft's senior director of virtualization.

The software will be made available in Microsoft's virtual hard disk format, meaning the operating system and database have been captured in a single file along with the virtual operating system of Microsoft's Virtual Server. Customers may take the file and "load it quickly in a virtual machine instead of needing hours or days to configure a physical piece of hardware and install the software," says Neil.

Microsoft is not using the latest general release of its Virtual Server software. Instead its packaging Virtual Server Release 2, Service Pack 1, a beta version, for the downloads. Because of that, the virtualized files will be able to take advantage of the virtualization hooks, or shortcuts allowing direct access of CPU hardware instead of going through the operating system, that have been built into the latest Intel and AMD chips, Neil says. The result is higher performance for its Virtual Server virturalization engine.

Microsoft is making the same virtualized files available to independent software vendors building Windows applications. They too will be able to distribute their products in the VHD virtualized file format, ready to run in a virtual machine without further configuration. Partners expected to start distributing products in VHD format by the end of the year include BEA Systems, Check Point, Network Appliance, and Platespin.

Although just a preliminary step, the move brings Microsoft and its partners into closer accord with a practice of producing "software appliances," or single file combinations of operating system, database, and application that are configured to run together without much system administrator intervention. The "appliances" are showing growing popularity in among Linux users because of the time and cost savings associated with them. VMware technology partners, for example, produce over 300 appliances using Linux.

By putting together its own virtualized, downloadable files, Microsoft has moved much closer to the software appliance approach. It's training its partners in the practice as well. By lifting the 30-day time limit, they too would be offering appliances for quick download and adoption.

Microsoft now gives away its Virtual Server virtualization engine. Over the last 11 months, it has experienced about 500,000 downloads, Neil says.

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