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VMware, Sun deals boost Microsoft in server virtualization market

Microsoft is cutting down barriers to its entry into the server virtualization market with interoperability deals with new hypervisors from VMware and Sun.

The interoperability agreements Microsoft Corp. signed last month with competitors it's trying to catch in the server virtualization technology market will do more than just improve integration. They'll make Microsoft more credible in a market in which it trails badly, and ultimately guarantee it a much greater server virtualization market share, according to analysts.

The agreements with VMware and with Sun Microsystems Inc., which recently announced it will ship its xVM hypervisor during the second quarter of next year, require both to ensure their virtualization server technology can support Microsoft's hypervisor, Windows Server Virtualization (codenamed Viridian). The two vendors signed an agreement last month that will allow xVM to run on Microsoft's Windows operating system and Windows Server Virtualization to run on Sun's Solaris operating system.

Microsoft partner Citrix Systems Inc., which bought the open source XenSource server virtualization technology on which Sun's xVM and Novell's virtualization engine are based, also promised to announce new virtualization packaging and interoperabiblity deals with hardware manufacturers within the next few months.

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"It's a good thing that we're getting more interoperability," said Vince Conroy, chief technology officer of FusionStorm, a systems integrator (SI) and managed services provider (MSP) in San Francisco. "It's really necessary, because virtualization is going to become commoditized. It's a fact of life, and it's going to get integrated into every OS."

VMware is trying to keep its lead with enhancements to the server itself, as well as its diplomatic work with competitors.

But VMware doesn't have its own operating system, and as hypervisors become more integrated with operating systems, that will help Microsoft and its partners attract more customers, said Bradley Shimmin, an application infrastructure analyst for Current Analysis.

"Long-term, Microsoft is going to kill the entire market, because they're making agreements with the companies that compete with them," Shimmin said. He added that the strategy threatens VMware more than Sun, because Sun does have its own operating system to support.

But Conroy, who describes FusionStorm as "vendor-agnostic," isn't as certain about Microsoft's chances to become the server virtualization market share leader.

"I don't know how that's all going to pan out," he said. "VMware is the 800-pound gorilla in the market, and that's probably what Microsoft and Sun are trying to strategize towards."

The interoperability agreements will also make Microsoft partners look better, because it gives them more opportunities to do integration work for customers, said Ken Young, chief technology officer of NuSoft Solutions, a Microsoft partner in Troy, Mich.

"I see customers saying, 'Now we're more willing to choose Microsoft,'" he said. "They seem a little more comfortable once it opens up."

Microsoft's Virtual Server product has just a 7% share in the server virtualization technology market, according to IDC. Microsoft executives have said they have a major opportunity, however, because the number of servers running server virtualization software is only 5% and is growing quickly.

Microsoft Virtual Server -- like VMware Server and VMware Fusion -- is a Type 2 hypervisor whose performance is hurt by the need to run on top of an operating system and feed commands from its own virtual servers down to an extra layer of software. Both xVM and Windows Server Virtualization, as well as the market-leading VMware ESX Server, are Type 1 hypervisors, which run directly on hardware platforms.

Although products are coming out around the same time next year, Young said the competition will do more good than harm for Microsoft partners -- even if Sun takes some of Microsoft's server virtualization market share. The more that large vendors get into the server virtualization technology market, the more it legitimizes hypervisor technology as a whole, Young said.

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