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Microsoft amps up virtualization push

For its virtualization push, Microsoft will offer a subset of the capabilities fielded by VMware, for less money. And it is relying on Sanbolic, Dell and other third parties to boost its effort against VMware.

Microsoft is getting a little help from its friends to drive its virtualization effort. At a Microsoft virtualization dog-and-pony show in Bellevue, Wash., Monday, the company dropped the token $28 per server price of the standalone Hyper-V hypervisor, due later this month. Hyper-V for Windows Server 2008 has been available since July.

The prevailing wisdom is that Microsoft, as part of its virtualization push, will offer a subset of the capabilities fielded by virtualization pioneer VMware -- at a fraction of the price. And it is relying on third parties to provide some critical technologies to make Microsoft virtualization more competitive with VMware.

For example, solution providers say Sanbolic's Melio clustered file system fills an important gap for Microsoft.

A newly updated version of Melio will let all virtual machines (VMs) simultaneously access application data on the storage area network (SAN). That, according to Sanbolic executive chairman Bill Stevenson, is something even VMware's VMFS file system cannot yet do. An older version of Melio, available since the first quarter, allows users to store all virtual machine files on the same SAN storage volume; they are then simultaneously available across hosts.

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"The application data that is used by all the virtual servers running atop Hyper-V can have shared access to a shared storage volume instead of having each virtual server accessing its own storage volume, which creates a complex configuration task each time you create a new virtual machine. We allow all virtual machines to share access to the volume," Stevenson said.

He explained that server virtualization "breaks the link" between the OS and the physical server hardware, enabling multiple servers on one piece of hardware that you can "move around like a puzzle," he said. "What Melio does is break the link between the server and the storage, creating a much more flexible layer in storage," he added.

That ability could have a big impact on the Web server applications where a VAR typically sets up a virtual machine and on SAN storage volume. Without a clustered file system, if traffic increases, another virtual machine can be added as another Web server, but it needs its own storage volume and all of that data has to be copied to new volumes. With Melio, the original storage volume accommodates more virtual servers that can read and write from that single volume.

Solution providers with virtualization expertise see the appeal of that.

Melio makes "Hyper-V significantly more competitive with the VMware stuff as far as scalability goes, yes even better than VMware in some ways," said Mark Crescenzi, president of Prismworks Technology Inc. in Mechanicsburg, Pa. Prismworks does a lot of virtualization work, mostly with VMware but will also probably work with Microsoft's technology as it gains traction.

"The problem with how Microsoft servers do clustering is that only one server can access a LUN [logical unit identifier] or disk and do I/O at any one point in time. Even the Windows 2008 Hyper-V has that limitation. Melio takes away that limitation and lets all nodes access that LUN at the same time," Crescenzi said.

There will be a host of other vendors on hand Monday for the Microsoft virtualization event, including big hardware partners like Intel, Hewlett-Packard and Dell; software players Citrix, Quest and BMC; and storage powers Compellent and Hitachi Data Systems.

As part of the event, Dell announced expanded support for Hyper-V, promising integration of its OpenManage Systems Management tool and Microsoft's System Center Virtual Machine Manager. And Hyper-V will be part of Dell's online virtualization advisor, which lets customers manage licenses for virtualization software running on Dell servers.

Dell will also offer Hyper-V consulting services. Partners can resell Dell's services or provide the services themselves, Dell said.

Dell's Hyper-V support news comes in advance of a larger virtualization announcement that the company will make Wednesday. That is part of a flurry of virtualization news coming from many vendors in advance of next week's VMworld 2008 conference in Las Vegas. There the new VMware CEO Paul Maritz will address a few thousand partners on Monday before talking to the broader audience of 14,000 later in the week.

As it has in the past, Microsoft will use partners to bolster its own offering as it goes up against an entrenched competitor. VMware's election of Maritz to head the company is interesting, given Maritz's 14 years at Microsoft, where he was vice president of the platforms strategy and developer group and one of the five top execs at the company. If anyone knows how Microsoft attacks markets, it would be Maritz, VMware partners said upon the news of his replacement of former VMware CEO Diane Green.

News writer Colin Steele contributed to this story.

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