Microsoft positions virtualization in the private cloud

Consolidating servers is 2007 thinking. Windows shops need to detach computing from the physical world so users can get resources based on individual needs.

BELLEVUE, WASH. -- Across the spectrum of servers, desktops and applications, IT shops are either installing or seriously mulling over virtualization as a means of saving money on hardware, energy and shoe leather.

Although these practical rewards are what will drive IT shops to use the technology, Microsoft has taken on the tough job of changing the mindset of the IT manager. It's not enough to consider virtualization for server consolidation or to simplify management. Rather it's just one stepping stone to user-centric computing, where provisioning is based on the need for computing power, not on any sort of device.

As people move beyond the idea of consolidating with server virtualization, they then will see that they don't have to treat the data center as Box A, Box B and Box C, explained David Greschler, director of the integrated virtualization strategy at Microsoft. "They have this much compute power."

Also, end users don't all have to receive the same desktop or laptop, loaded up with the same suite of applications.

It's not a new message from Microsoft, which has touted elements of this strategy first as its Dynamic Systems Initiative, and more recently as Dynamic IT. It's just that now the company finally has a suite of products it can sell to back up the services vision it wants to promote.

At the Professional Developer's Conference in late October, Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Microsoft's server and tools division, said the company will offer details about the broad set of services required for on-premises cloud computing and how virtualization is crucial to scalability.

Changing Windows desktop

This kind of resource control is merely a dream for today's IT shops. Though many IT shops are dabbling with some virtualization tools, those projects sometimes get shelved in favor of more mundane but necessary needs.

One IT manager of a corporation that sells specialty coffee, who declined to be identified, said his company has installed seven servers with Microsoft's Hyper-V, with initial plans to virtualize some of its Web servers. On the desktop, virtualization is "nice to have but there are always other priorities," he said.

But other shops want to change the way they provision end users as soon as possible. Next January, Providence Health & Services, a healthcare company with facilities in five western states, will use Citrix Systems Inc.'s XenApp to deliver Microsoft's application virtualization technology, now called App-V, to 8,500 desktops.

Providence Health & Services has to prepare 200 different images for its platforms and wants to cut that number down. User needs are vastly different, ranging from office-type accounting tasks to the specialized needs of ER employees and everything in between, said Leonard Mickelsen, a desktop engineer at the company.

Integrators with small and medium-sized business customers are doing a lot with Citrix XenApps, mainly because these smaller-sized companies have tiny IT staffs, if they have anyone at all. "We are trying to keep everything simple for them," said Scott Mattingly, president of Alliant Communications, in Yakima, Wash.

Moving forward

Microsoft has been slow to polish its story. Last week at a company event here, Microsoft said it would release its standalone version of Hyper-V in a month, at no cost. The company has deepened its already tight relationship with Citrix Systems with a joint offering for virtual desktops due later this year.

Microsoft technology remains years behind that of archrival VMware Inc., which will host its own virtualization blowout at VMworld next week in Las Vegas. Microsoft has delayed its live migration feature until 2010 when it releases Windows Server 2008 R2, whereas VMware's VMotion has been out for years. VMotion switches virtual machine workloads on the fly while servers are running.

Microsoft has taken big steps to catch up. It has products where there were none before, said Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based consulting company.

So the question then becomes, how much of the wheel do enterprises want to reinvent? "For most IT shops, there is a vast amount of housekeeping that needs to be done," Cherry said.

For one thing, they have to figure out where to start. Microsoft has a great set of tools for IT shops that have a lot of in-house talent and Enterprise Agreements with the vendor. Companies that don't have these agreements cannot get some of the tools. For example, App-V is part of Microsoft's Desktop Optimization Pack, which is sold only to customers with Software Assurance (SA) in their licensing agreements. Enterprise Agreements include SA.

Shanen Boettcher, general manager of Windows Product Management at Microsoft, recommends small steps. IT should start by picking a certain type of end user and virtualize a few applications for that employee. "Just get the benefits of that piece," Boettcher said.

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