Microsoft hopes to play alongside Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard and others in developing "virtual datacenter" software that will make it easier to manage groups of servers and storage equipment.
"It's a problem we're excited about solving," corporate vice president of Microsoft's Windows server group," Bill Veghte, said. "It has to do with how applications are written and how Exchange and SQL Server, for example, take advantage of [the virtualisation software]."
Veghte made the comments at the end of a presentation about the upcoming Windows Server 2003 software. It was held at MS' Silicon Valley campus. Without providing details or a timeframe, he said Microsoft would provide a "system definition model" that would reduce the time it took to develop datacenter applications. It would also provide "resource virtualisation and partitioning" software that let businesses make better use of their hardware resources.
"It's about managing the application, not the box," he said. "To do that, you start with the development of the application. You describe the policy behavior and the consumptive attributes of it. That rolls into your management infrastructure."
Sun and HP already have outlined plans to offer software for building a virtual datacenter. The idea, basically, is to let administrators manage a large group of servers and other hardware as if it were a single large machine.
Another goal is also to make better use of hardware resources and make it easier to deploy and maintain applications on those systems.
Sun and HP already have started rolling out components for their virtualisation initiatives.
Veghte made his remarks as Microsoft geared up for the release of Windows Server 2003 on April 24. Veghte said it would be the company's most important software release of the year.
Microsoft hopes Windows Server 2003 will allow it to become more of a player in the datacenter, a lucrative market where Unix systems from Sun, HP and IBM are dominant today.
Windows Server 2003 was designed to fulfill three basic roles, Veghte said. It would act as an "infrastructure platform" for managing an IT environment, an "application server platform" for deploying applications, and an "information worker productivity platform" that supported collaboration and shared file access.
The goal was to provide the basic components for certain computing "scenarios" out of the box, such as deploying applications over wireless networks or enabling collaboration between workers using instant messaging, file sharing and other tools.
"Anything that is a mainstream development capability we want to deliver out of the Windows server platform," he said.
To succeed in the datacenter, Veghte said that Microsoft's operating system would need to interoperate well with Unix systems and other non-Microsoft platforms.
"There are and will continue to be significant numbers of Unix servers in the installed base," he said.
Microsoft hads to develop products that interoperated with those systems.
Veghte said that people had been "confused" by Microsoft's interoperability strategy. Windows 2003 Server contained several features that made it more compatible with other types of systems including Microsoft's existing Service for Unix which, he said, allowed Unix scripts and commands to run on its servers.
Products such as directories and application servers from third-party vendors could be used with Microsoft's new operating system, but there would be be certain "trade-offs" when customers chose products from other vendors.
Sun and HP's existing datacenter virtualisation software can manage environments that include Windows servers.
In a nod to the open source development model of which Microsoft has been so critical, Veghte said Microsoft must learn to be more "transparent" and communicate more with developers outside the company as it designed its products.
"There's a lot we can learn from Linux and the community development model," he said.
The concepts of using a community of software developers to debug products and to communicate more with customers were "all things I think we need to learn," Veghte said.
"We have to learn to participate as part of a broader community," he said.
At the same time he defended the "commercial" software development model which he said led to the development of more "rigorous" products.