MS sets virtualization story, but licensing may need review

Key pieces due this year, others will take longer

Microsoft last week fleshed out more of its virtualization story, outlining everything from management to migration but leaving out some licensing details it may have to revisit.

The company said development of its System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) is complete and that the software would ship by the end of the year. VMM, which integrates with System Center Configuration Manager for provisioning and Operations Manager for monitoring, is perhaps the strongest virtualization product Microsoft has in its growing arsenal. VMM helps users configure and deploy virtual machines.

The company also said the stand-alone version of Hyper-V -- called Hyper-V Server 2008 -- would be free when it ships in 30 days. Previously, Microsoft set the price at US$28.

The move was seen as a reaction to VMware's announcement July 22 that its ESXi server is now a free download. Still, while the versions are free, experts are pointing out that neither includes high-availability features, which doesn't make them likely candidates for production deployments.

In addition, one other important feature Microsoft needs to compete with VMware could take more than a year to show up. Live Migration, which lets users move virtual machines between servers without any downtime, likely won't ship for more than a year, Microsoft said.

The features will come in Windows Server 2008 R2. If Microsoft follows its release cycle established in May 2004 that calls for a major operating system upgrade every four years with a lesser "R2" release in between, then Live Migration won't come until 2010 at the earliest.

Experts say from a competitive standpoint Microsoft cannot wait that long since it is in catch-up mode to VMware and Xen-based hypervisors. Critics of Hyper-V's predecessor, Virtual Server, often cite its lack of live migration capabilities as one reason it was not ready to support performance sensitive or critical applications

In addition, observers are encouraging Microsoft to again review its virtualization licensing. The company recently lifted a 90-day license transfer restriction on server applications licensed under a volume license agreement, such as Exchange and SQL Server. But the move left out in the cold small and midsize companies that don't have those agreements.

Page Break

"What is the point of lifting the restrictions just for volume licensing applications? Why not remove them for all applications?" says Chris Wolf, an analyst with the Burton Group.

Without the volume licensing agreement, users would be forced to buy a license for every node that the server application runs on, or may run on, as part of a virtual machine that is moved around for high-availability or disaster recovery purposes. On a two-node cluster running two server applications, the user would need to have four licenses instead of two.

The same doubling up on licenses is true for virtualizing the Windows operating system, which also does not fall under the policy that lifts the 90-day restriction.

While Microsoft did not talk about application and operating system virtualization licensing last week, it did make one licensing announcement, saying the stand-alone version of VMM unveiled in July will be on Microsoft's price list in November at US$675, which is a license per device and includes rights to the management server.

The license for the stand-alone VMM version, which has been unbundled from System Center Server Management Suite Enterprise, will be listed as the System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 Enterprise Server Management License.