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Virtual Server Gets Off to a Late Start

Microsoft chases after VMware's technology

By Carol Sliwa
September 13, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - IT managers anxious to consolidate their server hardware will finally get to see the long-promised virtual machine software that Microsoft Corp. has been working on since it acquired the technology from Connectix Corp. more than 18 months ago.
Microsoft today plans to make available an evaluation copy of its Virtual Server 2005 software, which will let users run multiple distinct copies of an operating system on a single processor within a server. The final product is due to ship Oct. 1, Microsoft said.
But Microsoft is late to the game. VMware Inc., its top virtualization competitor, released the initial versions of its GSX Server and ESX Server software in 2001. And those products have become popular with companies that are consolidating underutilized servers, streamlining test and development environments, and setting up disaster recovery systems.
Eric Kuzmack, a Silver Spring, Md.-based IT architect at Gannett Co., said his company was looking to consolidate servers in 2002 and had no interest in waiting for Virtual Server.
But that wasn't the only reason Gannett opted for VMware's technology. Kuzmack said he prefers the ESX Server architecture, which has a built-in host operating system. In contrast, Microsoft's Virtual Server and VMware's GSX Server need a host operating system to run, and with Virtual Server, the lone choice for the host operating system is Windows Server 2003.
"Even with the slimmed-down version of Windows Server, there's a lot of extra stuff," Kuzmack said.
Eric Berg, a group product manager at Microsoft, said the company focused on capabilities that the majority of users need, and most of them currently use virtual machines for testing and development purposes. He said the company chose Windows Server 2003 as the host operating system because it provided the best performance and most secure base. Berg said Microsoft will look into additional functionality in future products based on customer feedback.
Kuzmack also expressed concern about the level of patching his company might need to do with Windows and the effect that the downtime of 15 virtual machines would have on users of the applications running on them.
"With ESX, the number of patches is counted in single digits per year, not single digits per month," he said.
Kuzmack added that with ESX, patches can be applied without requiring the applications to be taken down. Using an add-on called VMotion, Gannett is able to move the virtual machines off the server to another physical server while patching and then shift the workload back when finished.
Customer Needs
Mark Ewert, director of systems architecture and engineering at Waltham, Mass.-based Integrated Healthcare Information Services Inc.,



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