How Virtual Machine Manager may help Microsoft compete with VMware

Management platform could make the difference to unusual second-banana status

(Editor's note: This story initially misidentified the employer of James Bothe, a systems administrator at RackForce Networks Inc. The company's name has now been corrected. Also, the cost of Virtual Machine Manager has been updated with more pricing information from Microsoft.)

VMware Inc. may have the market share and, with its recent successful IPO, all the momentum.

But the server virtualization leader lacks one thing that second banana Microsoft Corp. has as of Thursday: a system management platform that gives IT administrators a single simultaneous view of their physical and virtual servers.

That's key, say analysts, as users realize that implementing virtualization tactically to save money can -- without proper management tools to aid them -- create a confusing infrastructure mess.

"It's just like when client-server computing got hot two decades ago," said IDC analyst Stephen Elliot. "There's no need to repeat that mistake again."

As the name of Microsoft's new release implies, System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2007 works closely with Microsoft's other management and provisioning products, such as System Center Configuration Manager (formerly Systems Management Server, or SMS) and System Center Operations Manager (formerly Microsoft Operations Manager, or MOM).

For instance, through its integration with MOM, VMM users such as RackForce Networks Inc. sysadmin James Bothe can get a quick snapshot rating of each physical server based on a combination of factors. Those include parameters such as CPU utilization, RAM usage, and hard drive space.

That information gives Bothe quick insight into how many more virtual machines he can deploy onto a given physical host, and what kind. "It's a unique and nice feature," Bothe said.

RackForce has been testing VMM since the first round of beta. The Kelowna, British Columbia-based hosting provider plans to use VMM to manage its 600-plus Windows servers -- it has another 1,800 Linux servers -- that each host 4-6 virtual machines created by Microsoft Virtual Server 2005.

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