Microsoft makes Virtual Server R2 free

The move reflects the competitive virtualization software market

Microsoft Corp. today announced that it will give away its Virtual Server R2 for free, a move seen as reflecting the furiously competitive virtualization software market.

This is Microsoft’s second price cut for its flagship virtualization product, which can host multiple virtual machines running either Linux or Windows. Virtual Server 2005 originally cost $999 and $499 for the Enterprise and Standard editions, respectively, when released in September 2004. Microsoft then released Virtual Server R2 at $199 and $99 for the Enterprise and Standard editions, respectively, in December.

Longtime virtualization market leader VMware Inc., which already had a free product called VMware Player, responded in February by making its GSX Server free. Meanwhile, Linux-based vendors such as XenSource Inc. and Virtual Iron Software Inc. are readying new or updated versions of their virtualization software.

With today’s change, Microsoft is eliminating the Standard edition and making its Enterprise edition available for download at no charge.

Zane Adam, director of product marketing for the Windows Server division, acknowledged that the move is partly a tactical reaction to other vendors’ moves. “But even before R2 arrived, we were already signaling this was the direction we were going in,” he said.

Microsoft entered the virtualization market in 2003 when it bought Virtual PC for the Macintosh and the then-unreleased Virtual Server from Connectix Corp. It claims 5,000 customers for all versions of Virtual Server today, with a total of 700,000 downloads of the product. Adam declined to speculate on how many users Microsoft hopes to gain by making the software free.

Microsoft has itself played a role in the rapid commoditization of the virtualization software market. A year ago, it said it would fold a hypervisor -- software that manages virtual machine -- into R2 of the upcoming Longhorn Windows Server, which is expected around 2009.

“We think that virtualization will eventually be just like having wheels on your car; it’s just going to be there,” Adam said.

Microsoft also released add-ins to allow current and past enterprise and standard versions of both Red Hat Linux and Novell Inc.'s SUSE Linux to run on top of Virtual Server as guest operating systems. Microsoft will also offer 24-hour technical support for Linux applications and guest operating systems running on Virtual Server.

Microsoft said that it has signed up 45 vendors as licensees of its freely available Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) format. Licensees, including Brocade Communications Systems Inc., BMC Software Inc., Network Appliance Inc. and XenSource, are making their applications interoperate with VHD, and thus Virtual Server.

VMware announced today that its similar but competing virtual machine disk-format specification will be available to all developers and vendors without charge, restriction or license.

Much of the marketing by Linux-based virtualization vendors such as XenSource and Virtual Iron touts their faster speed and greater efficiency over VMware. Microsoft’s Adam says that such speed claims won’t impress customers in the future.

“We saw it in the processor wars. A split-second faster response time is not what’s important,” Adam said. “Everyone’s going to have a hypervisor that runs at similar speeds. But the customer is already moving away from speeds and feeds. It will be about the ecosystem and the partners you have.”

Related Item:

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon