Microsoft buys Virtual PC, Virtual Server products from Connectix

Microsoft Corp. today announced plans to acquire three virtualization software products made by Connectix Corp. in San Mateo, Calif.

Rather than buy the entire company, Microsoft instead purchased two Connectix client products -- Virtual PC for Windows and Virtual PC for Mac -- as well as a server-based product, Virtual Server, that's currently undergoing beta testing, according to Jim Hebert, general manager of Microsoft's Windows server product management group.

"We were hearing from customers that getting a supportable virtual machine solution from Microsoft would be an attractive thing," he said.

In addition to the software, Microsoft also will hire the engineering and support teams that have worked on the products, according to Hebert.

Virtual PC software allows users to run multiple PC-based operating systems and applications on a single workstation. Hebert said a typical scenario might involve a user who has upgraded to Windows XP yet wants to run an older application that was built for Windows 95 or Windows 98. Using the Virtual PC software, the user can run the application plus the older underlying operating system on the new PC, Hebert said.

Virtual PC for Mac works in much the same way, allowing users of Apple Computer Inc.'s Macintosh computers to run various versions of the Windows operating system through emulation.

Similarly, the Virtual Server software lets users run multiple distinct copies of a server operating system on a single physical machine.

Virtualization software from a competitor, VMware Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif., has become increasingly popular among Microsoft customers coping with the problem of Windows server sprawl because it can help them consolidate server operating systems onto one physical box and reduce hardware expenses and operating costs.

Connectix had been scheduled to release its Virtual Server product in the first quarter, but Microsoft security and code reviews, tuning and localization work will cause the product to be delayed until the fourth quarter, Hebert said.

Hebert said Microsoft acquired the Connectix Virtual Server software to help its Windows NT Server 4.0 move to a supportable environment. Support for the aging operating system had been scheduled to end at year's end, but Microsoft recently extended key support provisions through 2004 in recognition of the large numbers of customers who have yet to complete or plan their migrations from NT 4.0.

Many NT Server users run a single application on each of their Windows servers, either because their software vendors require it or because they worry that problems or changes to one application will cause others to crash. As a result, Hebert noted, much of the hardware running Windows NT Server 4.0 has gone underutilized.

But because that hardware is nearing the end of the depreciation schedules, many customers want to replace it, he said.

Rather than moving the Windows NT application onto new hardware that will be even more severely underutilized, the customer could choose to move it to new, faster hardware running the Virtual Server product, Hebert said. That would allow several Windows NT machines to be consolidated to a single box.

There would be an added benefit for Microsoft: Hebert said the Virtual Server software requires its own underlying operating system, and Microsoft hopes customers will run the Virtual Server software on its latest Windows Server 2003, due out in April.

"The customer ends up with fewer boxes on the floor, the ability to continue business with minimal interruption and the ability to take advantage of the benefits of Windows Server 2003," Hebert said.

The Connectix Virtual Server software allows users to run a broad range of server operating systems on a single physical server. Those operating systems include Linux, Unix, OS/2 and DOS.

Hebert said Microsoft has no plans to change any of the functionality in the Connectix products. But he did say that over time, the Virtual Server software might be built into the Windows server operating system. Hebert also said the names of the products could change at some point.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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