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Microsoft's virtualization strategy: A Q&A with David Greschler

Microsoft's David Greschler discusses the direction of Hyper-V and how the company's virtualization strategy lays the foundation for cloud computing in part one of this interview. caught up with David Greschler, Microsoft's director of integrated virtualization strategy, to discuss Hyper-V and the company's overall virtualization strategy and plans. In part two of this interview, Greschler discusses Microsoft's vision of greater integration between server and desktop virtualization and cloud computing.

For more on Microsoft's virtualization strategy:
A podcast of the David Greschler interviewcom

Why is it important for Microsoft to provide a product from which it doesn't derive any revenue?
David Greschler: We are deriving revenue from it because it is part of Windows Server 2008, and it's one of the reasons why people will choose to upgrade to it. Our role is to constantly innovate. Going from Server 2003 to 2008, you've got to put reasons for customers to want to buy the product, and virtualization is one of the key reasons people are buying it.

Virtualization is a key strategic technology that opens up a whole new world. On a tactical level, it certainly helps customers reduce their costs -- with server consolidation, making business continuity more acceptable, and things along those lines. But more importantly, virtualization provides the foundation for what we see as the next stage in computing, which people these days are calling cloud computing.

We've been making a number of investments in that area. One is Azure, a public cloud product that allows people to host new deployments and new applications without having to own the infrastructure. Virtualization allows them to create a similar scalable environment inside their data centers and with hosters. That eventually leads to a single infrastructure that allows them to move their workloads between their on site, hosters, and the public cloud. We're working very hard to make sure that over time that people will be able to move between all three types.

A common criticism of Hyper-V is its relatively small list of supported guest operating systems. Will Microsoft expand that list?
D.G.: That's a great misconception. We've made arrangements with Red Hat, with Novell, to make sure that when people run those OSes on Hyper-V that they don't just run, but if you've got a problem, you've got a line to call so that you can get an answer. If you look at VMware, they have a huge list of a lot of operating systems that run, but where's the support behind that?

Take that over to management, with System Center. We want to make System Center the manager of managers, and we understand that if it's going to be used in the enterprise, people are going to have more than just Windows. The latest version of Operations Manager allows you to drill down to the same level of detail with Linux as it does with Windows. You can not only see that it's a VM, but drill in there and see that it's Linux and the applications running on it, so that you can tie it to Operations Manager's alerting, monitoring and health features. … The hypervisor is a critical part, but management is the center of gravity -- it's where you unlock the value that virtualization offers.

Can Microsoft customers expect additional Linux guest support, or is that door closed?
D.G.: There's never a closed door here. We are always trying to make sure that the distributions that are out there are supported. We've worked with a number of Linux distributors to make sure that we are going to support them over time.

Microsoft doesn't charge for Hyper-V per se, but VMware claims lower cost thanks to higher consolidation ratios. Is there any truth to this argument?
D.G.: There's no doubt that if you can put more VMs on a single host, you're going to be more effective. That issue will go away very soon. As many people know, the next version of Hyper-V will have those [memory management] features in it.

But the cost issue is much bigger. Certainly in terms of the software license, we're very clearly more cost effective than [VMware], and not just because [Hyper-V is] part of the operating system that you've already purchased, but because of the management cost. System Center is licensed per physical host with an unlimited number of VMs running inside, which is significantly less than VMware. And the fact that our management can do both virtual and also physical -- and VMware can only do virtual -- is a whole other set of benefits that is often not part of that calculation.

Then there are ongoing costs. This comes down to our view of virtualization vs. VMware's. VMware's view is that [virtualization] is the end-all, a specialty. Whenever something is new, it's a specialty. But when it gets to the mainstream, it becomes basically just another skill.

Our view is that over time, virtualization is a skill. It's a very strategic skill, but it is a skill. Over time, the people that you have already trained to run Windows Server will have virtualization as part of their toolkit. Having to have a separate group of people only focused on virtualization is a very costly endeavor. Our view is if you know Windows, you'll know virtualization.

What does Microsoft as an application provider think of Oracle's stance of not supporting its applications on hypervisors other than Oracle VM?
D.G.: We absolutely take the opposite view than Oracle. People count on us not just as an infrastructure provider but an app provider, and we can't block or keep out other people. We have a third party hypervisor certification program that VMware and others have been a part of where we certify that Windows 2008 runs on top of those hypervisors and can be supported. We understand that people are going to run more than Windows, and if we're going to be in the hypervisor business, we've got to make sure that people feel free that they can run more than Windows on Hyper-V.

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