Microsoft Doubles Down on Virtualization

by Paul Ferrill

Virtualization plays an ever more important role in Microsoft's long-term plan. Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 and Windows 7 SP1 each brought a number of new features to the virtualization table from their respective sides, and the virtualization offerings don't stop there.

In the opening keynote at Microsoft's TechEd North America event, Robert Wahbe, corporate vice president, Server and Tools Marketing, highlighted the importance of all things virtual to the company's future. One quick scan of the TechEd sessions list reveals virtualization talks for just about every major Microsoft product line, including Exchange, Office 2010, Project Server 2010, SharePoint, SQL Server and Visual Studio 2010. That doesn't even include the talks covering Hyper-V, Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V) or Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V).

Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 and Windows 7 SP1 brought a number of new features to the virtualization table on both the server and desktop side. The biggest new feature for Hyper-V has to be dynamic memory. This feature alone will have a huge impact on the number of virtual machines you can run on a single server. The other big virtualization update shows up on both server and client operating systems in the form of RemoteFX. Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is basing all of its Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) efforts on this technology.

Server Virtualization

Hyper-V is the core piece of Microsoft's server virtualization story. There were 29 sessions at TechEd under the virtualization heading, and 11 had Hyper-V in the title. It's easy to see from the session titles that the care and feeding of even a moderately sized Hyper-V deployment is no small task. There were sessions on virtualizing Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint and SQL Server. On the Exchange front, there was an announcement of new supported scenarios for Exchange this week. You can get the details in the Best Practices for Virtualizing Exchange Server 2010 with Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V whitepaper available on the Microsoft download site.

On the virtualized operating system front, Microsoft announced support for CentOS on Hyper-V. This brings the number of supported Linux server guests to three, when you include Red Hat and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. Of note, Microsoft has not yet delivered support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 6.0, and Red Hat released RHEL 6.1 this week. Microsoft has a great partner story, including the likes of Citrix, Dell, EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, HP, and NetApp, for building out large enterprise-scale installations.

Application Virtualization

One big part of Microsoft's virtualization story from an IT management perspective is the ability to simplify everything, from rolling out new applications to patching existing ones. Application virtualization provides a much more efficient way to handle this task than the more traditional patch management approach. Software compatibility is a huge issue for any enterprise IT organization with legacy applications tied to specific operating systems, like Windows XP. Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization 2.0 (MED-V) provides a bridge solution to allow desktop migration to Windows 7 while maintaining access to the legacy applications running under Windows XP mode.

In contrast, the App-V offering is targeted at providing centralized control of enterprise applications. App-V 4.6 SP1 is the latest release delivering a number of new enhancements and features package accelerators for a wide range of popular applications. Part of the process of virtualizing an application involves running the App-V Sequencer to isolate and identify all files required for installation. The package accelerator essentially eliminates this step and greatly reduces the amount of time and effort required for the process.

Managing It All

Help is on the way for really large Hyper-V installations in the form of System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) 2012. The beta for this product opens to the public later this month, and Microsoft plans a series of webcasts to help potential users get up to speed. In a word, this application is massive. The web-based portal has so much capability it will be a challenge to fully master. On the flip side, most people don't use a fraction of the features in Microsoft Office either.

System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) is the other heavyweight management tool in Microsoft's arsenal. At the Microsoft Management Summit in March, it announced support for iOS and Android devices in the next version of SCCM. This is pretty much a requirement if Microsoft is serious about managing every device in the enterprise.

Summing Up

The biggest problem for TechEd attendees is choosing between the multitude of sessions available at the same time. Fortunately, Microsoft provides videos and copies of the presentations for the large majority of the content on its channel9 website. You can search by topic area (tag), speaker, information level or day. You will miss the crowds at the show though.

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This article was originally published on Friday May 20th 2011
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