What You Need to Know About Virtual Server 2005

Following in the footsteps of VMware, which offers its server-based VMware GSX Server, VMware ESX Server, and VMware VirtualCenter management console solutions for server-side machine virtualization, Microsoft recently shipped its own server-based virtual machine (VM) solution, Microsoft Virtual Server 2005. Springing from Microsoft's 2003 purchase of most of Connectix's assets, Virtual Server 2005 is ready for the enterprise. Here's what you need to know about Virtual Server 2005.

Three Key Usage Scenarios
As a version 1.0 product, Virtual Server 2005 sticks to the basics, so Microsoft is targeting three key usage scenarios: software testing and development, legacy-application migration, and server consolidation. Given the upcoming end of Windows NT 4.0 product support, the latter two options will likely get the most attention as Microsoft tries to move its NT 4.0 customers to VMs running on top of Window Server 2003 or migrates those customers directly to Windows 2003. The VM route is, perhaps, the more interesting, because many NT 4.0 installations are single-use machines that will never be upgraded or enhanced and thus are excellent candidates for VMs.

However, because Microsoft is just entering the VM market, Virtual Server 2005 won't meet all needs. Microsoft hasn't developed a native 64-bit version of its VM products (although I expect that to happen by 2005) and hasn't yet decided whether its 32-bit version will support 64-bit guest OSs. By contrast, VMware is already shipping 64-bit versions of its server products and expects to support 64-bit guest OSs by 2005.

Integrates with Microsoft Management Solutions
Virtual Server 2005 will provide the most benefit to diehard Microsoft shops. In addition to its own excellent Web-based management tools, Virtual Server 2005 will be supported by other Microsoft management tools, including Active Directory (AD), Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM), Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS), and Windows 2003's new Automated Deployment Services (ADS). Microsoft will upgrade each of these technologies so that they provide management information that's unique to VMs. That is, these applications will know that certain OSs are running within VMs and will be able to differentiate between the virtual environments and their host environments and manage functionality that's unique to VMs, such as host RAM allotment and determining which local storage devices the VM can access.

Machine virtualization is an important market for various reasons, especially in migration and consolidation scenarios. Microsoft's VM product offers elegant management tools and will likely be bargain priced (pricing wasn't available at the time of this writing), but I'm wary of version 1.0 products. Also, Virtual Server 2005 has limitations: It runs only on Windows 2003 (though you can install it on Windows XP for development purposes), and it doesn't offer the handy support for USB devices that VMware's products offer.

On the plus side, the VMs you create by using Virtual Server 2005 are compatible with Virtual PC 2004, and you can easily back them up and move them from machine to machine for various purposes. And Virtual Server 2005 runs on Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS) 2003, making it an attractive choice for small businesses. Finally, the configuration files that each VM requires are XML based, which means you can edit them manually or through a script. I recommend that you also look at VMware's products and watch for information about the relative performance of each company's products. Virtual Server 2005 looks excellent, but it's new; VMware's longer time in the market might make it a better VM choice, at least for now.

Did You Know?
You can configure RPC over HTTP behind an ISA Server Firewall? To find out how, go to InstantDoc ID 41639.

The Latest on Longhorn
Microsoft has informed me that it will ship Longhorn, its next major Windows release, in 2006. However, to meet this suddenly aggressive ship date, one major feature, WinFS, won't be included in Longhorn. A Microsoft spokesperson said, "Microsoft will release the new Windows storage subsystem, codenamed WinFS, after the Longhorn release. WinFS is expected to be in beta when the Longhorn client becomes available. The Windows WinFX developer technologies, including the new presentation subsystem, code-named Avalon, and the new communication subsystem, code-named Indigo, will be made available for Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP in 2006. Longhorn server is still expected to be available in 2007."

To keep current with the latest Longhorn news and updates, read the article "The Road to Windows 'Longhorn' 2004," at the SuperSite for Windows (http://www.winsupersite.com/showcase/longhorn_preview_2004.asp).

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