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SYS-CON's Virtualization Journal - Exclusive Q&A with Microsoft's GM for Virtualization Strategy

Mike Neil: "Customers are ready and looking for a long term virtualization investment"

"Virtualization is an emerging industry," says Mike Neil, Microsoft's GM for Virtualization, in this Exclusive Q&A with SYS-CON's Virtualization Journal. "But given the increasing demands on IT and decreasing resources and funding allocated within businesses, customers are ready and looking for a long term virtualization investment," Neil continues. The Q&A with SYS-CON's Jeremy Geelan covers a wide range of very timely topics.

Virtualization Journal: Do you agree with Dell's Drew Engstrom that "virtualization has matured to the point where it is not just viewed as a red-hot, solve everything' technology, but as an effective means...to meet specific business needs and objectives"? Are we really that far along already?

Mike Neil: This is a challenging time for the IT industry and our customers. Doing more with less resources has never been more true. And virtualization software has matured at the right time so that customers can save money on buying fewer servers, use less energy in datacenters and use less real estate. While adoption is still low for both server and desktops, the economics of server consolidation using virtualization software is compelling. For example, a Windows Server admin who's never used virtualization before but knows how to use Windows Server could be productive with Hyper-V in a short amount of time. For example, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center expects to save more than $325,000 annually by consolidating an additional 75 servers. And more than one-third of that savings is attributed to reducing datacenter power.

Virtualization Journal: So business benefits are both real and tangible, from virtualization?

Neil: Yes, there are many customers seeing substantial benefits from virtualization. For example, Costco Wholesale began a consolidation projects back in 2006 using Virtual Server 2005 to reduce IT costs and decrease their server footprint. They have since migrated to Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V on five servers which host more than 50 virtual machines running Exchange Server, domain controllers and other applications. Setting this up in a clustered environment enables them to have high availability for all these virtual machines. And they used System Center for the P2V conversions and to provision and manage the virtual and physical environment.

In order for customer to see these savings, they also should not have to pay an arm and a leg for transformational technology. At one-third the cost of competing offerings, Microsoft's virtualization and management tools are making virtualization more tangible to customers ranging from the small to enterprise.

Virtualization Journal: What then is Microsoft's particular approach to virtualization technologies, and how does it stand out from competitors' approaches?

Neil: Our goal is to help customers make their IT systems more self-managing and dynamic so that customers can gain more control of their IT systems, drive down complexity and cost, and become more agile. We are also working to enable customers to take advantage of their existing platform investments while utilizing their existing support skills and infrastructure.

There are three strong distinctions in Microsoft's strategy:

  • We support customers' virtualization strategies across servers, desktop, applications, the presentation layer, and systems management tools
  • We believe holistic management is a critical tool for desktop and datacenter virtualization. Microsoft's System Center suite lets customer manage, operate and backup both physical and virtual computing assets with a unified management platform.
  • We are removing barriers to virtualization by offering the best value. Through the Windows platform, a vast hardware and software partner system, and initiatives around solution accelerators, licensing and interoperability.

Virtualization Journal: Did the delay of Hyper-V have any effect on Windows Server 2008 adoption rates? How is the enterprise uptake of Hyper-V going?

Neil: While Hyper-V was an anticipated feature of Windows Server 2008, customers saw the immediate value with such additions as Network Access Protection (NAP) and IIS 7.0. Windows Server sales have been also aided by customer adoption of 64-bit Exchange Server 2007 and the new SQL Server 2008. As a result, adoption for Windows Server 2008 has already outpaced previous versions, with sales roughly 10 percent higher than Windows Server 2003 in the same period of time. We're seeing especially strong results in our high-end workloads. And, according to IDC, Windows Server 2008 is poised to dramatically shift the industry, driving the adoption of key trends including multicore, virtualization and 64-bit.

In less than three months, we've seen nearly 270,000 downloads of Hyper-V. And our server OEM partners have seen Hyper-V attached to nearly 100 percent of their Windows Server 2008 sales. This response speaks to the industry's readiness for virtualization.

Virtualization Journal: How does Microsoft reassure customers that they'll be able to manage the potential chaos of ever-increasing numbers of virtual machines living in the datacenter?

Neil: Keeping track of virtual machines is most difficult when customers are asked to use and maintain separate tools to manage their physical and virtualized applications, systems and other images. This causes complexity and blind spots.

For example, Kroll Factual Data has virtualized 85% of the production datacenter. That translates to 1,600 virtual machines running on a combination of Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V and Virtual Server 2005. And these aren't run-of-the-mill applications being virtualized. Kroll is able to run 300,000 business transactions per day in this environment.

With customers like Kroll in mind, Microsoft's approach is to let customers manage both physical and virtualized assets with a common management platform called System Center. System Center allows customers to utilize skill sets across the suite of tools, for both virtualized and non-virtualized IT assets. With System Center Virtual Machine Manager, you can manage the conversion of multiple physical servers into virtual assets, and enable IT administrators and authorized users to rapidly provision VMs. System Center Configuration Manager simplifies change and configuration management of the physical data center. System Center Operations Manager allows customers to make health monitoring of physical and virtual applications more efficient, and it works in conjunction with System Center Virtual Machine Manager. And to provide continuous data protection on physical and virtual machines running Sharepoint, Exchange or SQL Server for example, you can add System Center Data Protection Manager to the mix. And the best part, customers can buy all four of these products with one license to manage unlimited number of virtual machines per server.

Virtualization Journal: How about the desktop, what use scenarios does Microsoft see for centralized, virtualized business desktops?

Neil: Windows Vista along with our server, application and presentation virtualization software, helps customers optimize the desktop experience for employees' needs. Customers can decouple the traditional desktop stack of hardware, operating system, applications, and data, making desktop management more efficient and easing change and user migration.

With these technologies companies can create a flexible desktop environment -- one where users can log on to any managed PC connected to the corporate network and have the same familiar environment and access to applications and data, while enabling IT departments to reduce costs and deliver applications and data services that are compliant with their data security and regulatory requirements.

Virtualization Journal: What is the Microsoft interop story, so far as its virtualization offerings are concerned? What cross-platform interoperability is in place?

Neil:
We're working with the industry on standards for virtualization management APIs and industry hardware standards for device virtualization. Microsoft is committed to enable and support interoperability with non-Windows OSes. We take a multifaceted approach to interoperability:

  • Customer-driven industry collaborations, such as agreements with Citrix/XenSource, Novell and Sun.
  • Creation of the Server Virtualization Validation Program that is open to any software vendor to test and validate their virtualization software to run Windows Server 2008 and previous versions of Windows Server.
  • Standards that promote common technologies, such as device virtualization through the PCI-SIG and Open Virtual Machine Format through the DMTF.
  • Proactive licensing of IP, such as extending the Open Specification Promise to Microsoft's Virtual Hard Disk format, and the hypercall API of Windows Server Hyper-V.
  • Creation of technologies that bridge different systems, such as the integration components and virtual machines add-ins for Linux.

Virtualization Journal: How about the pending release of System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008, what's the significance of that?

Neil: System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 provides integrated, multi-vendor management for virtual environments, including Hyper-V and VMware ESX. VMM 2008 also includes a new feature, Performance and Resource Optimization (PRO). PRO enables customers to dynamically manage the performance of their virtual hosts and guests and provides optimization awareness down to the workload level enabling customers to take either manual or automated remedial action once an unhealthy or inefficient machine state is identified.

System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 will also be available as a standalone product to Volume Licensing customers, in addition as part of the Server Management Suite License.

This is an exciting time for us and our customers. In October, all of our datacenter and desktop virtualization products will be available; including a hypervisor, management tools, a configuration manager and application virtualization software.

Virtualization Journal: How is virtualization furthering Microsoft's Software + Services initiative? How do you see it bring cloud computing closer to reality?

Neil: With a fully virtualized environment on-premise and in the cloud, customers will have a very fluid layer where it's about the computing resources. In a cloud computing environment, virtualization will allow for the most efficient use of the cloud computing resources, especially in multi-tenant situations where multiple workloads can run on the virtualized environment and make full use of all the computing resources. Applications can run virtually, either in the cloud, on the client, or both. They can also be delivered in a software + services model too, either streamed down from the cloud, or deployed by internal systems such as System Center Configuration Manager.

Appliances are likely to be one of the biggest benefits of merging of virtualization and cloud computing. Paying per usage is a fundamental characteristic of cloud computing - organizations that embrace chargeback are better prepared for cloud computing. Virtualization enables and motivates chargeback model.

Virtualization Journal: You are keynoting at SYS-CON's 4th International Virtualization Conference & Expo in San Jose, CA, in November; did you ever think that by as early as 2008 an event like this would already be on its fourth iteration (with a 5th iteration coming up in April 2009 in London, as a matter of fact)? Has the sheer speed of virtualization interest and adoption surprised you?

Neil:
Like I said earlier, virtualization is an emerging industry but given the increasing demands on IT and decreasing resources and funding allocated within businesses, customers are ready and looking for a long term virtualization investment. From listening to customers, learning what they need and delivering real solutions - that's how we've been successful in the past, and will keep being so in the future.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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