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Coming: Virtualization Validation Program From Microsoft

Microsoft hopes to have validation testing services available when its long-awaited Windows Server virtualization technology comes online next year.

Microsoft hopes to have validation testing services available when its long-awaited Windows Server virtualization technology comes online next year.

The Hyper-V server virtualization technology, to be delivered both as a standalone server and with some Windows Server 2008 SKUs, is due within 180 days of the operating system. The new Windows Server itself is promised in the first quarter of 2008.

Microsoft had already set up a set of test harnesses and published specifications to help ISVs and developers get certified or "logo'd" for the technology.

But the new validation program will also let outside virtualization providers test their wares running atop the server upgrade.

"The goal is to validate Windows Server for these solutions. We'll validate our own [virtualization] but VMware is out there, Xen and Citrix are out there. We need a good way to give customers confidence so we announced this program last week to give them an opportunity to validate with Windows Server," said Jim Ni, group product manager for Windows Server Marketing.

The process consists of a set of what he calls self-explanatory tests which should be available in mid 2008.

In the meantime, corporate developers considering a move to Windows Server 2008 plus Hyper-V should start thinking about how virtualization applies to their applications and how the applications should be managed, Ni said.

In the pre-virtualization world, developers put the applications on the server and went about their business. With virtualization, "you'll have the flexibility to have a new application sit in a virtual machine but you have to think out what the ramifications of that are; if it's a CPU-intensive app or if it's I/O intensive, can it co-exist with other I/O intensive apps?" Ni added.

An executive with a virtualization company who did not want to be named agreed. "Internal apps guys have to do testing before taking the plunge. But usually heavy I/O apps, mission-critical database servers, Exchange Servers, etc. are not candidates. But all those other apps, they're consolidating those."

For corporate developers, the important thing is to test applications on the new virtualization infrastructure. Ironically, software testing is how virtualization penetrated most businesses to begin with, said Jack Zubarev, COO of SWSoft, the maker of Virtuozzo virtualization.

"Every Fortune 2000 organization has some kind of in-house development team and in the Fortune 100, some may have very substantial development. Virtualization was first widely adopted in the testing and QA processes and that is how virtualization conquered the enterprise," Zubarev noted.

In that testing process, it will become apparent that some in-house applications do not lend themselves to virtualization.

"Many resource-intensive apps are typically not virtualized because of the overhead associated with the hypervisor," Zubarev said. He cited compute-intensive trading systems as examples of apps better deployed on physical hardware. For smaller applications, virtualization is the way to go because of the cost savings it can realize.

Virtualization as a category poses an interesting challenge to Microsoft's operating system dominance, rivals and observers say. Some maintain that since the hypervisor virtualization layer sits between the metal, operating system and the rest of the stack, that customers will no longer care much about what the underlying operating system is. The OS as a branded entity loses importance, they claim.

According to this camp, as hypervisors proliferate, companies will flock to application appliances, where the operating system components -- just the ones needed -- and application components are pre-packaged on hardware and plugged into the corporate infrastructure.

"People are starting to ship apps as virtual appliances -- with the app, the OS, all you need, wrapped up on a VHD or VMDK file and shipped off. There's no setup or startup issues," said the virtualization exec who requested anonymity. VHD and VMDK are the formats used by most virtualization offerings.

BEA Systems is starting to go down this appliance path already pioneered by companies like rPath and PlateSpin. Most of these solutions rely on Linux. Microsoft, while it has enlisted hardware partners to test Windows 2008 and Hyper-V, still lags in that area.

While rPath primarily works with commercial developers, the story is similar for corporate development groups, said Billy Marshall, CEO of Raleigh, N.C.-based rPath. "Their life changes when there's a hypervisor on every server. When that happens, you can separate the application evolution from the hardware.

"You choose the operating system component you want regardless of hardware," Marshall continued. "This changes what you worry about. You still have to worry about stuff, but you might have an easier, more enjoyable worry."

Marshall uses an unnamed, huge electronic commerce company as an example of customer trauma in the current world.

"Every month, this company changes out 1/36th of its hardware as leases expire. The OS that ran on the old hardware inevitably won't run on the new hardware -- it's three years old, has old drivers, things change. Then they have to port a bunch of apps to run on the new OS. In the future, as you roll out the hardware with the hypervisor on the bottom, apps come the way they want and they roll all that right onto the hardware without changing anything," Marshall noted.

For developers, he said, this is great news. "If a developer decides he likes Java version 7.3.4.1 or whatever from this Web site, he can choose that because the IT constraints associated with the standard hardware no longer apply. He's separated from that."

And if Linux is a fraction of the price of Windows, they may be inclined to swap out Windows for that.

Microsoft, of course, contests that worldview. "Developers write to the operating system now and will continue to. That abstracts out the hardware for them -- it's an isolation barrier. And it does things like resource management. The operating system will continue to be important in that scenario, only it could be running on a virtual rather than a physical machine," Ni said.

About the Author

Barbara Darrow is Industry Editor for Redmond Developer News, Redmond magazine and Redmond Channel Partner. She has covered technology and business issues for 20 years.

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