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Microsoft Tilts Toward Virtualization

As part of its broader push into the systems-management arena, Microsoft is beelining into the burgeoning virtualization space, and in the process has begun talking (and beginning to act) like a company more fully committed to interoperability with other platforms.

At its Microsoft Management Summit last week, the Redmond, Wash., software giant unveiled several new or updated products, notably the Virtual Server 2005 Service Pack 1 beta and a management pack that provides interfaces between Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2005 and Virtual Server 2005 to allow the former to manage the latter. Company officials also disclosed future plans to bake its next-generation virtualization technology -- called Hypervisor -- directly into the operating system, which is expected to occur around the time Longhorn server OS is released in 2007.

Virtual Server 2005 debuted last October as Microsoft's entry into the virtualization space, a direction the company says constitutes a key area of investment going forward. The latest service pack enables support for Linux inside Virtual Server 2005, a somewhat ironic development given Microsoft's past posture of either outright dismissal of the open-source OS or a scathing critique of it. But it also underscores the reality that customers have massively heterogeneous IT environments -- not just Windows -- and they are crying out for better ways to manage all of the infrastructure.

That reality is also in large part driving demand for virtualization. Virtualization software enables a company to run multiple operating systems, applications, middleware and other software on a single server without forcing those individual elements to scrap over system resources, such as memory, cache and CPU cycles, which degrades performance. The technology also is considered a godsend by a corporate world desperate to cut down on the amount of hardware it is running and to more fully exploit the resources of the servers they do keep churning.

Microsoft's tilt toward virtualization takes it further down a path of interoperability that in the past it has not willingly traveled. It's a calculated move, according to Microsoft President and CEO Steve Ballmer, whose keynote speech at the management summit thematically addressed the importance of being able to play nice with others. Systems management is just one piece of the interoperability puzzle at Microsoft, where it is also focused on developing Web services and XML standards. But, according to Ballmer, management interoperability is strategic.

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