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Microsoft's Support Of Linux Shows Rising Importance Of Virtualization

Microsoft stunned LinuxWorld attendees last week by pledging to support Linux virtual machines on its Virtual Server and revealing free virtual machine additions for Red Hat Linux and Novell SUSE Linux. It wasn't the only dogs-playing-with-cats kind of moment last week: Apple offered up software to let Windows run on Intel-based Macs.

What's going on here? The answer is virtualization, the ability to much more easily carve up servers and PCs into compartments that can run multiple applications under different operating systems at the same time. Business interest in virtualization--particularly of servers--is picking up quickly, and vendors are racing to stake out this emerging market. The result could blur some of the hard-and-fast lines drawn between operating systems.

The appeal can be seen at RSA Security, where software engineers used to run from room to room setting up different server hardware, application, and operating system combinations to test new security products. Today, a developer tells the data center which environments are needed, and they're created as virtual machines that can run different apps on Windows or Linux, using the same server hardware, says RSA engineering director Roy Rezac. Two or more developers' virtual machines may even run simultaneously on one pizza-box-sized, rack-mounted server. Businesses see that flexibility lowering costs, improving load balancing, and increasing server utilization and consolidation.

Friends of Microsoft?

Friends of Microsoft?

"There are hardware savings, but to me that's not important," Rezac says. "The real savings is in making developers 5% to 10% more productive."

Microsoft's support for an operating system that rivals its lifeblood Windows is the most surprising development. In the past, it was possible to run Linux machines under Windows, but companies were on their own if problems arose. Support of Linux virtual machines running under Windows is a sign that Microsoft recognizes it's a heterogeneous world--companies, especially big ones, aren't all Windows. But it's also a defensive play to keep from losing the virtualization market to VMware or open source options as Microsoft tries to get its act together.

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