There's been a lot in the press around Microsoft's next generation virtualisation offering, namely Windows Server virtualisation, WSv, most of it good, some of it not so good, but, nevertheless, it's clear to see that Microsoft are making inroads in this area - eWeek agrees. There is however, a key point to note, that we all have to accept. WSv won't ship until 180 (potentially!) days after the release-to-manufacture (RTM) of Windows Server 2008, scheduled for February time. This means that if WSv does take that full 180 days to ship, you're looking at August 2008. Whilst we're frustrated that we can't get it out sooner (it may be sooner - 180 days is the maximum, remember!), when it does ship, you know you're getting a well-tested, stable release, ready for production workloads. Any sooner, and we risk providing a product which isn't up to scratch. You can however, start to play around with WSv in the latest public build of Windows Server 2008, RC0, so feel free!
I have every belief that when it does ship, it will be on a par with VMware's latest ESX offering, and whilst it won't have some of the features that ESX has, including a well trusted record in the industry, it will have a number of advantages, particularly around the scalability, and the management; something Microsoft has excelled with, and System Center emphasises this point. I'm not going to sit here and talk through a feature by feature comparison with ESX - it's just not worth it. I believe that VMware have done a great job in the industry - they've brought virtualisation into the mainstream. Even Microsoft has to accept that virtualisation probably wouldn't be as high profile as it is now without them. It's not however, just about the 'hypervisor'. We'll have one, VMware will have a different one, Xen will have another - there needs to be a key differentiator, and Microsoft believes it's the management. I agree. I'll save that discussion for another time.
So, from a Microsoft perspective, what can you do now? Were you just thinking of upgrading to Windows Server 2008 for the virtualisation? If so, that's a shame, because there are a hell of a lot of great features, from the fantastic, now-componentised IIS Web Server offering, which is more scalable and secure than ever before, right through to Server Core; a minimal-footprint, command-line driven installation of Windows Server. People asked for these features, and Windows Server 2008 delivers. I'm not even going to mention Read-Only Domain Controllers, BitLocker, Network Access Protection, SharePoint Services, Windows Media Services, Secure FTP, Failover Clustering and Geoclustering. See, told you I wouldn't mention them!
The question is, are you going to put off your Windows Server 2008 deployment to coincide with WSv? Or, are you going to have a mixed environment and a staggered deployment, keeping some 2000/2003 boxes, and bringing in WS2008 boxes to add key functionality, then when WSv ships, upgrade the rest of the machines and get the full benefits of a native WS2008 infrastructure? I guess that's a decision for you to make. If I had to talk about my ideal scenario, an organisation would already be running WS 2003 R2 SP2, with Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 on top, which provides me with me virtual infrastructure, managed by a combination of System Center Operations Manager 2007 (which will monitor and look after the physical, and the virtual machines), Virtual Machine Manager, (which will manage the hosts, and virtual machines, and allow quick deployment from templates, intelligent placement, P2V and more), Configuration Manager 2007, (which will look after the patching and software deployment side of your infrastructure, physical or virtual), and Data Protection Manager 2007 (which handles the backups of the physical, and the virtual machines). These 4 management products are the key to a strong virtual infrastructure. Virtualisation is nothing without strong management. The key for me is, if I were an IT Admin, I wouldn't want to use a million different tools to do my job - even worse if they look completely different! System Center software, particularly the 4 I've mentioned, are all based around this MMC 3.0 look and feel. Hierarchy's on the left, tasks on the right, content in the center - it's easy to pick up, use, and integrate, and that's another key point, the integration of these products. They just work. It's that simple. Would you say that your infrastructure can scale rapidly? What if Operations Manager picked up that your web farm was becoming saturated with traffic - sent a message to Virtual Machine Manager, which loaded a Virtual Machine template, already configured for that web farm, and intelligently placed it onto a particular host that was least utilised, and balanced the load. All while the administrator is asleep. How does that sound? This is the kind of thing that is possible. This is the kind of thing that is possible right now, using System Center, and Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1. That kind of dynamic, scalable architecture is one that many companies dream of. It's all possible on the core Microsoft platform.
WOW that was a long paragraph!
It doesn't have 64 bit VM's, you can't Live Migrate virtual machines, but it does scale, and it integrates perfectly with System Center. Microsoft use it to virtualise 1400 production servers. The best thing? Once you are ready to go over to WSv, you'll be able to use System Center Virtual Machine Manager to easily migrate the VHD files over to the new servers, meaning that solid foundation you've set up now, is still perfectly in tact when WSv hits, and your virtual machines will have all the benefits of running on WSv. Your physical infrastructure will also have all the benefits of running on WS2008!
I've chatted for far too long in this email, but I hope you can see what I'm trying to get at, and I'd appreciate your comments - I'm not interested in a VMware vs. Microsoft debate - both have strong offerings on the table and with VMware in particular, the virtualisation industry owes them a great deal. I'm interested in constructive discussion about virtualisation, management, the big picture, and where you see it going.
So, how can you start to learn even more about virtualisation and this 'bigger picture' idea? I've starred a couple of these that I feel are key sessions:
Partner Specific Resources:
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Windows Server 2008 is soon to be launched in February and one of the key new features is Virtualization.