“It’s a tremendous message from them,” said Novell Canada CIO Ross Chevalier.
“It’s a real sea change from some of the messaging” from Microsoft, he said, which in most of its marketing materials has been dismissive of Linux.
In fact Chevalier went so far as to say the announcement is an admission by Microsoft’s that the faults it finds with Linux are “patently untrue.”
It was also applauded by Larry Karnis, president of Application Enhancements Inc., a Brampton, Ont. Linux integrator.
“Anytime any mainstream vendor announces official support for Linux it’s a good thing because it helps legitimize it in the enterprise.”
But he added he has doubts about doubts about Microsoft’s commitment to non-Windows technologies. Virtual Server was acquired by Microsoft from another company and supported BSD and Linux, he said. After the purchase it only supported Windows.
Microsoft announced last week at LinuxWorld Boston that not only is Virtual Server 2005 R2 (released in December for $99) suddenly available as a no-charge download, but that it has made virtual machine add-ins for Linux distributions from Novell and Red Hat Linux.
The R2 download comes in 32- and 64-bit versions for Windows Server 2003 SP1 (Standard, enterprise or datacenter editions), and XP Pro (but in non-production use.)
It one way it’s not such a big step: Microsoft says it has only 5,000 customers around the world using Virtual Server, and the technology will be included free in the next version of Windows Server, which will likely be released next year.
Virtualization software allows customers to run more than one operating system on virtual servers within one physical machine, giving the opportunity to consolidate systems or improve backups. Software and hardware companies have a range of virtualization options covering memory, CPU and storage.
Intel and AMD are building virtualization technologies into upcoming processors..
According to Alan Freedman, research manager for infrastructure hardware at IDC Canada, the leading company in server virtualization comes from VMware, a division of EMC.
While Microsoft is being generous to Linux, there is a limit: There are no plans to work with the Linux community’s virtualization software, Xen, which lets Windows run as a guest operating system.
Freedman said Microsoft’s move is an attempt to stay relevant in this market. “They realize a lot of customers are either full using or experimenting with mixed operating environments,” he said.
“Virtualization as a technology is gaining a lot of momentum as customers look to get better utilization rates from their infrastructures as well as get a better handle on manageability of systems. So as it becomes more important, its imperative that Microsoft have a good virtualization strategy.”
With server versions of Linux increasingly appearing in corporations “Microsoft doesn’t want to be shut out of those accounts.”.
Hilary Wittmann, Windows server product manager at Microsoft Canada, didn’t put it that way. “We feel virtualization should be part of every organization,” she said of the decision. “We know customers use heterogeneous environments. We tested the market and the most common (operating systems) were Red Hat and Novell.”
She also denied the move was a new bow to Linux, noting that for several years Microsoft has supported connectivity of its Active Directory to Linux/Unix LDAP directories.
She did say, however, it is an opportunity for Microsoft partners. In addition to making virtualization free it is providing royalty-free licences to independent software vendors who want to develop on Virtual Server’s virtual hard drive (VHD) platform.
“There’s a huge opportunity for system integrators, and value-added resellers,” she added. “They can provide expertise around Virtual Server, so we are working with partners to provide free training and solution guidance.”
Chevalier also sees opportunities, but for his VARs.
“It’s a wonderful announcement for Novell resellers because sometimes unnamed organizations have spread the misperception that Linux is not suited for the data centre.”
Nor will Micrsoft’s move hurt the Xen initiative, he added, because its VHD format is compatible with Xen’s, not with VMware’s virtual hard disk.
“Obviously Microsoft sees Linux is very important in the data centre,” he said, as well as tout its software. “It’s very clear Microsoft won’t be the only servers in the data centre, so by making this available it provides a nice message to the (IT) community that open source is incredibly viable.”
While his company is a VMware partner, Karnis doesn’t think Microsoft’s move to embrace Linux and make Virtual Server free threatens its applications.
VMware has already announced the next version of its GSX Server (to be called VWware Server) will be free, he said. It still charges for its enterprise-class ESX Server.