Virtual Server Roadmap Redrawn

If you've noticed that Microsoft service packs seem to be flush with new features, apparently Microsoft has too. The company announced a new name for Virtual Server 2005 Service Pack 1 on Wednesday. It is now called Virtual Server 2005 R2.

Virtual Server 2005 SP1/R2 has been in beta testing since April and remains on schedule for release by the end of the year. The new "R2" name will take effect at the release to manufacturing milestone.

Meanwhile, Microsoft added a post-R2 version of Virtual Server to the roadmap. Not yet named, the new version of Virtual Server will support the hardware-level virtualization platforms being developed by Intel and AMD.

Virtual Server 2005 R2

The most notable new feature of the R2 version of the year-old Virtual Server 2005 is support for Linux guest operating systems. Other new features include: support for x64 versions of Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP, allowing more virtual machines per host; performance enhancements such as improved hyper-threading; built-in support for network installations of guest operating systems; and higher availability through support for clustering across hosts.

"The addition of the new features is the reason we are renaming the release to R2, in line with our release naming guidelines," Microsoft said in a statement.

The name change has important implications for licensing. Had the new features been delivered in a service pack, they would have been free for customers already running Virtual Server 2005. In an R2 release, current Virtual Server customers without Software Assurance contracts must purchase a new license to get the new features.

Post-R2 Virtual Server

The post-R2 release is scheduled for beta testing in the first half of 2006 and general availability in the second half of the year, Microsoft said. Introduced via a demonstration this week at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, the post-R2 version will be the first version to support the Intel VT, or "Vanderpool," and AMD "Pacifica" chip-level virtualization capabilities. Both Intel and AMD are working to make their chips more adept at running multiple operating systems simultaneously.

The beta release should roughly coincide with the first availability of server chips from the two chipmakers sporting the new virtualization architectures.

Microsoft has been hinting that Virtual Server might go away after virtualization is integrated into Longhorn Server through Microsoft's "hypervisor" technology. To be clear, Microsoft has not been promising that hypervisor would be available with the initial release of Longhorn Server, which is currently set for 2007. Bob Muglia, senior vice president of the Windows Server Division, has said that the hypervisor technology might debut in a Longhorn Server service pack or R2, in the 2008 or 2009 timeframe.

"This release will provide customers and partners an important transition from Virtual Server 2005 to the Windows hypervisor technology, which will be delivered in the Windows Server 'Longhorn' wave of products," Microsoft said in a statement about the post-R2 version of Virtual Server.

For more context on Microsoft's server virtualization plans, see the ENT Special Report on Microsoft's Virtual Roadmap.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.