Microsoft 'Hypervisor' to Bow Early

Microsoft started off its annual Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) this week in Seattle with a bang, revealing an accelerated schedule for rolling virtualization capabilities into Windows Longhorn, and a management tool for virtual environments, as well as announcing the intent to acquire application virtualization vendor Softricity.

The company has such a glut of news, it announced much of the virtualization news a day early.

Also expected this week are official announcements of the broad consumer beta of Windows Vista, which Microsoft has referred to recently as Beta 2. In addition, the second beta of Longhorn Server is also expected, as is Beta 2 of Office System 2007.

The company Tuesday also debuted its forthcoming Microsoft System Center Virualization Manager, previously code-named "Carmine." It is designed to manage virtual machine environments. Microsoft last month rebranded its systems management tools with the System Center name.

Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates will headline the conference and both he and Bob Muglia, senior vice president of the Server and Tools Business unit, will demo the upcoming virtualization products during their keynotes Tuesday, officials told

Microsoft's coming Windows "hypervisor" is a very small piece of code that runs directly on a computer's hardware and provides support for multiple operating systems running on top of that framework. "It's really a thin layer of code," says Jim Ni, group product manager for Windows Virtual Server.

The company plans to ship the first beta of its hypervisor, which is code-named "Viridian," in 2006 and will deliver final code within 180 days after Windows Longhorn Server is released to manufacturing (RTM), Ni adds.

But that's still a long ways off, says a major competitor. Longhorn Server is not currently expected before the second half of 2007, and six months past that could easily place its final release date in the first half of 2008.

Microsoft's main competitor in the server virtualization space, VMware, was ready to point out that it already provides a hypervisor-based virtualization tool in its ESX Server product. "VMware is delivering [hypervisor-based] products today," says Jerry Chen, director of enterprise desktop at Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware.

One advantage for Microsoft, however, is its ability to integrate its hypervisor tightly to its upcoming server operating system.

Microsoft is also hard at work on Virtual Server 2005 Release 2 Service Pack 1, which entered beta testing earlier this month. That release will add support for hardware virtualization in both Intel and AMD processors. The service pack is due out in final form in the first quarter of 2007.

Meanwhile, System Center Virtual Machine Manager, which is designed to provide centralized management of virtual machine infrastructure and rapid provisioning of new virtual machines, is on track to begin beta testing within 90 days and RTM by the end of 2006, Microsoft officials say.

Finally, Microsoft announced it intends to purchase application virtualization vendor Softricity, a move that had been rumored since last week.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.