Why Microsoft should give away Virtual Server 2005

Virtualization as a technology is incredibly empowering. Currently, a lot of hardware sitting in corporate datacenters is sitting mostly idle (by some estimates, 80% of all processor cycles in large corporate datacenters go unused). The reason for this is mainly administrative. For instance, in my case, I could easily host almost all of my services on a larger 8 way or 16 way machine with storage on the SAN without affecting what’s probably a mostly idle machine purchased by another department, but there’s no way for us to functionally share administrative duties on that machine, so instead I’m forced to buy a series of smaller 2-way machine to break up the administrative load (meanwhile, they have larger budgets and they purchase the larger machines and leave them mostly idle). What this has done is cost the corporation what amounts to probably a 30 to 40% premium on hardware merely to solve the administrative burden of having me administer my machines and another administrator administer his.

I probably don’t need to expound upon the benefits of virtualization both from a management and resource utilization perspective. Basically, it stands to revolutionize the way hardware is provisioned. It’s the basis for the utility models that HP, Sun and IBM have been selling us (ineffectively, due to large overarching marketing efforts that try to sell us “Grid Computing” or “Adaptive Infrastructure” or “Utility Computing”, which even to most people at the companies selling those ideas means nothing).

Currently, in the commodity hardware virtualization space, which is completely different from what IBM and Sun are selling on their high-end UNIX machines, the solution has largely been VMWare ESX. I haven’t used their product, but I’ve been told it’s excellent. Microsoft has entered this space with Virtual Server 2005. Microsoft’s solution is based around a host OS of Windows 2003, and requires a CAL for every client accessing a virtual machine in Windows 2003 as well as a CAL for the Guest OS. OS Licenses for the Guest OS instances are also required.

With all the licensing required to consolidate machines on Virtual Server, with Microsoft winning dollars on the Host OS and the Guest OS, why does Virtual Server cost money at all? They’re going to make money on the additional Host OS CAL for every user accessing a virtual machine. Virtual Server technologically is still inferior to VMWare ESX’s Hypervisor micro-kernel based approach to virtualization. Virtual Server guest machines are limited to one processor, which is quite limiting if you’re planning on true consolidation. With these limitations and costs, Microsoft should give away Virtual Server 2005 free with a licensed copy of Windows 2003 Server, thusly encouraging adoption of virtualization, reducing hardware expenses for lightly used machines, destroying the low-end market for server virtualization that really shouldn’t exist anyways, and giving the higher market to VMWare while they improve Virtual Server. This would immediately remove the barrier to entry to virtualization and solve a lot of administrative issues at a lot of companies.