On.. Microsoft, Virtualization and stuff I don’t understand.

This morning I read this article, once again someone is predicting the death of Microsoft. They almost have a point. Windows Monolithic structure was totally redeveloped for Longhorn. Then ditched in favour of a much more modular approach. There were articles on the web about it. So the Guardian article is right, developing such Monolithic structures in software of this size is proving too difficult. However the point that the Guardian article is missing is that Microsoft has already identified its short coming in this area and is moving to a more agile development methodology.

What bothered me about the Guardian article, other than the missing out a large section of why Longhorn was so delayed, was that it seemed to be a long advert for XenSource. I, like a number of other people I suspect, have no idea what XenSource is or what it does, or what the virtualization software mentioned in the article actually is. So I went and had a look for information. First stop Wikipedia where I got this gem:

“In computing, virtualization is the process of presenting a logical grouping or subset of computing resources so that they can be accessed in ways that give benefits over the original configuration.”



“A new trend in virtualization is the concept of a virtualization engine which gives an overall holistic view of the entire network infrastructure by using the aggregation technique. Another popular kind of virtualization, and currently very referred to in the media, is the hardware virtualization for running more than one operating system at the same time, via nanokernels or Hardware Abstraction Layers, such as Xen.”

Okay still not put in plain terms. So from what I can make out virtualization is one thing pretending to be another, or multiple-other things. So instead of building a server farm I get one big hefty server and run multiple instances of VirtualPC or some similar such virtualization software as separate server instances. The thing is,.. we already do this where I work, currently we have Team System and Sharepoint in a test environment which is entirely VirtualPC driven and has a complete virtual network infrastructure.

Which leads to the question of what is so special about XenSource’s virtualization software, why does it spell the end to windows and the embracing of open source software by all and sundry? Apparently the specialness of XenSource’s software is the ability to run the Xen Hypervisor layer between the OS and the hardware, allowing multiple OS to run simultaneously on a single server, thus pushing forward the whole single large server vs. multiple server data centre type approach.  Although Xen aren’t the only company doing this, they seem to be the most popular.  What impact this has on Microsoft I can’t actually see, people will still need to own and run a Unix, Window or other OS install and the same factors will influence this decision as already do surely?  Am I missing something?  To my mind OS vendors have nothing to worry about. Maybe Dell and HP should be concerned as it may reduce hardware volume sales at the enterprise end of things.

Even if the base server is running Linux in order to run hypervisor technology from Xen or whoever else at the end of the day the actual infrastructure for the network will run from that companies chosen OS.

It has been proposed that Virtualization is an elegant way for Windows Vista to maintain legacy compatibility, which indeed it would, effectively running an older version of windows as virtual machine within itself. This is how the Playstation 2 maintained backwards compatibility with the Playstation 1. Personally I think if Microsoft want to really move forwards they need a break with legacy stuff fairly neatly, or fairly rapidly. Like the switch from Win98 to WinNT based operating systems. I think there will come a time in the development of the Vista platform (remember it is now a modular OS so is more akin to a platform for future development) when legacy will be forgotten about and it can finally achieve what it set out to do.

As usual there will no doubt be holes to be patched, those that love it and those that hate it. One thing I can almost guarantee is that Microsoft will outlive me. Virtualization or no virtualization.


2 Responses to “On.. Microsoft, Virtualization and stuff I don’t understand.”

  1. 1 Bert Armijo September 13, 2006 at 6:04 pm

    ” . . . people will still need to own and run a Unix, Window or other OS . . .”

    It’s not quite that simple. Today, running Windows or Linux means you spend a great deal of time managing those operating systems and the time you spend interacting with the system generates clout for them. Their APIs lock you in and lead to markets for tools, training and even management systems.

    What John’s speculating about in the article is the power of virtualization to encapsulate the entire OS. When run in this way the OS and software running on it become an appliance, you have no more knowledge of the OS than you do the OS on your router or cell phone.

    How far we can go in this “appliance” direction remains to be seen. I’m biased because I’ve been working on this for two years, but I can tell you that among our users (some of whom run fairly complex applications) we get asked about MySQL, WebLogic, or IIS and never about the OS supporting that software.

  2. 2 buzzsort September 13, 2006 at 8:40 pm

    Thanks Bert,

    So is this another virtual machine type approach? Where what its running on matters less than what is running?

    I do feel that if people had to interact with their cell phones more they would care what OS they are running. For example people using PDAs already care if it is PalmOS or WindowsCE. I do however like the idea of the application being the main focus, not the OS, I figure thats what all these attempts at cross platform languages is about, Java, .NET and even the web as a platform.

    As I said I don’t fully understand so I’d love if you could explain how a virtualised server will need less management than a non-virtualised one. If this is the future,.. I want to be ready!

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