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Microsoft IT Pro Townhall Event: Virtualization and Managed Services

by Harley Stagner on April 25, 2007

This particular discussion was the least valuable of the three topics. This is a shame, since I was looking forward to the virtualization discussion most of all. We had the privilege of seeing the defensive side of Microsoft when questions that were critical of Microsoft were asked. The panelists in this discussion were Bob Muglia: Senior VP, Server and Tools Business, Microsoft Corporation, Ron Markezich: VP of Managed Solutions, Microsoft Corporation, Dan Holme: Windows and Office Technologies Consultant, Intelliem, and Mark Minasi: Technology Author and Directory Services MVP.

First of all, notice that the discussion was on two diverse topics: Virtualization and Managed Services. Each one of these could have been a panel discussion of its own. While they are complimentary, the two topics deserve separate attention. Also, this particular discussion was given during lunch, which cut into the focus quite a bit. I suspect that was because we were scheduled to be finished with all of the discussions and Q&A by 2:30PM, but more on that in another post.

When the questions started rolling in, the conversation became very heated at times. The main topics of discussion included:

  • Licensing with regards to virtualized Operating Systems and Application stacks
  • Open Virtualization API’s for interoperability with other vendors
  • Applications built for virtualization platforms
  • Did I mention Microsoft Licensing?

What can I say? You invite a group of outspoken IT Professional consultants, writers, and educators who deal with Microsoft Licensing on a daily basis and you are going to get a few tough licensing questions.

George Ou posed concerns about the 90-day moratorium on moving a Windows virtual machine to a new host machine. He was referring to the licensing overview found in this Microsoft whitepaper. Basically, the paper explains that you may not reassign software licenses for server products to another server within 90 days of the last assignment unless the previous server has failed. A server in this case is a physical server or host machine. Microsoft requires that the license for the Server Product be assigned to a particular physical server. If the previous host server has failed then the customer may move the license to a new server sooner than 90 days.

The server failure provision was explained to us by Bob Muglia from Microsoft as the answer to the 90 day dilemma. So, we should not worry about it if a server fails. We will be able to move the license, no problem. This solution is laughable for those who regularly VMotion their virtual machines for maintenance on the physical host machine. Not to mention, this 90-day restriction renders VMWare’s Distributed Resource Scheduler technology almost useless.

On the topic of open virtualization API’s, one analyst asked if the API’s provided by Microsoft were truly available to all vendors or if they were only available through strategic partnerships. The answer from Microsoft was basically that the API’s were available right now and have been available for two years. The analyst then mentioned that other virtualization vendors were having a difficult time receiving access to the API’s unless they were in a strategic partnership. So far, Microsoft has partnered with Xensource (two years ago, coincidence?) and Novell. If the example that the analyst gave was representative of vendors other than Novell and Xensource, then the API’s are not truly shared or open at all.

With regards to the virtualization licensing and the open API issue, it’s as if Microsoft is that kid who brings the baseball to the backyard game, but can’t really play all that well. The kid figures if he can’t play well, then nobody should be able to play. He takes his ball home. Please bring the ball back Microsoft. We all want to play.

The fact that some applications were not good candidates for virtualization also came up. Exchange was the example that was given. So, I asked if there was any thought at Microsoft on creating slimmer applications or applications that are coded to take advantage of virtualization as a platform. Well, I didn’t get to the latter because the answer I got zeroed in on the slimmer application portion of the question. The way I saw it was that users in my environment don’t use the majority of “features” that Microsoft Office 2003 offers. Also, many companies might be perfectly happy with a solid email and calendar system that was slimmed down to perform only those functions.

Bob Muglia from Microsoft basically stated that “This conversation (the one about slimmer office applications) has been going on for fifteen years” and that nothing will be changing. He also stated that companies who aren’t using the “advanced features” in their products may find that they do need them in the future. If this is the case, then why has this conversation been going on for fifteen years. Apparently, the IT Pro community and customers have been trying to send a message about their concerns over “bloated” Microsoft products for fifteen years. Is Microsoft listening?

After that response, that was my cue to stop the questioning. I was not able to get into another possibility besides slimmer applications. Perhaps applications in the future can be coded in such a way that they are intimately familiar with the underlying virtualization platform through api’s or some other means. If the code is written in this manner, then it might be possible to increase the performance of certain applications without sacrificing features. I am not a professional developer, so I don’t know exactly how this can be achieved today. However, these conversations should have been at the forefront of the panel discussion. Instead, I get cut off and accused of asking the same question that has been asked for fifteen years. I don’t know about you, but when a question is asked and no answer is received for fifteen years, I would keep asking. What do you think?

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