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Microsoft Charges Ahead in Virtualization

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) this week gave further signs that it's ready to challenge virtualization leader VMware on its home turf, taking the wraps off its Hyper-V Server 2008 and revealing that another key virtualization component is only weeks away.

The company said Hyper-V Server 2008 will be available free on the Web, while System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) 2008 will be available within 30 days. SCVMM 2008 handles configuration, deployment and centralized management of enterprises' virtualized infrastructure in connection with solutions from both Microsoft and VMware.

The announcements came during the first in a global series of Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) marketing events promoting the Redmond, Wash. software colossus's virtualization solutions.

This week's event, held in nearby Bellevue, Wash., is also a preemptive swipe at virtualization market king VMware, which is holding its own VMworld 2008 user conference next week in Las Vegas. While VMware (NYSE: VMW) will hold court next week, Microsoft's product updates as well as its highlighting of a slew of key partners and customers at the event underscores its determination to carve out a share of the virtualization market.

It also further demonstrates Microsoft's success in rapidly mobilizing itself for a move into the area, following signs that came when the company released its Hyper-V hypervisor ahead of schedule earlier this year.

In addition to the updates on Hyper-V Server 2008 and on SCVMM -- a part of the Microsoft System Center suite of products, which provides centralized management of physical and virtual resources -- Microsoft this week also demonstrated a live migration feature of Windows Server 2008 Release 2 (R2).

Live migration, which involves moving a virtual machine from one physical server to another while its running, has been one area in which Microsoft is playing catch-up. VMware has offered live migration since 2004, while Citrix-owned XenSource, supplier of the open source Xen hypervisor, has done so since last year. The next version of the Microsoft Hyper-V server will have the live migration capabilities, Microsoft said.

The company also announced that Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5, which helps virtualize Windows Vista, would be included as part of Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack 2008 R2, scheduled for general availability sometime in the next few weeks.

Hammering at VMware

This week's virtualization confab is also designed to woo greater participation and support from Microsoft partners. For instance, partners attending the event have access to a dedicated virtualization laboratory in the Microsoft Enterprise Engineering Center, as well as training and certification.

Already this week, 20 partners pledged their support for Hyper-V. These included HP (NYSE: HPQ), chipmaker AMD (NYSE: AMD), storage vendor NetApp (NASDAQ: NTAP) -- which announced storage solutions optimized for Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V -- and Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: JAVA), which only in May announced that it would support the VMware ecosystem.

It's too early to know how much Microsoft's powering into the virtualization market may undercut VMware's position as top dog. Already, VMware has been forced to react to Microsoft's low pricing by hastily bringing out a free version of its hypervisor.

VMware also stumbled briefly with a hypervisor error at the end of July. Although new CEO Paul Maritz wrote an open letter of apology to VMware's customers within 12 hours and promised this would not happen again, some customers and partners expressed concern.