Microsoft Backtracks on Live Migration, Again

For the second time, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has put off including live migration features in its virtualization technology.

Live migration capabilities enable users to move a virtual machine (VM) either manually or automatically from one physical server, cluster or processor to another, instantaneously, while the VM’s still running. This can help IT prevent overloading of the infrastructure’s physical computing resources.

Microsoft has twice promised that live migration would make its way into its own virtualization products, which would better enable them to compete with rival offerings from vendors like VMware and Citrix, both of which offer the feature.

Company spokespeople did not say what had caused the latest delay.

Microsoft’s delay is believed to be due to technical difficulties, which also plagued it when it first tried to release live migration last year. “Migration is a very difficult technology to develop, and so it is not entirely surprising that Microsoft is experiencing delays,” analyst Dan Kusnetzky, principal of the Kusnetzky Group, told in an e-mail.

Microsoft did suggest an alternative to live migration, however: quick migration, where the VM is saved to a disk, then that saved state is reassigned to a new physical core, server or cluster and then brought up again.

That process can take six seconds, according to Microsoft’s engineers. This might not seem like a lot, but six seconds is an eon to any device where time is measured in nanoseconds or picoseconds.

Patrick O’Rourke, Microsoft’s group product manager, told in an e-mail that true live migration “will be available in the next version of Microsoft Hyper-V Server” and also in the Enterprise and Datacenter editions of Windows Server 2008 R2, codenamed Windows Server 7.

Windows Server 2008 R2 is a minor release for Windows Server 2008. Microsoft releases minor releases for products every second year and major releases every fourth year.

O’Rourke would provide further details about when live migration would be integrated into Microsoft’s virtualization products.

“We do not have specific timing details to share at this time, but you can expect us to continue to deliver against our established release cadence,” he said.

Eager for a slice of the market

Microsoft first scrapped plans to include live migration in its virtualization products in May of last year, after promising it for a product codenamed “Longhorn,” which later became Windows Server 2008. It pushed the inclusion of live migration to the second half of 2007.

Live migration, which VMware (NYSE: VMW) has offered since 2004, is a key feature for virtualization vendors in this highly competitive market, which has seen major vendors announcing new products almost every week. Any hypervisor offering that lacks this feature will find it difficult to compete, industry watchers said.

“VM migration is an important part of datacenter automation and orchestration,” Kusnetzky said. “VMware, Citrix and Virtual Iron offer that today.”

So does Sun Microsystems, (NASDAQ: JAVA) which yesterday unveiled updates to its own virtualization technology.

As a result, the decision to delay on live migration is “not wise,” Edward Haletky, founder of virtualization consultants AstroArch Consulting, told in an e-mail. “In essence, the lack of live migration within Hyper-V is a expensive decision that will not help them going forward in the enterprise.”

“Virtualization cuts power costs [and] live migration can cut support costs if used properly. Everyone wants to cut costs, so [small- to midsized businesses] and enterprise customers are using [VMware] today,” he added. “While it is not required, the cost savings are there.”

While it’s difficult to say how much the delay could impact Microsoft’s position in the competitive virtualization market, it comes at a time when it’s pushing hard to gain traction against market leader VMware.

This week, Microsoft unveiled its Hyper-V Server 2008 and promised that its System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 offering would be available within 30 days. Those announcements came during the first of a series of worldwide events designed to promote its virtualization offerings — with this inaugural show coming a week ahead of VMware’s own VMworld user conference in Las Vegas.

But at the same time, rivals’ announcements are coming thick and fast as well. For example, last month, Oracle launched Oracle VM Templates, while last week, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) and BMC Software (NYSE: BMC) announced new virtualization management tools.

Meanwhile, VMware just lost two major technology figures. Most recently, co-founder and chief scientist Mendel Rosenblum quit nine weeks after Diane Greene — his wife and the second VMware co-founder — was pushed out the door. Top product development executive Richard Sarwal also recently departed VMware, returning to a position at Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL).

The open source virtualization camp is also being closely watched by industry insiders following Red Hat’s (NYSE: RHT) acquisition last week of virtualization player Qumranet for $107 million. Qumranet’s solution is built on the open source Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM), which goes head-to-head with Xen — Red Hat’s longtime virtualization partner.

It’s not clear whether that move would hurt Xen — which is backed by Citrix-owned XenSource and used by several other major vendors, like Sun. Red Hat has said it would continue to support Xen in Red Hat Enterprise Linux, although it prefers KVM technology for what it described as better performance and management. Citrix fired back at the charges following the acquisition.

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