Everybody is interested in the upcoming launches of Windows Vista, 2007 Microsoft Office, Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, and Longhorn Server. But a higher priority for most companies is solving today's problems. Because many organizations have recently started using Windows Server 2003 Release 2 (R2), this month's survey focuses on the server's Enterprise Edition (R2 EE), particularly on its virtualization functionality. This functionality is now available for free in R2 EE and will become increasingly important in the next year.

What are the day-to-day problems that companies need to deal with right now? Of our survey's 442 respondents, 74.9 percent said patch management was one of their biggest headaches in managing Windows servers, 36 percent cited server sprawl, 29 percent struggle with resource utilization (e.g., power, cooling, facilities), 19 percent specify downtime, and 14.9 percent mention interoperability. (Respondents could select all applicable options.)

Microsoft's Rik Wright (group product manager, Windows Server and Tools) and Jim Ni (group product manager, Virtual Server) told me R2 EE and Virtual Server 2003 directly address all those headaches. Rik said that with R2 EE, "patch management is a key focus. Server sprawl and resource utilization are connected to the reason why Virtual Server is in EE. UNIX interoperability is a key focus in R2." (R2 integrates into the OS newer versions of most of the same functionality as Services for UNIX—SFU, such as Subsystem for UNIXbased Applications, Identity Management for UNIX, and Server for NFS.)

Our discussion drilled down into how virtualization can help solve these problems, what workloads IT pros are virtualizing, and why. Also, because licensing is always an issue, I asked Rik and Jim to clearly explain R2 EE's licensing model for Virtual Server. (To address readers' requests for additional virtualization functionality, we also talked about Longhorn's hypervisor technology. To read more about that technology, see the Web-exclusive sidebar, "Moving Forward with Longhorn and Hypervisor.")

Server Workloads and Virtualization
The workloads readers reported using most on R2 EE are file and print (80.5 percent), database (78.5 percent), email (75.1 percent), business applications (69 percent), Web (67.6 percent), and networking (62.4 percent). Rik said that Microsoft recognizes these widely used workloads and noted, "Those are our key applications. The value proposition of R2 EE is about business applications, clustering (file and print clustering and application clustering), and email and database."

Because of Microsoft SQL Server's and Exchange's high I/O levels, I was surprised that survey respondents reported running those servers on virtual machines (VMs). But our results are consistent with what Microsoft hears. Jim explained, "If you have big transactional SQL, you probably don't want to virtualize it. But departmental SQL and smaller databases are great for virtualization. Virtualization makes a lot of sense for most production workloads, but do it wisely. Because of the ways virtualization technologies are implemented, I/O and networking requirements should dictate whether you virtualize."

A production role that's well suited for virtualization is disaster recovery, which 27.7 percent of respondents currently virtualize. Jim explained, "Scenarios such as backup and recovery can take advantage of the fact that virtualization lets you roll back and forward quickly. Internal Microsoft surveys show that disaster recovery was the number one reason people deploy virtualization. It's a great way to build up redundancy."

Along with disaster recovery, respondents cited clustering as a use for VMs. Jim explained, "Because of the high-availability capabilities in R2 EE and because Virtual Server leverages those, people are deploying mission-critical applications in this environment. Now you can fail over, say, eight VMs at once. In the past, I might have looked at a specific application and it might not have been clusterable, but with VMs, cluster awareness is built in at a lower level."

Rik added, "Server utilization popped in the survey," with 42.5 percent saying they use VMs for improved hardware utilization. Jim agreed: "Previously, people deployed a server for a dedicated purpose, but then utilization would be low on that server. Virtualization lets you put multiple workloads on one server and greatly improve utilization." (However, keep in mind that as a server's utilization increases, its performance decreases.)

Opening Up to Interoperability
When Microsoft purchased Connectix, the technology behind Virtual Server, Microsoft stopped supporting Connectix's ability to host Linux implementations. However, Microsoft has reversed that decision and now addresses the needs of the 20 percent of our survey's respondents who use VMs to run multiple platforms on one server. In fact, Microsoft is now eagerly touting its friendliness towards interoperability.

Jim said, "With R2, virtual machines on Virtual Server can now be Linux. We've improved the user experience, so mouse and keyboard integration is improved, and we have professional customer support for Linux users. If someone is running a Linux workload on Virtual Server on R2 EE and asks Microsoft for help, we take that call and diagnose to the extent that we can. Then we'll hand off to a third party, Wipro, which is a worldwide support organization that helps us with their Linux expertise. So we have 24 X 7 Linux support."

Rik noted, "If you look at our overall strategy, whether at the platform layer or moving on to the management layer with System Center Operations Manager \[formerly Microsoft Operations Manager\] and System Center Configuration Manager \[SCCM—formerly Systems Management Server\], those support managing Linux workloads. Operations Manager's plug-in architecture lets third parties build management packs to support Linux. SCCM, leveraging its relationship with Quest Software's Vintella, can patch Linux. So Virtual Server is not just Windows, but looks at the x86 and x64 infrastructures holistically."

In addition to these System Center products, Microsoft has announced System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM), a centralized enterprise-management solution for the virtualized data center. Microsoft anticipates SCVMM's release to manufacturing in the second half of 2007.

Many IT organizations are using VMs for coexistence of legacy platforms and applications. Rik said, "A guy who has an application that an ISV is no longer supporting on some NT box and doesn't want to support it on an old 386 anymore is going to move that image to a VM and run it on a better box with more headroom. He can upgrade his systems."

Microsoft's recent acquisition of Softricity's application virtualization solution underscores the importance of virtualization for coexistence. For example, as IT begins to migrate users to Vista and Office 2007, Microsoft says application virtualization could ease the transition.

Virtual Server and Licensing
If, like 44 percent of readers, you don't yet use Virtual Server, you'll want to understand how licensing works before you proceed. Unlike with other Windows 2003 R2 SKUs, Virtual Server is free with R2 EE and you'll need an OS license only for every four virtual instances per physical machine you want to run.

Rik explained, "A virtual instance is an execution of the OS in a virtual scenario. When you buy an R2 EE license, it gives you use rights to run four virtual instances per physical installation. You're not getting four Virtual Server licenses for one R2 EE license. You're getting one R2 EE license that says: 'On this OS license, on this box, you can run four virtual instances of the OS.' An R2 EE license is assigned to a box."

Jim elaborated, "In the past, we never had any allocation for virtual instances. Previously, I bought one box with one OS license. If I then virtualized and put instances on top of this license, I had to buy more OS licenses. Today, I buy one OS license, which gives me use rights to run four instances and I don't have to buy more licenses. However, if I want up to eight instances, I need to buy another R2 EE license, which gives me four more use rights. The OS license lives and dies with the hardware, but we're allowing you to use virtual instances on the same hardware."

At what point does a virtual instance count against your limit of four? Rik replied, "In the previous model, when you installed the virtual instance, the license counted. Now, the license doesn't count till that instance is up and running. So, for example, you could have a SAN on your network with 1000 VHDs on it. In the past, you would have needed 1000 licenses for them sitting dormant. Now it's only when you bring them up and running that you have to license them."

Jim added, "If you pull four up, you're covered with your one R2 EE license. Pull five up, and you need another license."