I could argue that Windows Vista, Office 2007, and the looming Longhorn Server aren't Microsoft's most strategically significant launches of 2007. If you're thinking I've lost my mind and you're ready to email me Microsoft's latest revenue numbers, indulge me for a minute: Aside from security, management is the most expensive and time-consuming aspect of Microsoft's products in a network environment. (And security is arguably a management issue.) The new System Center family of products is Microsoft's venture to simplify systems management and assure the health of Microsoft servers and applications. In terms of customer retention and enterprise worthiness, System Center is at least as crucial to Microsoft's continued market dominance as the big revenue-producing products. So while industry attention has been fixed on Vista, Office, and Longhorn, Microsoft launched System Center Operations Manager (Ops Manager) and System Center Essentials (SCE). In the wings is a particularly interesting member of this family: System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM). Virtualization is poised to become the most disruptive technology since the commoditization of server hardware. And therefore, I think VMM, which lets you manage virtualized environments, might be Microsoft's most strategically important launch of 2007.

Early Days
According to David Greschler, a Microsoft director of strategic virtualization, IDC estimates that only "5 to 6 percent of all servers in North America are virtualized today." But Microsoft sees huge potential for VMM. David said, "It's clear that to unlock the value of that next phase of virtualization, you need management. If you don't know where your machines are and can't remotely control or move them, you're not getting the benefit virtualization offers as a key enabler to building dynamic servers and software on demand. This is an important release because it allows people to really take advantage of virtualization."

Of course, VMM is not the first or the only tool for managing virtual environments. But David says two differentiators set VMM apart from competing products. First, "customers want a single management platform for both the physical and the virtual. Other products have tools to manage just the physical or just the virtual." Second, VMM lets you "apply all the rich System Center functionality to the virtual world. VMM has a management pack that ties into MOM so you can monitor the health of virtual machines at the same level of granularity as you can monitor physical machines."

Considering competing products such as VMware led me to ask whether VMM lets you manage heterogeneous virtual environments. My translation of Microsoft's answer: Not really. Edwin Yuen, a technical product manager for VMM, replied, "We manage Virtual Server 2005 instances in this release. With Virtual Server 2005's ability to run heterogeneous OSs, VMM can do things like turn them on and off and provision them. Certain advanced features of VMM may not work—\[Physical-to-Virtual conversion\] P2V and other features (such as integration with certain monitoring levels) are restricted to the Windows platform."

Features
VMM is currently in its beta 2 release and available for free public download at http://www.microsoft.com/scvmm. The features in this release include:

  • a new Outlook-like UI
  • support for Windows PowerShell
  • P2V conversion (P2V is possible only with Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2000)
  • Virtual-to-Virtual (V2V) conversion—using the PowerShell interface in VMM beta 2, you can convert a VMWare disk or virtual machine (VM) to a Virtual Server 2005 Virtual Hard Disk (VHD)
  • 64-bit server support
  • the ability to remotely install every VMM component, including the VMM server, library server, delegated provisioning portal, administrative console, and data store

Veridian
Naturally, I wanted to know whether VMM would support the Longhorn hypervisor (i.e., the platform-level virtualization capability built on the Longhorn Server Core and codenamed Veridian). My translation of Microsoft's answer: Not right now. David said that VMM is scheduled to RTM "this fall for Virtual Server, including Virtual Server R2 SP1. Then in Q4, within a couple weeks of the beta release of Veridian, we'll have a VMM beta to support that form of virtualization, as well. In the first half of 2008, when Veridian RTMs, we will simultaneously ship VMM."

Significant or Not?
I recently wrote that virtualization seems to be the answer to every question these days. VMM is Microsoft's answer to how to deploy and maintain a virtual environment. Are you still thinking I've lost my mind? Then go ahead and send me those emails!