Executive Summary:
Windows Server 2008 R2 beta is loaded with features to make IT pros' lives easier. But will Windows Server 2008 R2's Live Migration help Microsoft woo large enterprise customers off of VMware's proven combination of VMware Infrastructure 3 (VI3) and VMotion?

By some accounts, Microsoft took its share of lumps in 2008: Windows Vista adoption lagged, the Zune still trailed in the mobile audio market, Windows Mobile was overshadowed by the surging popularity of iPhones and BlackBerrys, and cloud computing looks to be another emerging market segment in which Microsoft is playing catch-up to more nimble competitors.

Yet even Microsoft employees have joked that it sometimes takes the software giant three times to get things right, an aphorism that highlights some of Microsoft's greatest strengths: sheer tenacity and a relentless, no-holds-barred approach to improving their products. Lotus and WordPerfect used to snigger at that awkward, new-fangled GUI called Microsoft Windows 1.0. Today, both companies are largely footnotes in the pages of computing history, while Microsoft dominates the enterprise computing market.

Such is the case with the Windows Server product line, which has come a long way since the days of Windows NT 3.1. The Windows Server 2008 R2 beta (released in early January 2009) is loaded with features that promise to make the lives of IT pros easier, ranging from Active Directory (AD) management improvements in the form of the new Active Directory Administrative Center (ADAC) and the Active Directory Recycle Bin, to other time-saving features such as PowerShell 2.0, PowerShell on Server Core, BranchCaching, and DirectAccess. Read more about the improvements Server 2008 R2 brings to the table in "A Look at Windows Server 2008 R2 Features."

Live Migration: Microsoft's Answer to VMware VMotion

Arguably the most significant new feature in Server 2008 R2 is Live Migration, Microsoft's long-awaited answer to VMware's VMotion technology. Like VMotion, Live Migration will allow IT pros to move virtual machines (VMs) across servers without having to shut them down, and without any performance degradation.

"With the initial release of Windows Server 2008, we came out with a feature called Quick Migration, which could move workloads from one node in a cluster to another in a few seconds," explains Ward Ralston, Microsoft Group Product Manager for Windows Server. "We didn't implement a feature comparable to VMware's VMotion in that release because the nodes in our cluster didn't have the ability to talk to the same shared storage. With R2 we've implemented a new technology called clustered shared volumes—it's a logical subsystem that sits on top of NTFS. Now \[we can move\] virtual workloads from one node in the cluster to another ... instantaneously, in milliseconds—rather than seconds—and have feature parity with VMware." Ralston stresses that Live Migration will be included in Server 2008 R2 for free, as opposed to VMotion, which VMware sells as a standalone product. (Read a transcript and listen to an audiocast of our interview with Ward Ralston at "Ward Ralston Discusses Windows Server 2008 R2.")

So can Live Migration help Microsoft woo large enterprise customers off of VMware's proven combination of VMware Infrastructure 3 (VI3) and VMotion? Only time will tell, and VMware—now led by ex-Microsoft executive Paul Maritz—is determined to keep a few steps ahead of the Microsoft juggernaut and undoubtedly has some new product announcements to make in the coming year. But one thing is certain: If Microsoft doesn't manage to peel a few enterprises away from VMware's orbit with the first iteration of Live Migration, you can bet they'll try again. And again. And maybe a few more tries after that.

A Return to the Cloud

In the January 2009 installment of IT Pro Perspective, I asked readers to let me know what they thought of cloud computing. I received a number of emails, phone calls, and letters from readers about the topic, but I can't list them all here. We've included excerpts from the best letters and compiled them into an online article that reveals what concerns (and expectations) readers have about the topic, which you can find in "Readers Speak Out on Cloud Computing."

As always, we'd love to get your take on where you think the IT industry is headed. Are you looking forward to the release of Server 2008 R2? Are you a VMware shop that might consider switching to Server 2008 R2 because of the new Live Migration feature? Drop me an email with your thoughts, or join our forums, LinkedIn group, or Twitter feeds to contribute to the discussion.