This might be old news, but there's been such a deluge of topics here at Windows IT Pro UPDATE that I've not yet gotten around to explaining an upcoming Windows Server bundle that will likely be of interest to a large percentage of this newsletter's readership. I guess we should all have such problems.

You might recall that Microsoft announced a Windows Server 2003-based product bundle in July called Windows Server System for Medium Businesses (see my commentary "Microsoft Makes its First Mid-market Move" at the URL below). But the software giant casually forgot to mention that the bundle--which combines Windows 2003 Standard Edition with Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 Standard Edition, Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2005 Workgroup Edition (which is limited to 10 servers), and 50 CALs for both Windows Server and Exchange for a discounted price--is just a stopgap measure.

In retrospect, it should have been obvious. Although Windows Server System for Medium Businesses offers midsized businesses the right products at the right price and a set of prescriptive guidance about deploying and migrating to the products, it offers none of the management niceties found in, say, Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS). Wouldn't it be nice if Microsoft offered a real "Windows Medium Business Server" product that included all those products, along with an integrated installation, multiserver support, and integrated management tools?

Consider your prayers answered. Although the company won't make it available until after Longhorn Server in early 2007, Microsoft is indeed working on such a product bundle. Code-named Centro (Italian for Center), this product bundle will include the standard editions of Longhorn Server (which includes Windows Deployment Services, the successor to Windows Server Update Services--WSUS), Exchange Server 12, the next version of ISA Server (as well as other security technologies), and several key technologies that are currently being developed as part of Microsoft's System Center family of products (Microsoft is still being vague about these products). Because they're the full, standard editions of these products, Centro will integrate nicely into existing infrastructures and will grow with your company.

Speaking of which, Centro is aimed solely at midsized businesses, which Microsoft describes as companies with 50 to 500 managed PCs and a limited number of IT support staff. Thus, Centro neatly fills a glaring gap between Windows SBS and the Windows Server products aimed at enterprises (you know, those companies that are bursting with IT staff).

It's too early to render a final verdict here, but let's face it: We've all looked jealously at the integrated installation and management tools in SBS and wished we could have them in more mainstream Windows Server products. Apparently, Microsoft was listening.

Virtualization, Windows Server, and You
A few years ago, Microsoft purchased the machine virtualization technologies of Connectix, makers of Virtual PC, so that it could add virtualization products and services to its stable of enterprise products. To date, the technologies have showed up in all the expected places. Microsoft essentially slapped its name on the next version of Connectix's client-based Virtual PC product (dropping Linux support in the process) and released the long-awaited server version, named Virtual Server 2005. Compared with competing products from market leader VMware, Microsoft's virtual machine (VM) products are limited and even expensive. For example, Virtual Server 2005 is almost purely targeted at machine consolidation scenarios. Surely, the company has bigger plans than that.

It turns out the company does. Although Virtual Server will continue as a standalone product--Microsoft is even releasing a single-VM-at-a-time version for developers called Virtual Server Express--the company is also busy baking its virtualization technologies directly into Windows Server. Although the first fruits of this labor won't appear in the initial version of Longhorn Server, due in 2007, Microsoft tells me the technology could be added via a service pack before Longhorn Server R2. First, the company plans to add its VM hypervisor--essentially, the brains behind virtualization--to Windows Server, but not as a component of the OS. Instead, the hypervisor will interact directly with new Intel Virtualization Technology-based servers and AMD Pacifica-based servers to provide virtualization features directly on the hardware.

Consider what this news means. Today, VMs run in isolated software environments that leach off the resources of the host OS. These VMs require massive amounts of RAM and other resources, but rarely reach the levels of performance one would expect from a physical server. (This might explain Microsoft's predilection for Windows NT 4.0-based consolidations.) In this new scheme, VMs would run side-by-side on the same server hardware, and the hypervisor would schedule which VMs get which physical resources. Management will occur outside of any of the OSs, letting administrators deploy, migrate, move, and resize VMs.

What's exciting is that Microsoft will use its virtual hard disk (VHD) VM format for these new hardware-based VMs. Therefore, an investment in the VHD format today will pay off with higher performing VMs in the future, and Microsoft expects enterprises to literally stockpile libraries of VHD-based VMs, ready for deployment whenever and wherever they're needed. The possibilities are endless. When I asked whether Microsoft was considering making VHD its stock deployment format of the future, I got a smile and a nod. It's no wonder they're openly licensing the VHD format now.

To be fair, VMware is also seeking to make its VM format ubiquitous, and the latest beta version of its VMware Workstation tool even supports VHD format, letting you import Microsoft's VMs and get the additional features that VMware's products now offer. And let's not forget Xen, the Linux-based virtualization technology that's gaining traction in the non-Microsoft world. However things shake out, it's clear that virtualization is becoming core OS functionality, regardless of platform. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

Microsoft Makes its First Mid-market Move
http://www.windowsitpro.com/Article/ArticleID/47017/47017.html