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Microsoft's New Virtual Server Beta Supports AMD-V

Microsoft has released the second beta of its Virtual Server 2005 Release 2 Service Pack 1. Beta 2 includes the promised support for AMD's hardware-assisted virtualization technology (AMD-V). The Sunnyvale, CA-based chipmaker has enhanced its Opteron processor line with the technology. Support for Intel's virtualization technology (VT) was part of the Beta 1 release.

Both AMD-V and Intel's hardware enhancements are designed to support the new wave of virtualization solutions that have followed VMware into an increasingly crowded market. The technologies are designed to boost performance for guest operating systems and to strengthen the isolation needed to prevent corruption of one virtual machine from affecting others on the same system.

Platforms supporting Intel's VT began shipping in 2005 for the desktop, and 2006 for mobile platforms and Xeon processor-based servers and workstations. The Palo Alto, CA-based company expects Itanium-based servers supporting VT to start shipping later this year. In addition to the Opteron enhancements, AMD-V has been introduced in versions of AMD's Athlon and Turion processors.

Neil Macehiter, research director at analyst firm Macehiter Ward-Dutton, says AMD-V and Intel VT are important to the virtualization market, and all the leading vendors are planning to support them. The benefits can be seen in both performance and security, he says. However, he expects this kind of support to evolve quickly into a "hygiene factor"—vendors will simply have to have it to be credible.

"I think in the overall scheme of things, the addition of AMD-V support with Microsoft Virtual Server is not going to have a significant impact on Microsoft's position in the market," Macehiter adds. The impact will be slight, he believes, because customers are already evaluating vendors based more on the management features they deliver than their basic hypervisor technology. Moreover, the numbers of servers running on AMD-V- and VT-based chips are still relatively small.

How long Virtual Server will stand on its own remains to be seen. The Redmond software maker says that Windows Vista will be supported as a guest operating system when Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 goes GA next year. But its planned "Viridian" hypervisor technology is set to become a part of the upcoming Longhorn Windows Server release, scheduled for sometime in 2007. Windows Server is Windows-dependent, but a hypervisor doesn't require an OS; it runs on "bare metal."

This beta includes another highly anticipated feature: support for Microsoft's Volume Shadow Copy Service, which is designed to allow users to perform snapshot backups. Beta 2 also adds improved Active Directory integration and offline virtual hard disk mounting.

Microsoft also announced that its partners may now register online for permission to redistribute both Virtual Server 2005 R2 and Virtual PC 2004 with their applications. Virtual PC is a client-desktop virtualization product designed to allow users to run multiple operating systems on a host PC. Partners can already register for the "Enterprise Edition Redistribution Rights." 

Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 is available free and currently scheduled to ship near the end of the first quarter of 2007.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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