Microsoft is a relative latecomer to virtualisation, at least in servers, but the firm has been making aggressive moves in the past few years to grab a larger share of the market. However, virtualisation is more than just about consolidating servers, and is also a key part of Microsoft's plans to build up its cloud computing strategy.
With last year's release of Windows Server 2008 R2, Microsoft has now integrated Hyper-V virtualisation support into its mainstream platform, a strategy that will be familiar to long-term industry observers, and one seemingly calculated to forestall customers from being drawn to VMware, the industry leader in this sector.
Neil Sanderson, product manager for virtualisation at Microsoft UK, said that Microsoft's approach lowers the entry cost for customers already using Windows, which is practically every organisation in the world, and is unabashed at the company's late entrance into the market.
"From a server point of view, we're coming into the market at a typical time for Microsoft, which is just as mainstream adoption is taking off. Generally, virtualisation has been used for specific projects, such as testing and development, but now we're seeing a big move from early adopter level to a much broader scale of adoption," he said.
One reason for this is that Microsoft now provides the functionality that customers want, according to Sanderson, including support for live migration of virtual machines, at lower cost and integrated into the Windows platform that most customers are already using.
"We see virtualisation as something to build infrastructure with. It's just another part of Windows, so it's a design choice in the way you build your infrastructure," he said.
And while Microsoft initially appeared to be targeting newcomers to virtualisation such as small businesses, Sanderson claimed that larger companies are also now turning to Hyper-V because of the potential savings.
"Those who have already invested in virtualisation, but are now looking to scale up, are looking at the cost and coming to us," he said.
If true, this could mean that Microsoft poses a bigger threat to VMware, which has so far dominated in the server virtualisation market, than many industry observers have judged.
Like VMware, Microsoft sees virtualisation as a building block for cloud computing, where the ability to manage a whole datacentre full of virtual machines and the services running on them becomes critical, something that Sanderson said is now addressed in Microsoft's System Center Virtual Machine Manager, launched last year.
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