Is Windows still relevant in the virtualization era?

Microsoft exec responds to VMware CEO Paul Maritz’s argument that operating systems are no longer the center of innovation

Virtualization has not stripped Windows of its relevance, a Microsoft official said in response to VMware CEO Paul Maritz's argument that operating systems are no longer the center of innovation in the IT world.

Maritz didn't actually predict that operating systems are doomed, but he did argue in his VMworld keynote that the role of operating systems in managing hardware and providing services to applications is being usurped by virtualization software and new development frameworks like Spring and Ruby on Rails.

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But the vast majority of VMware customers are still Windows customers, and VMware's technology would be useless without an operating system, Microsoft executive Mike Neil said in an interview with Network World. "If you buy a copy of [VMware's] ESX and install it on a machine, you get a blinking cursor," says Neil, the general manager of Microsoft's server virtualization and Windows Server division. "It doesn't do you any good, right? It has no inherent value until you run an operating system in a virtual machine. The hypervisor and the virtualization layer, which obviously VMware has been focused on, is interesting technology," he said. "It's a good feature for an operating system."

People have been predicting the demise of Windows for years, Neil continued. Maritz, interestingly, is a former Microsoft executive who led development of Windows 95 and Windows 2000. Despite leaving the Windows team only 10 years ago, Maritz said "there really hasn't been a lot of innovation inside operating systems for 20 years now."

When it comes to industry observers "predicting the demise of Windows, that was happening when Paul was in charge" too, Neil said. "I think if I was a company that was only developing a virtualization platform, that I would try to draw attention away from where the real innovation is happening in the industry, and that's still the operating system," Neil continued.

Maritz's support of Spring and Ruby on Rails also fails to mention Microsoft's .Net Framework, "the largest development platform on the plaNet," Neil said.

Microsoft this week took out a full-page advertisement in USA Today urging customers not to sign long-term contracts with VMware. (The cost of such an ad is nearly $120,000, but Microsoft spokesman Patrick O'Rourke says "we get good discounts.")

Microsoft is arguing that customers now have more options than just VMware when it comes to running mission-critical Microsoft applications such as Exchange. They can run Exchange in the cloud through Microsoft's or third-party hosted services, or use Hyper-V, the Microsoft virtualization software included in Windows Server. Indeed, IDC is reporting that Hyper-V's market share has been growing, and at VMware's expense, although VMware still commands about 50 percent of the market, to Hyper-V's almost 25 percent.

More examples of Microsoft "innovation" cited by company executives include Windows Azure, the cloud-based application development platform.VMware's argument that the operating system no longer manages the hardware in virtualization deployments may be true for customers who use VMware, but not for those who run Hyper-V, Neil said.

The operating system no longer managing the hardware "is really only an issue when you're running inside of VMware," Neil said. "When you're running Hyper-V, and running Windows Server, the operating system is managing the hardware."

VMware likes to point out that every customer in the Fortune 100 is running VMware. While Microsoft executives didn't say how many Fortune 100 companies use Hyper-V, Neil said "I do know that 100 percent of the Fortune 100 are using Windows."

Although VMware still has greater market share than Microsoft's Hyper-V, Neil says he doesn't expect that VMware's technology will become the standard for running virtualized instances of Windows in perpetuity. "If [Windows] is going to be run in a virtual machine, our expectation is it will run in a Hyper-V virtual machine running in Windows Server," he says.

Follow Jon Brodkin on Twitter @JBrodkin

Read more about data centers in Network World's Data Center section.

This story, "Is Windows still relevant in the virtualization era?" was originally published by Network World.

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