Microsoft: Ramping Up

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 2007-04-11 Email Print this article Print

Price is a plus, but some customers want to see improvements.

Bill Fields, software developer with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court-District of Arizona, says he got a pretty sweet deal from Microsoft.

He used Microsoft's first virtualization product, Virtual PC (which it had acquired from Connectix in early 2003), to test the rollout of Citrix secure Internet-access software. For $1,600, Fields got a subscription to the Microsoft Developer Network—a community of programmers and engineers who share ideas via Web sites and conferences—which gave him a look at everything the vendor was testing, including Web development tools.

That was crucial, Fields says, because his department is funded by a continuing resolution that requires the budget to remain flat each year. "Being that [Virtual PC] is used as a test and development platform, it came with our [Developer Network] subscription," he says.

He's since moved to Virtual Server 2005, which he says allows for control over allotting processor power to virtual machines. With Microsoft's tools, he's seen server deployment times drop from at least 90 minutes to less than 20.

Fields, like others interviewed by Baseline, is eager to see what Microsoft has in store.

The software giant has been teasing the technology world for almost two years, giving away little snippets of what's to come with its Windows Server "Longhorn" project.

But customers will have to wait until later this year to see the next server operating system—and wait another six months or so to see what virtualization tools will come with it.

Despite the waiting game, customers applaud Microsoft for the pricing of its virtualization tools—or lack thereof—and for being responsive to customer needs.

Microsoft's Virtual Server 2005 is much like VMware's Server (formerly dubbed GSX Server): hosted and, as of April 2006, free. But that's the latest offering out of Redmond, while VMware has since launched ESX Server, full of bells and whistles like automatic failover and live backups.

Brian Heagney, data center manager for CoAMS, a Chicago firm that acts as a consultant to companies such as Ace Hardware and Cisco on trade promotion management, started using Virtual Server in early 2005 to consolidate physical servers and make room in its data center.

Since then, the firm has reduced its hardware, dropping from 80 Windows servers to 48. And Heagney and his team can set up a virtual machine in minutes, as opposed to the day or more it took with a physical box.

Heagney says he paid about $23,000 for the software, and has saved at least $15,000 a year since in hardware costs. But that doesn't include the extra costs he encountered trying to do live backups of the operating systems on the virtual servers.

Heagney says he spent more than $20,000 on Symantec's Backup Exec to do the replications, which he expected to be built in to Virtual Server. "That's the only negative," Heagney says. Heagney hopes live backups are part of the Longhorn equation.

Jim Ni, group product manager in Microsoft's Windows Server unit, says he's heard similar feedback dating to Virtual Server's first release. Ni says Virtual Server 200 Service Pack 2, currently in beta, includes live backup capabilities. Those will be out-of-the-box features with Longhorn, he adds.

At A Glance

1 Microsoft Way
Redmond, WA 98052-6399
(425) 882-8080

Bill Gates Chairman
Kevin Johnson President, Platform & Services Division
PRODUCTS Virtual Server 2005, free since early 2006, now includes service packs for management and replication.
Reference Checks

Dominik Steiner
Software Engineer

Brian Heagney
Mgr., Data Center

Dave Chacon
Mgr., I.S. Technology Services

Karl Fisher
Systems Engineer

Bill Fields
Software Developer


2007FYTD* 2006FY 2005FY
Revenue $23.35B $44.28B $39.79B
Net income $6.10B $12.60B $12.25B
R&D expenditure $3.42B $6.58B $6.10B


Associate Editor

Brian joined Baseline in March 2006. In addition to previous stints at Inter@ctive Week and The Net Economy, he's written for The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., as well as The Sunday Tribune in Dublin, Ireland. Brian has a B.A. from Bucknell University and a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.


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