Following on from (and lending some more weight to) my recent speculative posts about Microsoft’s possible plans for virtualization within Windows 8 (“Will Microsoft make Windows 8 entirely virtual?” and “More evidence for Windows 8 being fully virtualized”) …
Microsoft published two virtualization related posts today:
In the first, Microsoft announced that it was conducting a discussion with customers about the future of desktop virtualization. Key among the findings from this meeting were the themes of greater control over corporation’s data and keeping staff productive regardless of their location.
The second post outlines Microsoft’s release of MED-V 2.0 and App-V 4.6 SP1.
There is clearly a lot of virtualization work happening at Microsoft.
Understanding Microsoft’s Virtualization Portfolio
We have mentioned several acronyms so far and many will mean relatively little to you unless you work in a large enterprise that has deployed a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). So let’s take a few moments to understand the terms being used:
Virtual-PC is a virtualization application that emulates the functionality of a PC and hosts a “guest” operating system such as Windows, Linux, etc.
Virtual PC was originally created by Connectix and released in 1997 to emulate a PC running on an Apple Mac, allowing Mac users to run Windows & Windows apps on their Macs.
Virtual PC 3 for Mac OS running Windows 95
Microsoft acquired Virtual PC in 2003 and subsequently released Microsoft Virtual PC 2004. Initially released as a commercial product, in 2006 Microsoft released Virtual PC 2004 SP1 as a free product.
Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 added support for multiple monitors and supported virtualization hardware present in most newer x86/x64 compatible CPU’s newly available at the time.
Windows XP Mode
Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate include a version of Windows Virtual PC (notice the change from “Microsoft” to “Windows”) and a pre-configured Windows XP virtual machine known as “XP Mode”.
IE6 on Windows XP running in “XP Mode” Windows 7 Professional!
XP Mode can run either within an enclosing window (see above) or can run integrated seamlessly into the Windows 7 shell:
Internet Explorer 6 in "XP Mode" seamlessly integrated into Windows 7 desktop experience.
XP Mode offers a great way for enterprises to run troublesome legacy applications in XP, but smoothly integrated into the Windows 7 desktop experience.
Hyper-V (Server Hypervisor):
While not (yet) part of Microsoft’s desktop virtualization technologies, Hyper-V is Microsoft’s latest and greatest virtualization technology built into Windows Server 2008 and Server 2008 R2.
A hypervisor is essentially a layer of software that sits between the OS and the hardware. It provides some core services that allow multiple operating systems to run alongside one another, rather than on top of one another, and provides a very high speed communication bus allowing guest virtual machines to communicate with each other and with the “host” very, VERY quickly and efficiently.
A hypervisor-based virtualization technology like Microsoft’s Hyper-V (or VMWare’s ESXi) moves VM’s running guest operating systems closer to the hardware making them more stable, secure, efficient and measurably faster.
I fully expect that any future desktop virtualization technology from Microsoft will be built upon Hyper-V.
MED-V (Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization):
MED-V extends the Virtual-PC based Windows XP mode feature of Windows 7, giving enterprises a way to seamlessly manage, deploy and run legacy Windows XP apps that cannot easily be upgraded to run natively on Windows 7. MED-V integrates with System Center and introduces a number of enterprise-level features that make deploying and managing legacy apps in a virtualized environment easier and more effective.
App-V (Application Virtualization):
App-V is a complementary product which enables an enterprise to capture an existing application and virtualize it centrally on managed servers. Application icons are deployed to user’s desktops and start menus and when a user opens the virtual app, it runs from the centralized virtual app servers, but looks like it is running locally.
Where will Microsoft’s investments in desktop virtualization lead?
Combined with powerful enterprise management systems like Microsoft’s System Center Configuration Manager (as well as many 3rd party management systems), it is clear that Microsoft is making deep and broad investments in their portfolio of desktop and application virtualization technologies.
How far Microsoft will go with virtualization in its desktop OS’ we’ll have to wait and see. I was a gambling man, I’d be placing some bets on Windows 8 supporting extensive virtualization features.