June 7, 2005 1:47 PM PDT

Microsoft 'hypervisor' plan takes shape

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ORLANDO, Fla.--Microsoft gave more details Tuesday on its plans to launch Windows-based "hypervisor" software for running multiple operating systems.

Bob Muglia, senior vice president in the Windows Server Division, said at Microsoft's TechEd conference here that the software will be "built directly in Windows and will allow companies to virtualize multiple operating systems."

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer first mentioned the hypervisor plans in April at the company's Management Summit conference. Such software lets multiple operating systems run on the same computer, a feature that's useful for consolidating servers in order to save money, and for extracting as much work as possible from a single system.

Muglia said the hypervisor software will be delivered in 2007, following the debut of Longhorn Server. The new software will take advantage of virtualization technology coming from chipmakers Intel and Advanced Micro Devices next year, Muglia said.

The software will differ from Microsoft's existing Virtual Server product, Muglia said. That product runs on top of Windows and can run multiple Windows sessions. A recent update to Virtual Server allows companies to run Linux and other operating systems as well.

The new software will instead be built directly into Windows. "We will build a thin hypervisor that sits on top of the hardware and virtualizes resources like CPU and memory, so it has the ability to create OS sessions," Muglia said.

"One of those sessions will have the virtualization stack built into it to do device assignment and start and stop virtual sessions," he said. "It will have a version of Windows but will typically be a stripped-down version. That will control the other sessions, which can be Windows, Linux and anything that runs on x86 hardware such as Solaris or Linux."

And what about the Mac OS, now that Apple Computer has said it will begin using Intel chips? "It's impossible to say," Muglia said. Apple CEO "Steve Jobs does not intend to allow the Mac OS to run on non-Mac hardware, so I don't even know what that would mean at this point."

Microsoft hasn't decided how to package and sell the software. It could come in a service pack release after the debut of Longhorn Server, Muglia said.

Microsoft's rival in this area is an open-source software package called Xen, which has rapidly gained the support of Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, Novell, Red Hat, Intel, AMD and IBM. Those companies have offered Xen support in the form of endorsements, programming help and software contributions. Xen doesn't yet support Windows, however.

In addition, VMWare recently expanded the capabilities of its existing virtualization software. And IBM in February released the source code for a project called Research Hypervisor, or rHype.

Muglia said virtualization software is relatively new, so the competitive picture isn't yet complete. "It will grow in importance, but we're in the early stages of use," he said.

6 comments

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Xen facts
1. Xen did support Windows, but Microsoft and Xen couldn't working out the licensing terms.

2. Xen will support Windows when the new hypervisor hardware will be available. It's in the Xen FAQ.

3. Xen runs on currently x86 hardware. For the Microsoft product, you have to wait a year and then buy new hardware and software.

4. Xen lets you choose the operating system you want to run the thin, master hypervisor (which Xen calls domain 0). So if you want to choose operating system X because it has a great, traffic-shaping firewall, you can.

5. Xen lets you migrate a running system to different a physical computer in real time!

6. A new major version of Xen (3.0) is due out next month.
Posted by (1 comment )
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Anything with IBM's support is significant
IBM has done more work with hypervisors than anyone. Mainframes (the current zSeries) have been virtualized since the 80s. The Midrange (current iSeries) and UNIX (current pSeries) have been virtualized since the mid-90s, with capabilities that have been generally superior to the competitive offerings from HP and Sun.

Not to discount what HP and Sun have done, but IBM simply has broader and deeper experience. Their participation in Xen is critical to making it the best.
Posted by rdean (119 comments )
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Foundation For New Security?
I suspect that Microsoft's new hypervisor may be the cornerstone of a plan to make their systems more secure. The hypervisor is the master controller of system resources, and effectively runs in ring 0 protected mode. The operating systems that run below it won't have direct access to resources, they must go through a gatekeeper. I imagine that potentially high risk applications like IE and email will run in their own contained space, and will no longer be able to corrupt the entire computer.
Posted by Stating (869 comments )
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Windows on Mac
While Apple has no intention to let the Mac OS runs on non-Mac hardware, they have said that they won't prohibit people from running non-Mac OS on their hardware. There's nothing stopping from MS to sell a version of Windows that runs on Mac -- literally, they do now, 'cause Virtual PC runs on the Mac. Yes, it's an emulator, but the market is definitely there and migrating the Mac to x86 is not likely to make the need to run Windows on Mac goes away. What would MS do is definitely something worth monitoring. Personally, I can't wait to get my hand on a Win/Mac dual boot Apple PC. I can't find a reason why MS wouldn't want to do that also -- first, they can sell more Windows. Secondly, they aren't losing market share. Apple is the one that loses here 'cause their OS won't be running on standard PC.
Posted by Pixelslave (101 comments )
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Give it time...
If Microsoft is doing this "hyporvisor" thing, I definately do not see why they won't make a Mac compatible Windows.
Posted by PCCRomeo (432 comments )
Link Flag
Mac on a PC???
Not fully functional on any current PC designs. Some hacker may
come up with an OS X look-a-like that works on a PC. I've
already seen a PC runiing WIndows with a OS X type GUI. But
Reql OS X on a PC is highly unlikely.

The problem is the antiquated PC motherboard design, which is
short many features needed for an OS X installation. Back when
the MB was designed by some unknown, the now recognized
defects were not critical. The 8088 processor, the expected
peripherals and the memory options just didn't need anything
better.

Now, the PC has tried to evolve, but the legacy defects and the
lack of any sort of design control are becoming more critical
every day. Actually, it may be a small technical miracle that
Windows runs at all on the untold number of hardware
configurations in the PC world. And as MS tries to figure out how
to make Longhorn/Shorthorn/Airhorn/Whatever work, the basic
need for a new MB design might finally get publically
recognized. And, at that time, the Mac/Intel (or MacTel) MB just
might what the PC world needs.

Then, OS X on a PC might be possible.

Or maybe not. Time will tell.

In the meantime, OS X and Windows definitely will be running on
the Mac/Intel platform.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
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