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Microsoft opens to Linux

Microsoft's decision to support two versions of Linux in its virtualization software is a ringing endorsement of open source in the enterprise, say open source advocates.

“It’s a tremendous message from them,” said Novell Canada CIO Ross Chevalier.

The move was also applauded by Larry Karnis, president of Application Enhancements Inc., a Brampton, Ont. Linux integrator.

“Any time any mainstream vendor announces official support for Linux it’s a good thing because it helps legitimize it in the enterprise.”

Microsoft announced at LinuxWorld Boston this month that not only is Virtual Server 2005 R2 suddenly available as a no-charge download, but that it has made and will support virtual machine add-ins for Linux distributions from Novell and Red Hat Linux.

The R2 download comes in 32- and 64-bit versions for Windows Server 2003 SP1 (Standard, enterprise or datacenter editions).

In one way it’s not such a big step: Microsoft says it has only 5,000 customers around the world using Virtual Server, and the technology will be included free in the next version of Windows Server, which will likely be released next year.

VMware leads market
Virtualization software allows customers to run more than one operating system on virtual servers within one physical machine, giving the opportunity to consolidate systems or improve backups.

According to Alan Freedman, research manager for infrastructure hardware at IDC Canada, the leading company in server virtualization comes from VMware, a division of EMC.

While Microsoft is being generous to Linux, there is a limit: There are no plans to work with the Linux community’s virtualization software, Xen, which lets Windows run as a guest operating system.

Freedman said Microsoft’s move is an attempt to stay relevant in this market. “They realize a lot of customers are either full using or experimenting with mixed operating environments,” he said.

“Virtualization as a technology is gaining a lot of momentum as customers look to get better utilization rates from their infrastructures as well as get a better handle on manageability of systems. So as it becomes more important, it’s imperative that Microsoft have a good virtualization strategy.”

With server versions of Linux increasingly appearing in corporations “Microsoft doesn’t want to be shut out of those accounts.”

Hilary Wittmann, Windows server product manager at Microsoft Canada, didn’t put it that way. “We know customers use heterogeneous environments,” she said. “We tested the market and the most common (operating systems) were Red Hat and Novell.”

She also denied the move was a new bow to Linux, noting that for several years Microsoft has supported connectivity of its Active Directory to Linux/Unix LDAP directories.

She did say, however, it is an opportunity for Microsoft partners. It is providing royalty-free licences to independent software vendors who want to develop on Virtual Server’s virtual hard drive (VHD) platform.