Microsoft Opens Virtual Hard Disk Specification

Microsoft has opened its virtualization technology. The software giant made its Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) virtualization specification available under its own Open Specification Promise (OSP) with the aim of encouraging development and increasing interoperability.

Looking to ensure its piece of the virtualization pie — a technology trend whereby multiple, different operating systems and software applications can run simultaneously on the same servers — Microsoft said its patented technology would be freely available under the OSP, which the software giant also used last month to release new Web services specifications.

“This is Microsoft recognizing that virtualization is a force of nature at this point,” Interarbor Solutions Principal Analyst Dana Gardner told LinuxInsider. “The question for Microsoft is how to make this something to continue to grow [its] business around.”

Diverse Design

Microsoft, which has worked closely with other virtualization players including open source Xen provider XenSource, said its VHD format captures an entire virtual machine operating system and application stack in a single file and will allow the pooling of resources.

With its VHD announcement, the company claimed it was “contributing to the continued expansion of the virtualization market by fostering interoperability among all commercial software solutions, including open source.”

“We are focused on delivering interoperability by design,” said Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Microsoft’s server and tools business. “This means that customers have control over their data while vendors provide technologies that connect diverse systems.”

Getting a Good Story

Microsoft also touted support for its open spec pledge and the VHD release from partners including XenSource, producer of Xen and XenEnterprise open source virtualization technology, and Virtual Iron, which has called Microsoft’s VHD “a rapidly emerging industry standard.”

Microsoft is working to provide a virtualization support stack, and is also looking to set its virtualization agenda in the face of competition, according to Gardner.

“They have to have as good of a story as, say, Linux,” he said.

While there is bound to be skepticism and suspicion when Microsoft is involved, Gardner said Microsoft is really responding to the realities of the market.

What Microsoft will do in terms of virtualization at the application level remains to be seen, however, he noted. The same goes for whether virtualization may be a tool for transitioning from older Windows to the forthcoming Vista operating system.

Flexibility for Real

Microsoft may never go far enough in opening code or supporting interoperability to some, but its VHD move demonstrates the software giant has changed, Yankee Group Senior Analyst Laura DiDio told LinuxInsider.

“They continue to demonstrate flexibility in the face of market realities, which are intensified market competition and the specter of EU sanctions,” she said, referring to Microsoft’s ongoing struggle with European regulators.

Microsoft has a genuine interest in virtualization technology that is interoperable, and the company should get credit for its effort, she remarked.

“[Microsoft] really is making significant changes,” she said.

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