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Have you ever wondered why Microsoft cares so much about server virtualization? After all, it’s only a software representation of a physical machine.

Microsoft has been very content over the last nearly 30 years letting the likes of Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM build physical servers with nary a care. When VMware introduced commodity server virtualization back in 1999, Microsoft hardly batted an eye. So what’s happened to make Microsoft not only care, but care enough to invest millions of dollars into their own server virtualization solution?

It’s all about control.

Today, Microsoft pretty much owns the x86 data center above the hardware. Sure, Linux has established a beach head and Apple is blowing up some dust, but by and large, if it’s x86, it’s running Windows.

How did Microsoft get into this position? By making it easy for developers to build applications on top of the Windows operating system. Look at Novell NetWare — arguably a much better network OS than Windows NT, but a really difficult development platform for ISVs. You had your choice of development languages, as long as it was Watcom C. You also had your choice of user interface, as long as it was exposed across the network.

Microsoft gave the developers freedom to choose the development language they liked to work in and to build a rich user interface. The rest is history. Sure, there are still people who choose Novell for their technology, but Microsoft has usurped Novell’s customer base and Novell has been relegated to a second tier vendor.

OK, so what in the world does all that have to do with Microsoft caring about virtualization? Well, think of today’s developers. Do they develop applications for Windows? Mostly, no. They develop against an application framework. Be it .Net, Struts, Ruby on Rails or something else, it’s the framework that’s important, not the operating system.

You can run many (most?) .Net applications on Linux with a simple recompile under Mono. The other frameworks really don’t care what OS is underneath. As for the user interface, Ajax provides near fat client user experience through an industry standard framework. Microsoft’s response to Ajax is Silverlight, an attempt to keep control over the user experience.

Microsoft is nervous because … read more

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