Microsoft’s Windows Server 2012, which just reached its general availability milestone, underscores and boldfaces the company’s intent on becoming the dominant player in cloud computing and virtualization.
“The operating system has always been the heartbeat of IT and is now undergoing a renaissance in the new world of continuous cloud services, connected devices and big data,” Satya Nadella, president of Microsoft’s Server and Tools Business, wrote in a Sept. 4 statement.
Microsoft’s previous work in operating systems and the cloud, he added, “positions us to deliver the Cloud OS, based on Windows Server and Windows Azure, helping customers achieve a datacenter without boundaries.” This isn’t a new argument from Redmond: in the past, Microsoft executives have emphasized how the company’s experience in managing its own cloud infrastructure has informed the development of Windows Server, Azure and other platforms and services.
Microsoft defines that “Cloud OS” as an operating system that allows IT pros to manage storage, networking and computing in ways that can scale massively depending on an organization’s needs; it includes APIs and runtimes for building a variety of social, mobile, and data apps; it supports a wide variety of devices; and it can manage all sorts of data. Windows Server 2012 is an integral part of that all-encompassing vision.
As a competitive strategy, trying to be all things to all potential clients—at least when it comes to the cloud—makes a lot of sense for Microsoft. Many of its business rivals fall into two categories: either focused to near-exclusivity on pushing services via a public cloud (Salesforce, Google) or devoted to some sort of on-premises strategy (Oracle). While its competitors in the latter category have begun gravitating rapidly toward a more cloud-based model (i.e., Oracle Public Cloud, announced this summer), Microsoft has something of a head start, having announced its “all in” cloud strategy a few years ago.
As an integral pillar of that Cloud OS strategy, Windows Server 2012’s feature set is necessarily vast. For starters, the platform offers virtual desktop infrastructure, enhanced identity and access policies, and server management and automation tools. Upgraded storage management options include a unified interface based on Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI). Hyper-V virtualization can support up to 64 processors and 1 TB of memory, alongside a new VHDX virtual hard disk format capable of scaling to 64TB.
The enhanced Hyper-V will surely become a weapon in Microsoft’s continuing battle against VMware.
According to research firm Gartner, VMware owns around 65 percent of the server market—a healthy number, true, but one significantly lower than a few years ago. In addition to Microsoft, Citrix/Xen and Linux KVM have emerged as solid rivals to the VMware crown.
Of all those potential competitors, though, Microsoft is likely the one keeping VMware executives awake at night. Not only does Microsoft have untold millions to spend on research, development, release and promotion of its products, but it’s made no secret of its desire to pin VMware’s hide to its den wall.
A big part of Microsoft’s strategy for combatting VMware centers on Hyper-V, which can manage private and public clouds in addition to Hyper-V and VMware installations—essential if Redmond wants to become a bigger player in the data center. On top of that, Microsoft’s App-V platform—a competitor to VMware’s ThinApp—allows companies to create and distribute multiple virtual copies of software such as Office 2003 and 2010. Windows Server 2012’s Hyper-V capabilities give Microsoft even more ammunition.
But it’s about more than Hyper-V: with this latest release, Microsoft has made it clear that it wants to become the main player in the business-cloud sphere. Time will tell whether it can accomplish that rather ambitious aim.