Microsoft is working on application virtualisation technology for the server that is designed to provide administrators the flexibility to quickly deploy infrastructure and even stream applications on-demand.
The capabilities would be similar to the application virtualisation capabilities available in the client side via Microsoft Application Virtualization (formerly SoftGrid).
SoftGrid, which Microsoft acquired when it bought Softricity in May 2006, lets users package applications into "containers," store them on a server where they can be centrally managed, and then stream those containers to desktops, devices or shared PCs. It also can be used for on-demand delivery of patches and upgrades.
The benefit is that each application has a properly configured operating environment tailored to its needs. It also ensures applications don't interfere with each other, such as running different versions of Office on the same desktop.
"We are working to move server applications into stateless environments so applications don't need to go through the install process; they can be copied on top of the operating system," said Microsoft senior vice president Bob Muglia in his keynote address at the company's annual Microsoft Management Summit.
The effort is part of Microsoft's expanding virtualisation strategy ahead of the shipment of Hyper-V, the server virtualisation add-on to Windows Server 2008 expected to ship this summer.
Microsoft wants to bring application virtualisation capabilities to the datacentre so users can quickly roll out infrastructure (middleware and operating systems) and then deliver applications either directly to the server or streamed on-demand when needed.
Images of applications and infrastructure would be stored in an online library, and deployed dynamically ensuring that the middleware's configuration is aligned with the needs of the application, but also allowing different versions of server applications to run on the same box.
The strategy, however, is a green field for Microsoft.
"There is nothing in market today from Microsoft to deploy this capability so this would be something new," says Dai Vu, director of virtualisation products and solutions in Microsoft's server and tools division. "We are doing a lot of learning on the client side to accelerate what we want to do on the server side."
The prize for IT would be simplified deployment, such as eliminating recurring regression testing when rolling out applications.
While Vu did not discuss future plans or a road map for rolling out server virtualisation, he did say that Microsoft was "actively investing in the technology."
But he added it is not a 12-month plan and would take some time. Vu said part of the difficulty is that in general server applications are much more intertwined with the operating system than on the client side and separating the two can be tricky.
Muglia said in his keynote address that the goal was to get to the point where separation between the operating system, the middleware and the applications means that the only traditional installation IT will have to do is laying down a hypervisor on physical server hardware.