Microsoft has announced further details of its forthcoming virtualisation products.

The company has announced pricing and licensing details for Windows Server 2008, its long-awaited server product due for release in February, and revealed that the commercial name for its virtualisation product will be Hyper-V, formerly known as Viridian.

Microsoft is already billing February's official launch of Windows Server 2008, as "the most important enterprise launch in company history." That launch will also showcase Visual Studio 2008, the company's application development tools, and SQL Server 2008, its database.

Windows Server 2008, formerly known as Longhorn, has been delayed several times, but since September some customers have been testing the release candidate, the term for when software is in its final stage of refinement before release.

The company is vowing no more delays: Microsoft is "absolutely on schedule" for the launch of Windows Server 2008, said Andrew Lees, corporate vice president for server tools and marketing, on Friday.

Microsoft will release five versions of Windows Server in February, Lees said: Standard, Enterprise, Datacenter, Web Server and a version for Itanium-based systems.

Within six months of the Windows Server 2008 launch, it will also release Standard, Enterprise and Datacenter versions incorporating its Hyper-V virtualisation software.

Virtualisation enables one physical server to host several operating systems, which can be assigned to run certain applications. It means one physical server can be worked harder, often reducing the need for more server hardware, which in turn bring benefits such as lower power bills for data centers.

It's complicated technology, however, both for management and security, and only about 5 percent or fewer enterprises are now actively using virtualisation. However, the market for virtualisation products is expected to grow rapidly over the next few years, according to market analyst IDC.

Virtualisation also means that enterprises can opt to run more copies of free OSes, such as Linux. "Virtualisation poses a substantial risk to Microsoft, since the benefits of free alternatives, such as Linux OSes, Apache for Web serving and MySQL for database are enhanced when customers begin running multiple instances of them on each devices," according to a May report by analyst Directions on Microsoft.

Microsoft is going to have to pull out all the stops to catch EMC subsidiary VMware, the clear market leader. One way that Microsoft is going to try to beat VMware is by providing management tools that allow, for example, an administrator to quickly deploy another virtual server if one is backlogged with tasks, Lees said. Microsoft's virtualisation tools will also allow a view into how the OSes and applications are performing and allow modifications, he said.

"We will provide a more comprehensive strategy around how to manage and utilize server deployment in terms of the server virtualisation and management of that data center," Lees said.

Pricing for Windows Server 2008 will be no more than 1 percent higher than for Windows Server 2003, the company said. The following prices are for a one-off purchase of a perpetual licence, although volume licensing customers may get cheaper deals:

  • Windows Server 2008 Standard without Hyper-V: $971 (with five Client Access Licences (CALs))
  • Windows Server 2008 Enterprise without Hyper-V: $3,971 (with 25 CALs)
  • Windows Server 2008 Datacenter without Hyper-V: $2,971 (per processor)
  • Windows Server 2008 for Itanium-based Systems: $2,999 (per processor)
  • Windows Web Server 2008: $469
When the versions incorporating its Hyper-V virtualisation technology become available, they will be priced as follows:
  • Windows Server 2008 Standard: US$999 (with five CALs)
  • Windows Server 2008 Enterprise: $3,999 (with 25 CALs)
  • Windows Server 2008 Datacenter: $2,999 (per processor)
Microsoft has said that it will also release a standalone hypervisor for running other operating systems, called Hyper-V Server, priced at US$28 regardless of the number of processors. "If you have a machine that doesn't have Windows at all, then you would buy that in order to run instances of say Linux or Sun," Lees said.

Microsoft is continuing its cooperation with virtualisation vendor XenSource, which was acquired by Citrix this summer. That project enables both Windows and Linux machines to perform well if hosted in a virtual environment on the other OS.

"We have very tight integration of running Linux on Windows," Lees said. "It [Linux] runs incredibly well."

Lees said if virtual Linux runs well on Windows, it will ultimately make more people choose Windows Server. On the application side, however, "people will choose to run Linux with their applications or not based on the merits of Linux versus Windows," Lees said.