Over the last few years, I've read and listened to numerous complaints from people about Microsoft not being fully invested in virtualisation, that the software giant was simply sticking their big toe in the virtualisation water to test it out. Well, if that were true, then last week the Redmond giant did a cannonball from the top most diving board, making a huge splash in the virtualisation community.

Microsoft wants virtualisation to change the way IT organisations work - from the datacentre to the desktop. And with that, the company announced several strategic changes in its virtualisation strategy in order to make virtualisation more attractive to a wider audience.

Along with the company's announcement about what it calls its new Dynamic IT vision, Microsoft also officially announced the following:

  • The acquisition of Calista Technologies;
  • Interoperability and collaboration between Microsoft and Citrix;
  • New Microsoft Virtualisation Solution Accelerators;
  • Expanded virtualisation licensing options for Microsoft Windows Vista;
  • Microsoft Office support using Microsoft SoftGrid Application Virtualisation.

Bringing virtualisation to the datacentre with Windows Server 2008 is only one piece of Microsoft's larger vision. It wants to leverage virtualisation to change the way IT works from one end of the enterprise to the other - from desktop to datacentre.

"Very few customers are able to reap the benefits of virtualisation today," said Bob Muglia, senior vice president of the Server and Tools Business at Microsoft. "We estimate that less than five percent of companies are utilising virtualisation technology because it is simply too cost-prohibitive and complex. We believe Microsoft's comprehensive approach - from desktop to datacentre - is unique to the industry by delivering solutions that address virtualisation at the hardware, application and management levels. Our approach is not only one of the most comprehensive in the market today, but we believe it is also one of the most economical. This combination brings a big strategic advantage and cost savings to customers."

Early last week, Microsoft announced that it was buying Calista Technologies, a provider of graphics technologies for next-generation desktop and presentation virtualisation solutions. The addition of Calista's technology to future Microsoft presentation and desktop virtualisation products will enable remote workers to receive a full-fidelity Windows desktop experience without the need for high-end desktop hardware, while enabling software vendors to deliver additional capabilities.

Microsoft and Citrix plan to co-market a broad portfolio of new client computing offerings. The offerings will be based on Windows Server 2008 and Windows Optimised Desktop solutions, extended with Citrix's XenDesktop and Presentation Server products and managed by Microsoft System centre. The two companies will work together to ensure that the Citrix XenDesktop connection broker works well with Windows Optimised Desktop solutions.

At the same time, Citrix is developing a software tool that will allow customers to easily transfer virtual machines between Citrix XenServer and Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V to help ensure greater interoperability for customers. A test version of the tool will be available in the second quarter, and a final version will be available with the release of Hyper-V.

To help customers evaluate, plan, secure and deploy Microsoft virtualisation technologies across desktops and datacentres, Microsoft introduced four new Virtualisation Solution Accelerators that will be available with the Windows Server 2008 launch in February. This set of free guidance resources and tools can help customers effectively plan and deploy virtualisation technologies, including Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V, Windows Server 2008 Terminal Services and Microsoft Application Virtualisation.

Within the virtualisation community, Microsoft has been chastised more than once about their Windows Vista licensing practices - or more to the point, the company's lack of a clear and acceptable virtualisation licensing schema within the Vista product line. That may have finally changed as well. With this announcement, consumers are now licensed to virtualise Windows Vista Home Basic and Windows Vista Home Premium.

In an effort to hopefully push other software ISVs into supporting application virtualisation, Microsoft also announced that the 2003 and 2007 versions of Microsoft Office are now supported when running in both Microsoft Application Virtualisation 4.5 and SoftGrid Application Virtualisation 4.2.

Unfortunately for consumers and other application virtualisation vendors, it seems Microsoft's support may end with their own technology. Very reminiscent of what Oracle recently announced with their support of Oracle database software in a virtual machine, but only one that runs in an Oracle virtualisation environment. Still, a step in the right direction I suppose.