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Microsoft and Red Hat: Virtualization 'Frenemies'

Microsoft and Red Hat have validated that their respective Windows and Linux operating systems will run on each other's virtualization platforms.

The companies, typically rivals in the OS server space, tested Windows Server and Red Hat Enterprise Linux using each company's virtualization platforms. The interop certification, announced this month, concludes efforts first announced in February.

Specifically, Red Hat has validated its Enterprise Linux 5.4, using the Kernel Virtual Machine hypervisor, with Windows Server 2003 and 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 guests. For its part, Microsoft has certified Hyper-V on Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2, as well as Hyper-V Server 2008 and Hyper-V Server 2008 R2, with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.2, 5.3, and 5.4 guests.

In addition, each company's own products were certified to run in these heterogeneous virtualized environments, according to the announcement.

The cross-certification was carried out in direct response to customer demands for integration between the two platforms, according to Andy Cathrow, product marketing manager at Red Hat's virtualization solutions group. However, he doesn't call the effort a collaboration and dismissed comparisons with an earlier Microsoft-Novell deal on ensuring interoperability.

"There was really no joint work between us," he said. "There was no mutual agreement--no 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.' There was no exchange of IP or money. No legal contract. This is nothing like what you saw with the Novell-Microsoft deal. It was done purely on a technical level, based on what our joint customers were telling us they needed."

Whatever you call the process, it's a sign of the times, said Forrester Research analyst Christopher Voce, and a harbinger of things to come.

"When companies first began moving toward server virtualization, it was all about lowering total cost of ownership, and in some cases, improving resiliency, disaster recovery and business continuity," Voce said. "Now customers have started talking about things like internal clouds and shared infrastructure; an emerging enterprise priority is to create a more efficient shared IT infrastructure. In order to do that, cats have to sleep with dogs. You simply can't achieve that kind goal with disparate server virtualization solutions and OSes that won't run on other platforms."

It's also further evidence of an ongoing shift in Redmond, he added.

"What you're seeing here is broad recognition from Microsoft that they now have to play in a heterogeneous datacenter," Voce said. "The Novell relationship was a first step in this direction; the recent decision to submit code to the Linux kernel (basically virtualization drivers) to allow that OS to operate as a full-fledged citizen on Hyper V was another. Now we are seeing them going further down that road."

Microsoft and Red Hat's decision to make it possible for enterprises to mix and match Windows Server and Red Hat Enterprise Linux in their environments is good news for customers, but Voce advised caution in one respect.

"Microsoft and Red Hat are pledging dual vendor support," he said. "But customers might want to make sure that the workloads they're running on each platform don't impact their support relationship, from the application through the OS to the underlying server virtualization platform."

Expect to see more certification efforts between major platform vendors as part of a trend, Cathrow added.

"We're never going to see homogeneous datacenters," he said, "so we're going to see more collaboration in the industry around these kinds of certifications, and also around standards to ensure that we have consistency. It's important that all the companies come together to help drive datacenter innovations forward."

Did he say, "Collaboration?"

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