March 23, 2011, 2:32 PM — By now, most IT professionals are familiar with server and application virtualization. But Microsoft says it's time to get ready for the next layer: server application virtualization.
This new capability is now available in beta as part of System Center Virtual Machine Manager, and will hit general availability later this year as part of the larger System Center 2012 release, Microsoft said this week. Microsoft isn't the first vendor to virtualize server applications, but it has done so before its rival VMware.
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Just as server virtualization decouples the operating system from the server, application virtualization ratchets it up a layer and decouples the application from the operating system. This allows more flexibility in migrating, updating and recovering pieces of software.
But application virtualization has traditionally been applied only to desktop software. Server application virtualization, as you might expect, virtualizes the server application, decoupling the application configuration and state from the underlying OS. So instead of creating a virtual copy of Internet Explorer 6, for example, you'd create a virtual copy of Microsoft Exchange Server.
Why do this? Microsoft's David Greschler, director of virtualization strategy, says that server-side applications today are tightly coupled to virtual machines, making it difficult to move applications from one VM to another, or to update the OS without affecting the application, and vice versa. If server apps are virtualized, you can update the operating system without having to worry about potentially reinstalling the application.
If the application is virtualized, IT shops can also create a few "golden images," or generic instances of an operating system that can be applied to multiple types of applications.
"Instead of saying 'that's my Exchange VM', you can say 'I'm just going to take a generic VM with an operating system and I can plop the application into it in real time'," Greschler says.