One of the interesting things Peter Ghostine brought up on our joint webcast last week was that he still thinks Microsoft might build or buy Parallels Containers “OS virtualization” technology. (Parallels Containers was previously known as Parallels Virtuozzo or SWsoft Virtuozzo.)
A lot of people have thought that Parallels Containers would be a great technology for Microsoft to own (myself included), although frankly I thought the window of opportunity had passed and the whole idea sort of slipped my mind.
But wow. If Peter is right and Microsoft does end up building or buying a Containers-like technology, that would be pretty huge.
What is Parallels Containers?
Parallels is a virtualization software company with a product called “Containers.” Containers’ OS virtualization is kind of like a combination between terminal server and a hypervisor.
Containers takes a single copy of Windows Server and divides it into a bunch of “containers” that each have their own machine name, IP address, services, accounts, etc. For all intents and purposes, each container looks and feels like a completely separate VM. But in reality only one copy of Windows is running. Each container is technically more like a sort of “super isolation” environment instead of a true VM.
In the real world this means that you can get VM-level isolation of sessions with server scalability more like terminal server (as opposed to a hypervisor running a bunch of VMs).
Why use Parallels Containers?
The biggest use of Parallels Containers in the real world is for all those Internet hosting companies that offer “private servers” for just a few dollars a month. They use Containers to put dozens of customers on the same physical host (all while each customer thinks they have their own private Windows server).
The other killer use case is for VDI. Since Parallels Containers allows you to get the isolation of VDI with the session density of terminal server, it’s truly the best of both worlds.
Probably the main reason that it’s not used for every VDI deployment is because the leading VDI vendors—VMware, Citrix, and Microsoft—all have their own hypervisors that aren’t Parallels. (I know for sure Quest, Ericom, and Leostream—three connection broker vendors who are not tied to one specific hypervisor—all support and love Parallels.)
What does this have to do with Microsoft?
For years Peter Ghostine has been saying something along the lines of “if Microsoft wants to dominate the VDI space and kill VMware in the desktop arena, all they need to do it buy Parallels and no one will ever look anywhere else!” (That’s not an exact quote but rather a paraphrase based on stuff he’s said.)
While I agreed in principle, I figured that if Microsoft actually wanted to do that, they would have by now. Unfortunately I thought my dreams were dashed when Microsoft announced their feature set for terminal server (now called Remote Desktop Session Host) for Server 2008 R2. Among the new features are per-session IP address virtualization, Microsoft Installer Service per-session virtualization, and per-session “fair share” CPU management. (In other words, they’re beefing up the per-session isolation on their own.) So I thought if Microsoft was really going to buy Parallels then they would have done it already and not spent the time or effort developing these new R2 features.
Then again, maybe instead of spending a billion dollars on Parallels, it’s cheaper for Microsoft to modify terminal server and incorporate App-V into their own home-grown super isolation for sessions hosted on terminal server?
What do you think? Could Parallels Containers dominate the space if Microsoft owned them? Can Microsoft build this on their own? Is it too late? Or is Parallels just too obscure to matter in any significant way?