Microsoft outs virtualization support for piracy port

Antipiracy platform service also ported to Windows Server 2003

Microsoft has week ported its newest antipiracy platform service to Windows Server 2003, but left out a feature available on versions for Vista and Longhorn that lets users run the service in a virtualized environment.

Without the virtualization option for Windows Server 2003 SP1, users may have to deploy a new separate server to run the Key Management Service (KMS) that is the center of Microsoft's corporate options for its new Software Protection Platform (SPP) to combat piracy.

The KMS is a network service that uses keys to validate and activate Vista clients, Longhorn server and eventually other infrastructure pieces such as Exchange and SQL Server.

The lack of a virtualization option is in contrast to the KMS versions that run on Vista or the latest beta build of Longhorn Server. Both of those versions can be run in a virtualized environment.

Some observers say the virtualization option is a key omission and is either a poke at users to migrate or a sign of things to come.

"Many [users] might not be interested in running a workstation operating system [Vista] in their data center or running a beta product [Longhorn Server]," says Josh Phillips, the founder of the WindowsConnected blog and an IT pro for a company he would not disclose. "Many enterprise users today are using virtualization technology to help consolidate hardware in their data centers. [Virtual machines] help reduce the cost, support and maintenance of servers. Now someone who might have been planning to run this in a [virtual machine] or who already was has to go out and procure physical hardware for a server."

Users can migrate to get the virtualization options, or as Phillips suggests, the lack of virtualization support in Windows Server 2003 SP1 might be a sign of things to come.

"My assumption is that the next Longhorn server will have the same limitation," he says.

Microsoft could eliminate that option in Longhorn Beta 3, which is due shortly, or the final version of the server slated to ship by year-end, and in Service Pack 1 for Vista, for which a ship date has not been announced.

The virtualization limitation in Windows Server 2003 SP1 does not mean users are required to buy a new server. Users with 25 or more clients or five or more servers have the option of deploying the KMS internally as a way to validate their software instead of using Microsoft's online validation service. The recommended configuration for KMS is to have at least two versions running so users have redundancy.

KMS, however, can run as a service on an existing server, but experts say combing other services with KMS on a single box could introduce an element of risk or instability for the critical KMS service, which determines if clients and servers run optimally.

KMS was introduced in October last year as part of Microsoft's SPP program, which is used to validate the use of genuine -- that is, paid for -- copies of Windows and to partially cripple systems that don't pass muster. A Volume Activation 2.0 provision under SPP provides activation options for volume-licensing business customers.

Today, volume-licensing customers purchase software bits and use product keys to install and activate those bits on computers. Under SPP, volume-licensing customers can use a Multiple Activation Key to perform a one-time activation directly with Microsoft on desktops or deploy KMS internally to perform the same service.

Under KMS, servers and desktops would have to reactivate every 180 days, excluding a 30-day grace period to correct any failed activations. Failure to reactivate would send computers into a "reduced functionality mode."

The KMS stores all keys encrypted in a centralized store, whereas today those product keys are stored on the individual computers.

With KMS ported to Windows Server 2003, Microsoft is plans to add management features for KMS to System Center Management Server (formerly Systems Management Server). In addition, there will be an open API and a Windows Management Interface for use with third-party applications such as Tivoli for checking the activation status of a machine.

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