Virtualization showdown: Microsoft Hyper-V 2012 vs. VMware vSphere 5.1

Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V and VMware vSphere 5.1 bring big virtualization capabilities to small shops

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Management tools
In our reviews of Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V and VMware vSphere 5.1, we tested vSphere together with vCenter Server (naturally) but Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V without System Center 2012. We didn't examine the higher-end management and automation tools, but instead focused on the management tools that smaller shops would rely on.

At the low end, Microsoft gives you a basic set of tools in Hyper-V Manager, which comes as an installable option with Windows Server 2012. VMware's traditional management tool, the VMware vSphere Client, is a free client you must install on a Windows PC. Both offerings connect to remote hosts, allowing you to manage any system you can reach over the network.

Some functions are not possible in the basic management tools for either product. Advantage here goes to Microsoft as Hyper-V Manager can, for example, export a VM, then do an import to clone or copy the VM. With VMware you must be connected to vCenter Server in order to export or clone a VM. With respect to monitoring, however, the VMware vSphere Client provides much more information about both the host servers and the client VMs. VMware scores a point here for a more detailed graphical presentation.

The latest release of vCenter Server (5.1) adds a Web client to the mix, providing the ability to manage your VMware infrastructure from literally anywhere. Both VMware and Microsoft support automated management using Windows PowerShell. VMware offers a free add-on called PowerCLI that includes a long list of custom PowerShell cmdlets for managing your vSphere infrastructure.

Performance and scalability
Deciding how to measure performance and scalability presents a challenge when comparing these two products. Microsoft has made a number of enhancements in Hyper-V 2012 that in some cases exceed the outer limits of vSphere. If you want to gauge scalability in terms of raw numbers like nodes supported in a cluster (64 for Hyper-V 2012 vs. 32 for vSphere 5.1) or VMs in a cluster (8,000 for Hyper-V 2012 vs. 4,000 for vSphere 5.1), you would deduce that Microsoft has the more scalable solution.

But measuring real-world capacity goes way beyond the basic numbers. Case in point: Both products now support the concept of dynamic memory management, albeit in different manners. With Hyper-V 2012, you can configure individual VMs with an initial memory allocation and allow the hypervisor to adjust the amount of memory depending on current needs. This is not the default option when creating a new VM but a configuration setting. VMware has had dynamic memory management for several years, and unlike Microsoft, its memory management applies to all guest operating systems, not just Windows.

At the individual VM level, we used the Sandra 2013 benchmarking tool to determine basic numbers of performance from a single VM running Windows 7 SP1. This VM was configured to have 2GB of memory and two virtual CPUs. We ran four different benchmarks using Hyper-V 2008, Hyper-V 2012, vSphere 5.0, and vSphere 5.1. You can see from the table that Hyper-V 2012 performed better than vSphere, at least with respect to running Windows VMs. Note that we did not test the hypervisor under load or the performance of Linux VMs, as was done in InfoWorld's 2011 virtualization shootout. (Tests were run on a Dell PowerEdge R715 with dual AMD Opteron 6380 CPUs, 64GB of memory, and two Seagate ST9300605SS 10K 300GB SAS drives configured as a RAID1 array.)

Clocking Windows VMs: Sandra 2013 benchmark results 

 Hyper-V 2008 R2Hyper-V 2012vSphere 5.0vSphere 5.1
Cryptographic bandwidth (MBps)79597370378
Dhrystone integer (GIPS)12.5216.8611.7612.21
Whetstone double (GFLOPS)6.9213.256.766.89
Intercore bandwidth (GBps)1.711.441.151.12
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