First look: Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V shines on

Preview editions of Hyper-V 2012 R2 and System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 R2 pick up where the strong initial releases left off

Hyper-V 3.0 was perhaps the shiniest of the shining-star features of Windows Server 2012. A number of new capabilities, plus enhancements to existing ones, promise to make Windows Server 2012 R2 an even stronger candidate for the majority of virtualization tasks most organizations need to support. Windows Server 2012 R2 also brings a number of new features to the table specifically aimed at integration with cloud-based services and building out hybrid cloud scenarios.

For larger Hyper-V environments, Microsoft's System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) is the management tool of choice. Managing more than a few virtual machines (VMs) using Hyper-V Manager will quickly become untenable, and almost impossible at any scale. However, it's worth noting that SCVMM 2012 R2 can't perform all tasks supported by Hyper-V Manager at this point in time. This list includes some new R2 features, such as exporting a running VM. Whether these features make it into the final release of SCVMM 2012 R2 remains to be seen.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Virtualization showdown: Microsoft Hyper-V 2012 vs. VMware vSphere 5.1 | 10 great new features in Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V | 10 excellent new features in Windows Server 2012 R2 | Review: Windows Azure shoots the moon ]

At least one change to terminology makes function naming more consistent. In the world of Hyper-V, the term "snapshot" has meant a point-in-time image of a system for later use, should it be necessary to roll back to a previous version. SCVMM has used the term "checkpoint" for the same functionality. Now, whereas Hyper-V Manager in Windows Server 2012 still called it a "snapshot," Hyper-V Manager in the R2 release calls it a "checkpoint." The only remaining exception is the PowerShell command Export-VMSnapshot. You'll also find a Checkpoint-VM cmdlet that will take a snapshot of the specified VM. For all intents and purposes, a checkpoint is the same as a snapshot from previous releases.

A number of features fall into the "new" category in Hyper-V 2012 R2. We'll look at them individually with an eye toward how each makes things easier or faster.

Gen 2 virtual machines
The basic underlying technology of a virtual machine is software emulation of real physical hardware. For the most part, this emulated physical hardware is old and crusty. Microsoft sees this as a problem, particularly when it comes to support for UEFI or secure boot. Security concerns represent a potent motivational factor, so with the goal of reducing the attack footprint, Microsoft took the chance on creating a new base for emulated hardware with a minimal set of components. With this release, the new Gen 2 VMs support only 64-bit versions of Windows 8, Windows 8.1 Preview, Windows Server 2012, and Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview as guests.

First look: Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V shines on
Generation 2 VMs in Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V will mean faster guest installs and faster boot times, but only Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 guests are supported.
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