Windows Server 2012 R2 kicks Hyper-V up another notch

Microsoft continues to improve its enterprise virtualization offering

There are a lot of great features in the upcoming Windows Server 2012 R2 release, but with the VMworld 2013 conference coming up next week it seemed appropriate to look at the Microsoft next-gen Hyper-V offering debuting in R2.

The list of new or updated features for the updated Hyper-V is substantial, proving once again that Microsoft is not showing signs of slowing down in its battle against well-entrenched virtualization competitors EMC VMware and Citrix Systems.

[ Want to see the new features in a supercool slideshow? Check out Paul Ferrill's 10 great new features in Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V. | Get a no-nonsense digest of the day's key tech news each morning with InfoWorld's new Tech Brief newsletter. Subscribe today! ]

Here are the key new features coming to Hyper-V:

  • Shared virtual hard disk: This allows the clustering of virtual machines using shared virtual hard disk (VHDX) files. VHDX was introduced in Windows Server 2012 as a new file format, but you couldn't cluster VMs using a shared virtual hard disk until now.
  • Storage quality of service (QoS): Storage QoS allows you to manage throughput of virtual hard disks that are accessed by VMs. This allows you to place a maximum and minimum load (in I/O operations per second) for each virtual disk so that one disk doesn't affect another on the same host.
  • Virtual machine generation: One of the more interesting new features is the ability to choose the VM generation: Gen 1 or Gen 2. Gen 1 is the same as what you've known in previous Hyper-V versions. Gen 2 brings with it the ability to have secure boot, to boot from a SCSI virtual hard disk or DVD, and to PXE-boot using a standard network adapter, as well as UEFI firmware support. But before you leap for joy at the cool, new features, you should know there are limitations with the OSes supported for Gen 2: It supports only guest OSes running Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2012 R2, 64-bit Windows 8, or 64-bit Windows 8.1. And you have to decide on the generation you want for your VM when you create it -- you can't change it later.
  • Enhanced session mode: This provides for the redirection of local resources in a VM connection session, thus giving admins more functionality when connecting to a VM through Remote Desktop Connection (such as to displays, audio, printers, the Clipboard, drives, USB devices, and supported Plug and Play devices) through the VM connection.
  • Automatic virtual machine activation: This capability allows you to install VMs on a Windows Server 2012 R2 Data Center server without having to worry about managing product keys. The VMs are activated and will work even if migrated to other virtualization servers. This is great for service providers because they don't have to give tenants a product key or access their VMs to put one in and activate it. It's all transparent to the tenant, though the data center admins can manage and track VM license usage.
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