Virtualization shoot-out: Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V

Microsoft's server virtualization platform pairs good performance with extensive management, at the cost of significant added complexity

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To build our test virtual machines, I modified the PowerShell code generated from a simple clone action, changed the VM name, and then ran the script again to build the next VM. This process is simplified by a PowerShell button right on the console that launches a PowerShell prompt.

There are also provisions in VMM that allow for automated configuration of cloned instances, not unlike VMware's guest customization specifications. However, Microsoft's auto-configuration is limited to Windows guests and isn't as malleable as VMware's tools.

Live migrations of Linux and Windows VMs proved snappy and resulted in no significant processing or networking performance problems during the operation. Flood pings from servers during migrations showed no packet loss at 1,000 packets per second; there were delays in packet delivery during the switch, but nothing out of the ordinary.

The high availability and load balancing capabilities, delivered through VMM, Operations Manager, and Cluster Services, also worked as advertised. "PRO Tips" pop up alerts when certain thresholds are met or exceeded. The solution can then automatically act on these notifications and live migrate VMs to other hosts or simply issue recommendations that actions be taken.

It takes a while to dig into Operations Manager to set thresholds, and the whole process is significantly less straightforward than using VMware's Distributed Resource Scheduler, for example, but it is functional. On the DR front, when a host blade was yanked out of the rack, the VMs that had been running on that blade began booting on another host very quickly.

Hyper-V does not support live storage migrations, but VMM can perform what Microsoft calls a "quick storage migration," pausing the VM while switching back-end storage subsystems. Hyper-V also lacks support for fault-tolerant virtual machines, whereby primary and secondary copies of a VM run in parallel across two hosts and offer lossless failover capabilities.

Microsoft is making a big push to position VMM and company as a central management solution not only for Hyper-V, but also for VMware vSphere and eventually Citrix XenServer. Ostensibly, this is a move to allow customers already running these virtualization infrastructures to bring Hyper-V into their networks, perhaps to eventually transition to Hyper-V alone or at least allow central management. VMM's hooks don't work with vCenter 4.1 yet, but will soon.

Finally, Microsoft also gave me a brief preview of VMM 2012, which appears significantly different from the current iteration. It focuses on private cloud computing, allowing self-service VM allocation, very granular user rights assignments, and the construction of clouds as collections of server, network, and disk resources that can be used to deploy and manage complete application sets. It's not fully baked yet, but looks promising.

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Virtual Machine Manager's Overview section is a handy way to get a quick and accessible view of the whole farm.
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