Microsoft releases Windows Server 2008 R2 and Hyper-V R2 to manufacturing

Microsoft adds features, performance, and functionality into its latest virtualization hypervisor platform -- but is it ready for all consumers?

Yesterday was a big day for Microsoft.  The company announced the update and release of both Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 and Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 (their free standalone hypervisor platform) to manufacturing.  The R2 update contains major functionality improvements to both products.  

Today, consumers find themselves one step closer to getting their hands on a Released to Manufacturing (RTM) version of the upgraded OS and hypervisor.  While the RTM version is final code, you might want to hold off celebrating or popping open that bottle of champagne just yet.  These R2 releases are currently only available for partners to download and start testing with their various hardware platforms.

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According to Crissy House, a product manager for Microsoft's Windows Server marketing group, OEMs will start to receive Windows Server 2008 R2 RTM on July 29.  Independent software vendor (ISV) and independent hardware vendor (IHV) partners will be able to download the product from MSDN starting on August 14.  Microsoft Partner Program Gold/Certified members will be able to download it through the Microsoft Partner Program (MPP) portal on August 19.  Microsoft Action Pack subscribers will be able to download it starting August 23.  Volume License customers with an existing Software Assurance (SA) license will be able to get it on August 19 via the Volume License Service Center (VLSC).  And IT professionals with TechNet subscriptions or developers with MSDN subscriptions will start having access to download the product on August 14.

And then if you are like me and don't have any of those fancy titles or access to any of those special Microsoft acronym programs, you can grab a 180-day evaluation version on August 20 or wait to purchase it from the retail channel starting September 14.

Wow!  I'm glad Crissy House knows what's going on.  That's a lot of different dates and programs that can cause a bit of confusion for folks.

So hopefully you now have an idea as to when you can get your hands on this thing. And now you're asking, what's going on with this new Hyper-V R2?  Like I said earlier, there are quite a few improvements in this release.  Let's dig into a few of them.

  • Live Migration - This was the No. 1 customer-requested feature for this release.  One of the biggest differentiators between VMware's ESX Server and Microsoft's Hyper-V was VMware's vMotion capability (and I'm sure Microsoft had to hear about it all the time).  Quick Migration just didn't cut it.  Live Migration is now added into the product -- and even better, it's free.  Along with Live Migration, Hyper-V R2 also introduces Processor Compatibility Mode, which allows you to move a virtual machine up and down multiple processor generations from the same vendor, making the migration less restrictive.
  • New Processor Support - Hyper-V R2 scales to run on systems with up to 64 logical processors.  It also takes advantage of the latest processor enhancements such as AMD's Rapid Virtualization Indexing (RVI) and Intel's Extended Page Tables (EPT), giving it a performance boost when these capabilities are present.  The system supports up to 384 1-way virtual machines.  And to help with power consumption and control, they've added support for Core Parking, which allows Hyper-V to put a host's processor to sleep if it isn't being utilized.
  • Storage updates - Microsoft added additional storage flexibility with hot add/remove virtual storage -- you can add or remove storage while the VM is running without causing any downtime.  Storage performance improvements have also been added.  Microsoft claims that dynamically expanding VHDs have in some cases achieved a 15x improvement in performance and have reached approximately 87% of native throughput.  Fixed or pre-allocated disks have also been improved to be on par with native disk performance.
  • Networking - Hyper-V R2 adds Jumbo Frame and TCP/IP Offload Engine (TOE) support for 1Gb networks.  And for those lucky enough to afford 10Gb networks, they've added Chimney and Virtual Machine Queue (VMQ) support, which allows the hypervisor to take advantage of network offloading technologies to free up processor usage and improve performance.

Virtualizing memory-intensive application stacks?  Support has been added for up to 1TB of physical memory.

And remember when we recently talked about Microsoft's Linux Integration Components (ICs)?  Now, with this release, Microsoft is adding support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 5.2 and 5.3 for both x86 and x64 to add to their already existing SLES support.

It's also worth noting that Windows Server 2008 R2 is ready for VDI.  It includes a Connection Broker so that when a user logs in they can be brokered to their appropriate virtual machine or to a remote desktop session.  To help with VDI, the company has made a big improvement to the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP).  It offers multi-monitor support, bi-directional audio support, Aero Glass support, and enhanced bitmap acceleration.  Microsoft customers have said that they have the bandwidth needed, and would prefer to get the additional performance out of their machines.

Now that Windows Server 2008 R2 has been released, Microsoft is working toward releasing System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) 2008 R2 to manufacturing within the next 60 days.  The update will improve provisioning of VMs and provide automated storage migration.  And it should make Hyper-V a much more solid solution all around.

What do you think?  Are these new features and improvements enough to make you switch from your existing hypervisor provider?  Are they enough to beat out VMware in a head-to-head sales engagement?  If not, what's still missing?  Where do they still need to improve?

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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