Virtualization wars: The empire strikes back

Hyper-V lives! Is Microsoft ready to prove it has what it takes in the virtualization arena? As I mentioned last week, Sun is on board: Read this quote from Sun's Senior Director of xVM, Vijay Sarathy. However, the company challenged Microsoft to answer some serious questions about its virtualization technology -- such as how Hyper-V can compete with the open source Xen-based alternatives and whether a Windows-

Hyper-V lives! Is Microsoft ready to prove it has what it takes in the virtualization arena? As I mentioned last week, Sun is on board: Read this quote from Sun's Senior Director of xVM, Vijay Sarathy. However, the company challenged Microsoft to answer some serious questions about its virtualization technology -- such as how Hyper-V can compete with the open source Xen-based alternatives and whether a Windows-only virtualization technology can hack it in today's increasingly heterogeneous datacenters.

[ How does Hyper-V fare in a hands-on lab test? Read the InfoWorld Test Center's review. ]

Sun's questions are valid ones, and the answers should be of interest to anyone contemplating embracing virtualization. After all, the debate as to who offers the most reliable, most cost-effective, and most feature-rich virtualization platform is just beginning and promises a long run. I mentioned last week that I would reach out to Microsoft, as well as experts on virtualization, for some responses to Sun's queries. Would they step up to the mic?

Yes, they would.

I received responses from Patrick O'Rourke, group product manager within Microsoft's Core Infrastructure Marketing, Server and Tools Business. In addition, Greg Shields, co-founder and IT guru with Concentrated Technology weighed in. He has extensive experience in systems administration, engineering, and architecture specializing in Microsoft, virtualization, and systems management technologies.

Following are the questions posed by Sun, as well as the responses from O'Rourke and Shields.

Live migration is an important feature for customers to handle unplanned outages, as Sun and VMware have demonstrated through inclusion of live migration capabilities in their hypervisors. How will Hyper-V meet customers' migration needs without live migration?

O'Rourke: Virtualization and high availability go hand-in-hand. If you're virtualizing today without high availability, then you should reevaluate that strategy. Windows Server 2008 Enterprise and Datacenter editions provide Hyper-V and integrated failover clustering at no additional charge. In the case of unplanned downtime, VMotion can't live migrate because there is no warning. Instead you must have VMware HA configured, and the best it can do is restart the affected virtual machines on other nodes, which is the same as what is provided with Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V and integrated Failover Clustering. And nearly three weeks ago at TechEd North America, Bob Muglia announced that live migration will be in the next version of Hyper-V.

[ For more on Microsoft's Hyper-V announcements at TechEd, check out "Microsoft highlights virtualization at TechEd." ]

For more on this, see Microsoft senior program manager for Hyper-V Jeff Woolsey's three-part blog post, "Hyper-V Quick Migration and VMware Live Migration": part one, part two, and part three.

Shields: See this post and the resulting comments for my position on VMotion's efficacy.

Enterprises are widely adopting open source technologies in order to give their customers access to bleeding-edge features and functionalities. How do you see the proprietary Hyper-V competing with open source Xen-based hypervisors from Citrix and Sun?

O'Rourke: IDC, Gartner, and others also indicate that enterprises are widely adopting proprietary software. We know our customers drive innovation using a mix of open source and proprietary software. As it relates to Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V, we expect IT pros, admins, developers, and others who are familiar and know Windows will be excited by Hyper-V. It's the Windows they know. And for those not familiar with Windows, they know that we have done extensive work with Citrix (initially XenSource) and Novell to ensure hypervisor compatibility and OS support on each others' hypervisors.

Customers running multiple hypervisors (and many will) will benefit from this work, as well as our open interfaces, standards work, and the fact that Microsoft's Virtual Hard Drive image format and Hypercall APIs are available under Open Specification Promise.

Shields: Citrix's Xen-based virtualization solution isn't really open source anymore. Yes, the core of it is. But people will be buying Citrix's proprietary and for-cost management utilities to run it. S, the play there is muted. Also, as far as I know, Xen remains a heavy Linux-based solution, something that won't play well in Microsoft-centric shops. Hence, Microsoft's Windows focus for Hyper-V. This is a product that is friendly to the Windows admin who doesn't know and doesn't want to learn Xen's heavy Linux requirements.

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Hyper-V only addresses Windows-based servers despite the fact that most datacenters are incredibly heterogeneous and require support for more than just Windows workloads. Aren't you underestimating the complexity and diversity of your customers' datacenters?

O'Rourke: No we're not. Our customers make sure we know their datacenter needs and provide us input on how we can help. So far they're telling us Windows Server 2008 has been a big help. As for Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V, it allows customers to consolidate applications running Novell SLES 10. As for Red Hat, Microsoft and Red Hat both realize the importance of virtualization and interoperability needs of our joint customers, and we are actively discussing how to support Red Hat Enterprise Linux on Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V.

Shields: Hyper-V doesn't address only Windows-based VMs. It supports SLES as well. Microsoft's support for additional Linux OSes is muted because Microsoft hasn't seen the demand for it. They're demanding a rock-stable virtualization platform that supports some of their workloads. Why do a poor job being all things to everyone when you can do a great job fixing a specific market segment?

Going along this road further, SCVMM [System Center Virtual Machine Manager] includes support for managing the Xens and ESXs of the world. Let those virtualization platforms do the oddball OS virtualizing, and let Microsoft handle its own product stable.

How do you see Hyper-V aiding in the reduction of energy consumption when it can only consolidate Windows-based servers?

O'Rourke: There's no greater way for customers to reduce power consumption than to consolidate the number of servers being used, and obviously Hyper-V will be used to do that. Beyond that, Windows Server 2008 provides customers features and technologies, some of which were not available in Windows Server 2003, that will help to reduce the power consumption of server and client operating systems, minimize environmental by-products, and increase server efficiency. Download the white paper here.

Shields: Again, there's a sizable percentage of environments that are mostly Microsoft-based. It was reported yesterday that virtualization as a generic solution only has a 10 percent penetration so far. That leaves a lot of Microsoft servers (and a lot of all kinds of servers) that can still be virtualized.

Microsoft has been criticized for not being able to scale and grow with its customers. How do you address that?

O'Rourke: In fiscal 2007, Microsoft reported revenue of $51 billion, 12 percent growth, R&D investment of nearly 13 percent of revenue, more than 78,000 employees in 103 countries. Given that, I'm sure Microsoft can scale and grow with our customers.

Shields: Check out Hyper-V. This product is designed to scale. As an example, the MSDN and TechNet Web sites have both been running atop Hyper-V for a number of weeks now. This entails a lot of servers getting hit a lot of times – 4 million hits per day, to be precise – and is a brilliant move on the part of Microsoft in proving its product.

How do you plan to manage physical infrastructure with Hyper-V?

O'Rourke: Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V is a hypervisor, not a systems management tool. For management, customers can use System Center to configure, deploy, operate and backup both virtual and non-virtualized applications and operating systems. And customers can use the beta of System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 to manage VMs running within Hyper-V, Virtual Server 2005, or VMs running within VMware ESX Server.

System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 tightly integrates with System Center Operations Manager [SCOM] 2007 to deliver a new feature called Performance and Resource Optimization (PRO). SCOM 2007 identifies opportunities for more efficient physical and virtual resource allocation and generates PRO tips within the Virtual Machine Manager console. Administrators can implement these PRO tips and dynamically optimize their datacenter based upon pre-defined policies and the real-time, changing demands of users. System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 is scheduled to be released in early Q4 this year.

Shields: I think Patrick said it all.

Microsoft has come out of the gate strong, if also a little later than others -- but it has the reputation of catching up fast. What's your opinion? Have any other questions for the folks at Microsoft?

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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