With the release of its updated standalone Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 product, Microsoft claims to [finally] have a hypervisor to match that of market leader VMware. Moreover, by bundling newly added live migration and high availability features into the free server it’s hoping to win converts from the VMware camp, although it may not be as simple as that.
Hyper-V Server is essentially a packaging of Microsoft’s Hyper-V hypervisor together with enough of the supporting Windows Server OS to enable it to be installed and run on a bare server.
This new version has numerous enhancements. Not least in terms of scalability, with support for up to 64 logical processors in the host processor pool and a maximum 1TB of RAM. Each VM can also be given up to 64GB of memory, plus it’s now possible to expand and add VM storage without having to reboot.
The really big changes, however are the ability to move a VM from one host to another without any downtime (Live Migration) plus high availability features such as automatic migration of VMs when a host server crashes. To support these the Hyper-V Server can be integrated into a failover cluster and use the Cluster Shared Volumes technology, introduced in Server 2008 R2, to enable multiple virtual machines to run from the same LUN.
Unfortunately for Microsoft, in the time it’s taken beef up its hypervisor, VMware and others have moved on and it still doesn’t match what rivals are offering, particularly when it comes to load balancing and resource allocation. More than that, its first attempt had little impact on the virtualization market, despite being given away as part of the Windows Server OS .
Microsoft is hoping that bundling the new live migration and high availability features for free will tip the balance in its favour. However, such features tend to be implemented by large enterprise companies, most of which will have invested heavily in VMware already and are unlikely to switch mission critical production systems to a relatively untried platform simply because it’s free.
There are issues for the SMB market too. Failover clustering is a lot simpler in the R2 release, but the cost of hardware will continue to deter many plus you need the full server OS in order to create a cluster in the first place.
Management could be another sticking point. The R2 release of System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) 2008 is needed to take full advantage of what the new Microsoft hypervisor has to offer but, like the server OS, it’s not fully released and isn’t free. The only alternative is to use the Cluster Manager and Hyper-V Manager tools included in the full Windows Server 2008 R2 product or download equivalent standalone tools for use with Windows 7.
If you want to try Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 it’s available now, well ahead of the official launch of the complete Windows Server 2008 R2 package which also includes the hypervisor. At first glance it looks good, but virtualization is a fast moving market and Microsoft still has a way to go before it can truly claim to have caught up with the competition.