Is Microsoft's Hyper-V in Windows Server 8 finally ready to compete with VMware?

Is Microsoft's Hyper-V in Windows Server 8 finally ready to compete with VMware?

Summary: Microsoft's built-in virtualization in Windows 2008 Server R2 has so far been unable to attain significant enterprise penetration. But all of that could change with Windows Server 8.


If you've been following my writings on ZDNet for the last several years, you've probably realized by now that I am something of a virtualization and server technology junkie.

In my day job as a systems integration professional, I spend a great deal of time with these technologies, helping my customers attain greater server efficiency and density in their datacenters.

Figuring out how to fine-tune and optimize server and datacenter infrastructure is what I do, and in doing so I get to play with any number of virtualization and server operating stacks from all kinds of vendors. This includes Mid-range UNIX and mainframe virtualization stacks, VMware vSphere and also to a much more limited extent, Microsoft's Hyper-V.

It's actually kind of interesting that March 1, 2012 marks just over four years since I started writing for ZDNet, when I got my start as a guest columnist for Mary Jo Foley's All About Microsoft blog.

My second ZDNet article, published in Mid-February of 2008, was a review of the very first version of Hyper-V, which was introduced in beta form as an add-on to Windows Server 2008.

Also Read

I knew at that time that Hyper-V had a number of compelling features that could potentially allow it to gain significant inroads against VMware, particularly in Microsoft technology-centric environments.

However, despite excellent performance and overall value compared to its much more expensive competitor, the product was missing a number of key virtual infrastructure management and high availability features that was necessary to seal the deal for large enterprises in order to consider it to be in the running for x86 server virtualization platform of choice.

Four years later, enter Windows Server 8 Beta. In 2012, VMware continues to be the primary x86 virtualization platform for large enterprises and its position as industry leader in that space seems secure. But sometime at the end of this year, presumably summer, when Windows Server 8 is released to the public along with their new consumer desktop OS, this time things may very well be different.

For the first time in four years, Windows Server and Hyper-V are not only at parity in terms of basic enterprise virtualization functionality with VMware vSphere, but in a number of respects actually exceeds it in terms of features offered and encompasses the functionality of a number of other VMware products that would be considered expensive add-ons, as well as 3rd-party enhancements for VMware that you'd have to go to other vendors and spend big bucks for as well.

Back in September of 2011 I talked a bit about the features that were in the Developer Preview of Windows 8 Server. I don't want to repeat them again since they are pretty well spelled out.

Also Read: Windows Server 8, The Ultimate Cloud OS? (September 2011)

Instead, I'd like to focus on what is new and perhaps some perspective of why I think things might go a bit different this time around.

  • Microsoft has now added the capability for a VM running under Hyper-V to address up to 1 Terabyte of memory. That's doubled from what was in the previous test release, which was up to 512GB.
  • Additionally, a single VM now may address up to 64 Terabytes of virtual storage, which can be either thick or thin provisioned. This is up from 16 Terabytes per VHDX file in the previous Developer release.
  • Windows 8 Server Beta now supports 160 logical processors per Hyper-V host, as well as 1024 VMs per host, 64 nodes per cluster, 4000 VMs per cluster and 32 virtual processors per VM.
  • Hyper-V Clustering has also been significantly enhanced since the previous developer release, which includes guest clustering using virtual fiber channel adapters.
  • A completely new file system, ReFS (Resilient File System) which is more reliable than NTFS, that automatically detects and corrects metadata corruption and is optimized for high avaliablity virtualized workloads when combined with Microsoft's new Storage Spaces architecture for pooled drives has been introduced.
  • Volume Shadow Copy Services (VSS) is now extended to remote SMB file shares. Additionally, support end-to end encryption of SMB data at the share or filesystem level has now been added as a basic feature of the operating system without the need for IPSec or any specialized hardware for WAN acceleration.
  • SMB Directory Leasing improves application response times in branch offices by reducing the round-trips required between client and server.
  • Primary Computers for User Data Setting: Primary Computers is an enhancement to two existing features, Folder Redirection and Roaming Profiles. Primary Computers addresses security concerns by allowing administrators to specify a user-primary computer relationship in Active Directory.
  • Offline File Improvements: With the new Always Offline feature, users can be permanently placed in the offline mode and have a near-local performance experience with cached files. Cost Aware Synchronization automatically tracks roaming and bandwidth usage limits while on metered connections, helping users avoid unexpectedly high data usage costs.
  • A new Microsoft Online Backup Service which allows environments to back up critical data to Microsoft's public cloud and restore from any location has been introduced.
  • Voice Over IP integration with Remote Desktop Services and RemoteFX (server-side VDI and GPU acceleration) allows for rich audio and video conferencing experiences using virtualized desktops on thin clients that perform just like localized desktop applications. The Metro UI is also now extended to Windows 8 VDI applications and the Remote Desktop Client is now seamlessly integrated into Metro in Windows 8.
  • Advanced Data De-duplication technology built into the OS allows for a high reduction of storage overhead when storing similar forms of data.
  • Offloaded Data Transfer (ODX) in Windows Server 8 takes advantage of SAN array offload features to drastically improve performance, reduce I/O to and from the Server without utilizing server CPU cycles. ODX is used in Hyper-V for Live Migration (and in other storage-related scenarios in Windows Server 8 ) provided that your array supports hardware offload.

Now, all of these new features (which are not even the complete list, there are others that I've left out for brevity) are significant, and I intend to deep dive into these things over the coming weeks, but the key takeaway on Windows Server 8 is that built-in virtualization and management of that virtual infrastructure is not just a feature of the operating system, but an integral part of how a Windows Server 8 infrastructure is actually deployed.

Indeed, you could run Windows 8 Server installations on VMware, but you would totally miss out on the integration of the new role-based management UI as well as take advantage of the PowerShell scripting language that has extensions into the hypervisor and allows you to control to a very fine level of granularity how each VM serves its specific role in your environment.

One of the things that makes Windows Server 8 different than previous versions of the OS is that Microsoft now views the new "Server 8 Core" as the preferred method of installing virtualized instances of the OS.

Using this methodology, you start with essentially a stripped down "core" OS (or JEOS) and you add specific functionality components to your VMs, with the exact roles you need, such as IIS, or SMB, AD domain controller, DNS, DHCP, print server, et cetera.

Provisioning a virtual Windows server is as easy as following a wizard and choosing "parts" from a list to build into your VM, or by scripting in any number of built in "commandlets" in PowerShell if you want to do this in a much more scalable and automated fashion.

Sean Gallagher over at Ars Technica has done a nice run-through of the process to give you an idea what the management UI looks like.

Obviously, this minimalist, highly componentized way of deploying Microsoft infrastructure is very different from the kind of virtualized server deployments we've seen in the past. It's a lot more efficient and gives you an unprecedented amount of control over server density as well as providing extremely tight integration with the operating system management stack, something which VMware really doesn't offer today.

The big question is whether or not large enterprises will see significant value in all of these new features. I think the answer is yes, particularly if the organizations have a lot of investment in Microsoft technologies and they are looking to add significant efficiency and consolidate their environment.

That being said, I haven't yet seen as to whether or not Microsoft has significantly enhanced the Linux Integration Services in Server 8 -- this is something I intend to follow up on, because VMware's integration with Linux is excellent, allows for highly scalable Linux VMs, and provides for extremely good virtual multiprocessor performance with RHEL and SLES, and even supports other Linux operating systems such as Ubuntu.

Any organization that has a significant investment in Linux and is heterogenous in nature and has already made some investment in VMware vSphere might not want to bring in a second virtualization "Silo" just to run Windows infrastructure on, so Microsoft should consider making Linux a first-class citizen in Hyper-V.

EDIT: After some email discussion with Microsoft's virtualization lead Jeff Woolsey this morning, it has been brought to my attention that the future mainline Linux Kernel 3.4 will include the synthetic Hyper-V drivers. This means that Linux distributions based on this kernel or later when virtualized under Hyper-V will not require installation of "tools" drivers like VMware does, they will simply work virtualized out of the box. Additionally, the mainline kernel 3.4 and above will provide for up to 32 virtual processors per VM in Hyper-V, which is a significant increase over the previous version which only provided for up to 4 vCPUs per VM.

I'm really looking forward to putting this Server 8 beta through its paces and seeing what the latest Hyper-V and server management tools can do. Do you plan to deploy it in your organization? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Disclaimer: The postings and opinions on this blog are my own and don’t necessarily represent my employer's positions, strategies or opinions.

Topics: Virtualization, Enterprise Software, VMware, Storage, Servers, Operating Systems, Networking, Microsoft, Hardware, Windows


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • No; Windows is not there for large workloads

    Look at the recent Azure outages.

    Where is Microsoft's 100% support commitment for non MS OS's (Ie: Linux)? I'm talking none of the usual BS from MS : "Well, if this were Windows it would work perfectly."

    And I know few people that would put Windows in the same high performance and reliability as, say Linux or other systems. It's close but nowhere near where it should be as it has too much baggage associated with it.
    • That's your best argument?

      Let's look at Amazon and Google's track record in the last few years, and Microsoft's looks pristine by comparison.
      • Don't remember

        A FULL Google outage in a LONG TIME.
        Same for Amazon....
      • Because you have what is known as

        a selective memory, itguy10.

        We do laugh though, watching you post, thinking you're somehow pulling the wool over people's eyes. :D
        William Farrel
    • The Azure outage had nothing to do with the OS

      Azure went down because of a bug in some infrastructure management code that was confused by the leap day. It had nothing to do with the OS, Hyper-V, etc.

      Microsoft is supporting Linux in Hyper-V and Azure. In fact, I have OpenSUSE and CentOS running in Hyper-V on one of my Win8 machines. The latest Linux integration components work a treat and Linux performs at practically native speed.
  • Good. I am glad you put in the disclaimer.

    New Flash: Hyper-V hasn't got a snowballs chance in h3ll in the 'big leagues'.

    What VMware needs to be concerned with is:

    o Open Virtualization Alliance
    o Red Hat RHEV 3.0

    I did a proof of concept on RHEV 3.0 during its beta phase working directly with Red Hat engineers.

    RHEV 3.0 puts in place a total replacement for 2.x Windows Server 'RHEV-M' console manager, all written (quite nicely in Java).

    This completely removes all Windows dependencies from the RHEV implementation and if you are a CIO doing due diligence, you will find the TCO/ROI of RHEV with KVM completely undercuts VMware in cost-reduction terms, performance metrics aside.

    I stake my reputation on it.

    I am going to leave it at that. IBM is a member of OVA:

    [b]Disclaimer: I am not a member of the OVA or affiliated with Red Hat, but I DID stay at a Holiday Inn Express Motel last night.[/b]

    Thank you.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz
    Linux Advocate, Human Being
    Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
    • Strange goals

      If your goal is to build an ABM infrastructure, then you may well continue to stick your head in the sand while you allow VMWare tod continue to take money from your pockets if you want.

      But, frankly, just the cost savings alone mean that Hyper-V deserves serious consideration.

      Add the fact that Hyper-V 3.0 now supports rock solid live migration, massively expanded memory and CPU support etc, heterogenous network adapter teaming and many mOre features listed above and elsewhere, means that for MANY scenarios, Hyper-V is now leading the game.
      • I've already got Windows 8 CP VDI

        running on the Windows 8 Server beta. Works very well. Much easier and better performance than I was getting out of either XenApp, XenDesktop or vMotion. And with all the features you'd expect and then some. It's really impressive.
      • Maximum cost savings...

        The best cost savings is to switch to all Apple, get rid of your IT staff that deals with virus and security holes, and get computer geeks out in the office actually HELPING your people make MONEY with all the hardware you bought!
        Tony Burzio
      • Did you read Dietrich's comment?

        Where is he advocating VMware?
        I see RHEV 3.0, but no VMWare refs.
        Do you know the difference between VMware and RHEV?
        And he's right, RHEV 3.0 kicks Hyper-V in price, performance, and features. By the time Hyper-V/Windows 8 are released near the end of 2012, they will have barely caught up the to where RHEV is today. By then RHEV will have moved farther out in the lead.
        RHEV is the real leader.
      • Not so strange...

        What would be strange would be to take an investment in time, money and resources and just chuck it out the window because somebody said "Hey, let's try this instead". Using your logic...

        If your goal is to build an NBM infrastructure, then you may well continue to stick your head in the sand while you allow Microsoft to continue to take money from your pockets if you want.

        But, frankly, just the cost savings alone mean that Linux deserves serious consideration.

        Add the fact that Linux supports {add selling points here} and many more features listed above and elsewhere, means that for MANY scenarios, Linux is now leading the game.

        Now, for a healthy dose of reality...

        As IT staff and management have known for decades, retail cost of software is a fraction of the TCO. Free is never free no matter how much technology evangelists proclaim it to be so. Where the rubber meets the road is internal expertise and the general availability of external support. I do most of my work in the manufacturing sector, and I can tell you they are well stocked in ESXi expertise. About half the companies I work for aren't even using the paid version of VMWare because they have the "free" version and they have the people on staff who know how to use it. Microsoft is still playing catch-up in the hypervisor market.

        Which brings us to the second point. Lagging behind in a vertical market where there are tightly focused market leaders is never a good place to be, especially for a company that can't afford the laser-like focus required to take over a market. The bottom line for a business owner is this...I've seen Microsoft dump technology before because they couldn't garner market share. Virtual PC was one that was essentually left for dead. Do I trust them to not dump Hyper-V if they can't garner signficant market share? Do I want to bet my entire infrastructure on that? VMWare isn't going to dump its hypervisor unless it goes out of business. Can I say the same about Microsoft? Putting all your eggs in one basket has rarely been the hallmark of a winning IT strategy. "You never saw anyone get fired for choosing IBM" was a staple of the 1980s and 1990s until it wasn't anymore.
      • Doesn't work under Linux with out MS licensing .. its a no go

        Any smart IT person knows better than to trust MS with Linux. Just look at their track record with Android!, SCO, Novell, Mono, etc! You would have be a huge fool to do so.

        Depending on whom you talk to, the best bet is Vmware or Xen. VMWare is the most deployed on EXSi servers across the web were Hyper V is not even an option.

        MS even under Win8 is not an option. If you want a windows xp vm within Win7 or Win8. Go for it. In all other circumstances its a waste of time, money and resources.

        The author made one huge crucial blunder do to his lack of vision. Windows machines are not being deployed as much as Android and IOS, even MacOS is growing at Windows expense. What all that translates to is that Hyper V is going become Hyper lost as it doesn't work on these platforms.

        This is were the butter is in the future. Laptops as you know them are doomed to disappear in the very near future (2 years or so). Most will work the same way as the padphone.

        Carcasses all over the place where you place your phone or just sit it nearby and you have a full desktop. The Carcasses are a large screen, mouse, digitizer power source and keyboard. On the run you have your phone / tablet. They will look a lot like Samsung's Foldable Transparent Concept Phone/Pad.

        Think about it. From a corporation standpoint. Disposable stations that stay put in your cubicle. Replaced every four to five years at low cost (< 200 dollars Keyboard, Mouse, power source and Display). These dont go on the go. They stay put, very little risk and maintenance. Now instead of giving each employee a laptop and a phone. They give him an Android phone with virtualization. No need to pay 2000 dollars for the laptop and another 500 dollars for the phone. Just one 500 dollars stack + software. Its a no brainer.

        In that realm Hyper V is a non starter. Like usual, MS is behind the times. If Windows 8 came out when Vista was released, it had a chance, now.. you really have to be kidding me, they missed the boat a long time ago!
        • android phone as workstation?


          Oh, right, you're serious.

          Well here's a dose of reality - try doing something that actually requires heavy CPU/GPU performance (e.g., build/compile or cross-compile big codebase, embedded work esp. debugging a target platform, physics engine work, modelling, finite element analysis, graphic design) on an Android phone.

          When that's possible, then and only then will I consider serious work on a phone platform and dumping my desktop machine.

          It's not the keyboard, mouse etc. that are extraneous - it's the platform that's seriously underpowered.
    • Neither does Windows Server...

      DTS: "Hyper-V hasn't got a snowballs chance in h3ll in the 'big leagues'"

      Most deployments I work with currently are Windows Server-based, so my experience will likely be different than yours, but I have basically seen one of three hypervisors in use at most of my clients - Citrix (which is ONE client, out of over a hundred), VMWare or Hyper-V. Hyper-V is also few and far-between, but its adoption has been growing, especially with brand new implementations where the systems are not being migrated, but rather are being built from scratch. RedHat, KVM, QEmu and all your other "also-rans" are nowhere to be found here.

      Right now, VMware is the major player and is very VERY expensive, and Hyper-V is included, supported, and recommended by the software vendor providing the server software most of the mid-size companies are using (you know - the SMB market where budgets are tight and Microsoft servers are plenty). Somehow I don't think that a virtualization platform never mentioned or supported by a technology partner and supported by some "alliance" that nobody ever talks about or cares about in the real world is going to trump either a platform that is already installed, proven and trusted or a platform that is included and supported by the server software these customers already own.

      As someone else said - sure, in Linux-only deployments, Hyper-V probably won't be found, and if what you mean by "the big leagues" as being the largest businesses where Linux is predominant, you're probably right, Hyper-V probably won't penetrate very far. Mind you, I also don't think many of the other technologies will, either, as these deployments are generally only trusted to VMware (at least if the IT staff were smart).
      • VMware coast vs Windows

        "Right now, VMware is the major player and is very VERY expensive, and Hyper-V is included, supported"

        Really? Free VMware esxi server for up to 16GB host. True - full enterprise license is VERY expensive, but foundation license gives you most features and 4 VM hosts for $500.
        Now - i'm not a fan of vmware licensing, but - how much that Windows server license coast you? The one that includes Hyper-V? Doon't forget that you would need Enterprise, 64-bit, R2, whatever MS calls it - to support enough RAM for more than couple of VMs.

        In my experience, the (almost) only reason people (and vendors) run VMs on windows hosts (vmware server or virtual box or Hyper-V) - lack of expertise to do otherwise. Windows is comforting, GUI is there, no need to learn new things...
      • Cost of VMware ESXi/vSphere vs. Hyper-V

        "Really? Free VMware esxi server for up to 16GB host. True - full enterprise license is VERY expensive, but foundation license gives you most features and 4 VM hosts for $500."

        16GB isn't a lot of RAM for a single host, and there are other limitations with that license (for example, it is also restricted to a single processor - quite a limitation considering most VMware-certified motherboards sport more than one processor socket). VMware's licensing is also changing to be based on the total amount of RAM being allocated to virtual machines throughout the entire business, with RAM limits being placed on each processor being licensed. All this add up to a very quick upward trend in the cost of a VMware-based infrastructure.

        Now despite this - I actually agree with you and am I big fan of VMware (prefer it over all other HyperVisors currently and run it on a small server at home - even though Hyper-V actually supports my hardware better).

        My argument to DTS wasn't that Hyper-V is going to overtake VMware - it likely won't, at least for quite some time - but that it has a much better chance of replacing VMware in Windows shops than RHEV, which is hardly even on the radar of most IT personnel I deal with daily. The simple fact is, for virtualizing Windows servers, we're talking about a system that's already included automatically with whatever Windows Server license the corporation already has, and it is guaranteed to be supported by Microsoft's server OS, most Microsoft partners, and most Microsoft enterprise systems (such as Dynamics GP/CRM/AX, Sharepoint). You can bet that if a company which already runs Windows server is looking for a virtualization platform, either brand-new or switching away from VMware, Hyper-V will be on the radar before pretty much any other platform.

        "Now - i'm not a fan of vmware licensing, but - how much that Windows server license coast you? The one that includes Hyper-V? Doon't forget that you would need Enterprise, 64-bit, R2, whatever MS calls it - to support enough RAM for more than couple of VMs."

        Server 2008 R2 (which is now only available as 64-bit) is the requirement - any version - licensing requirements don't change just because you need to "virtualize" it. Either you're paying by CAL or by processor, like it's always been.

        Now just to save any straw-men than invariably arise with the idea of Windows licensing for a non-Windows shop; yes - I'm assuming that anyone considering Hyper-V would already have a supported Windows license. Most people would agree that nobody is going to go out and buy Hyper-V to virtualize an all-Linux shop when there are so many other free alternatives available, and VMware - in this case - would likely be competitive cost-wise. I also would assume an all-Linux shop might even have heard of RHEV.

        "In my experience, the (almost) only reason people (and vendors) run VMs on windows hosts (vmware server or virtual box or Hyper-V) - lack of expertise to do otherwise. Windows is comforting, GUI is there, no need to learn new things... "

        In my experience, anyone who lumps a type-1 hypervisor (Hyper-V) in with VirtualBox and VMware Server (hosted virtualization platforms - the latter no longer even supported) in order to call someone's experience into question really needs to do a little soul-searching (or, at least, book reading).
  • No, it's not a VMWare Killer

    That's because you are assuming the world revolves around Windows exclusively on the backend... sorry but I have no interest in running a fleet of LINUX systems on a Microsoft Hypervisor... get the picture?
    • Why not?

      Just because it's sold by MS?
      • Who knows

        Maybe (as they do Linux) they have no reason to complicate their lives with a hybrid approach by dropping Windows into their mix.
      • But...

        If Microsoft produces a hypervisor that works as well with Linux as it does Windows (hypothetical). If there is no dependency on Windows to use it. If it works better than other VM solutions (hypothetical). Would you then choose not to use it because MS was selling it?