Why Microsoft Still Hyper V-entilates at VSphere 4’s Competition

Why Microsoft Still Hyper V-entilates at VSphere 4’s Competition

Summary: When faced with a tirade of client consultations and disaster recovery proposals/assessments, you can’t help but be inundated with opportunities to showcase the benefits of server virtualization and more specifically VMware’s Site Recovery Manager.

TOPICS: Storage

When faced with a tirade of client consultations and disaster recovery proposals/assessments, you can’t help but be inundated with opportunities to showcase the benefits of server virtualization and more specifically VMware’s Site Recovery Manager. It’s a given that if an environment has a significant amount of applications running on X86 platforms, then virtualization is the way to go not just for all the consolidation and TCO savings but for the ease in which high availability, redundancy and business continuity can be deployed. Add to that the benefit of a virtualized disaster recovery solution that can easily be tested, failed over or failed back. With what was once a complex procedure, testing can now be done via a simple GUI based recovery plan. Thus one should consequently see the eradication of trepidation that often existed in testing out how full proof an existent DR procedure actually was. Long gone should be the days of the archaic approach of the 1000 page Doomsday Book-like disaster recovery plans which the network, server and storage guys had to rummage through during a recovery situation, often becoming a disaster within itself. Hence then there really is little argument to not go with a virtualized DR site and more specifically VMware’s Site Recovery Manager, but not so it seems if you’ve been cornered and inculcated by the Microsoft Hyper V Sales team.

Before I embark further, let’s be clear that I am not an employee or sales guy for VMware - I’m just a techie at heart who loves to showcase great technology. Furthermore let it go on record that I’ve never really had a bone of contention with Microsoft before – their Office products are great, Exchange still looks fab and I still run Windows on my laptop (albeit on VMware Fusion). I even didn’t take that much offense when I recently purchased Windows 7 only to realize that it was just a well marketed patch for the heir to the disastrous Windows ME throne i.e. Windows Vista. I also took it with a pinch of salt that Microsoft were falsely telling customers that Exchange would run better on local disks as opposed to the SAN in an attempt to safeguard themselves from the ongoing threat of Google Apps (a point well exposed and iterated on David Vellante’s Wikibon article, “Why Microsoft has it’s head up it’s DAS”). Additionally my purchase of Office 2010 in which I struggled to fathom the significant difference between Office 2007, still didn’t irk me that much. What has turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back though is the constant claims Microsoft are making that Hyper-V is somehow an equally good substitute to VMware and consequently pushing customers to avoid a Disaster Recovery Plan that includes Site Recovery Manager. So what exactly are the main differences between the two hypervisors and why is it that I so audaciously refuse to even consider Hyper-V as an alternative to VSphere 4?

Firstly one of the contentions often faced with virtualizing is the notion that some applications don’t perform well if at all when on a virtualized platform. This is true when put in the context of Hyper V, which currently limits the number of vCPUs to only 4. That’s pretty much a no go for CPU thirsty applications leading to an erroneous idea that a large set of applications should be excluded from virtualization. This is not the case when put in the VSphere 4 context where guests can have up to 8 cores of vCPUs. In an industry which is following a trend of CPUs scaling up by adding cores instead of increasing clock rates, the future of high-end x86 servers provides a vast potential for just about any CPU hungry application to run on a virtualized platform – something VSphere 4 is already taking the lead in.

Then there’s the management infrastructure in which Hyper V uses software named Systems Center (SC) and more specifically the Systems Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM), whereas the VSphere4 equivalent is named vCenter Server. With Hyper-V being part of a complete Microsoft virtualization solution, System Center is generally used to manage Windows Server deployments. The System Center Virtual Machine Manager on the other hand not only manages Hyper-V-hosted guests but also Virtual Server, VMware Server and VMware ESX and GSX guests. Ironically this can then also be extended to managing vMotion operations between ESX hosts, (perhaps an inadvertent admission from Microsoft that vMotion wipes the floor off their equivalent Live Migration). Compared to vCenter Server which can either be a physical or virtual machine this comes across as somewhat paltry when VSphere 4 now offers the ability to allow multiple vCenter servers to be linked together and controlled from a single console, enabling a consolidated management of thousands of Virtual Machines and several Datacenters. Add to this the functionality that vCenter Server provides a search-based navigation tool that enables the finding of virtual machines, physical hosts and other inventory objects based on a user defined criteria and you have the ability to quickly find unused virtual machines or resources in the largest of environments all through a single management pane.

Taking the linked management capabilities of vCenter further, VSphere 4 also offers what they term the vNetwork Distributed Switch. Previously for an ESX server a virtual network switch was provisioned and managed and configured. With the vNetwork Distributed Switch, virtual switches can now span multiple ESX servers while also allowing the integration of third-party distributed switches. For example the Cisco Nexus 1000v is the gateway for the network gurus to enter the world of server virtualization and take the reins of the virtual network which were previously being run by VM system admins. Put this in the context of multiple vCenter Servers in the new linked mode and end users have the capability to not only manage numerous virtual machines but also the virtual network switches. In an Enterprise environment where there are hundreds of servers and thousands of virtual machines, what previously would have been a per-ESX switch configuration change can now be done centrally and in one go with the vNetwork Distributed Switch. Hyper V as of yet has no equivalent.

That broad approach has also pushed VMware to not only incorporate the network guys into their world, but also the security and backup gurus. With VSphere 4’s VMSafe, VMware have now enabled the use of 3rd party security products within their Virtual Machines. An avenue for the security guys to at last enter the virtual matrix they previously had little or no input in. Then there’s the doorway that VSphere 4 has opened for backup gurus such as Veeam to plug into virtual machines and take advantage of the latest developments such as Change Block Tracking and vStorage APIs bringing customers a more sophisticated and sound approach to VM backups. Hyper V still has no VMsafe equivalent and certainly no Change Block Tracking.

Furthermore as Microsoft flaunt Hyper V’s latest developments, scrutiny shows that they are merely features that have been available on VMware for several years and even then still don’t measure up in terms of performance. Point in case being Hyper V’s rather ironically titled ’Quick Motion’. For high availability and unplanned downtime protection Hyper-V clusters have a functionality that restarts Virtual Machines on other cluster nodes if a node fails. With ‘Quick Motion’ a Virtual Machine is then moved between cluster hosts. Where it fails though is in its inability to do the action instantly as is the case with VMware’s vMotion and HA features. This hardly exudes confidence in Hyper V when a potential move that can take several seconds leaves you exposed to the risk of a network connection failure which consequently results in further unplanned downtime. Subsequently Quick Motion’s inability to seamlessly move Virtual Machines across physical platforms results in downtime requirements for any potential server maintenance. This is certainly not the case with VMware and vMotion wherein server maintenance requiring downtime is a thing of the past.

Moreover so seamless is the vMotion process that the end user has no idea that his virtual machine has just crossed physical platforms while they were inputting new data. This leads us to Hyper V’s reaction and improved offering now termed Live Migration which Microsoft claim is now on a par with vMotion. Upon further inspection this still isn’t the case as the amount of vMotion operations that can be simultaneously done between physical servers is still far more limited with Hyper V. Additionally while Hyper V claims to be gaining ground, VMware in return have shot even further ahead with VSphere4’s Storage vMotion capabilities which allows ‘on the fly’ relocation of virtual disks between the storage resources within their given cluster. So as VMware advances and fine tunes its features such as Distributed Resource Scheduler, Distributed Power Management (DPM), Thin Provisioning, High Availability (HA) etc., Hyper V is only just announcing similar functions.

Another issue with Hyper-V is that it’s simply an add-on of Windows Server which relies on a Windows 2008 parent partition i.e. it’s not a bare metal hypervisor as virtual machines have to run on the physical system’s operating system, (something akin to VMware’s Workstation). Despite Microsoft’s claims that the device drivers have low latency access to the hardware, thus providing a hypervisor-like layer that runs alongside the full Windows Server software, in practical terms those that have deployed both Hyper V and VMware can testify the performance stats are still not comparable. One of the reasons for this is that VMware have optimized their drivers with the hardware vendors themselves unlike Hyper V which sadly is stuck in the ‘Windows’ world.

This leads to my next point that with VSphere 4 there is no reliance on a general operating system and the various operating systems that are now supported by VMware continues to grow. Microsoft on the other hand, being the potential sinking ship that she is in the Enterprise Datacenter have tried to counter this advantage with marketing Hyper V as being able to run on a larger variety of hardware configurations. One snag they don’t talk about so much is that it has to be a hardware configuration that is designed to support Windows. Ironic when one of the great things about virtualization is that Virtual Machines with just about any operating system can now be run together on the same physical server, sharing pools or resources – not so for Microsoft and Hyper V who desperately try to corner customers to remain on a made-for-PC operating system that somehow got drafted into datacenters. Question now is how many more inevitable reboots will it take on a Windows Enterprise Server before IT managers say enough is enough?

Then there are some of the new features that were introduced in VSphere 4 which still have failed to take similar shape in the Hyper V realm. For example VMDirectPath I/O which allows device drivers in virtual machines to bypass the virtualization layer and access the physical resources directly – a great feature for workloads that need constant and frequent access to I/O devices. There’s also the Hot-Add features wherein a virtual machine running Windows 2000 or above can have its network cards, SCSI adaptors, sound cards, CD-ROMs added or removed while still powered on. They even go further by letting your Win 2003 or above VM hot add memory or CPU and even extend your VMDK files – all while the machine is still running. There’s still nothing ‘hot’ to add from the Hyper V front.

Also instead of the headache inducing complexities that come with Microsoft’s Cluster Service, VSphere 4 comes with Fault tolerance – a far easier alternative for mission critical applications that can’t tolerate downtime or data loss. By simply creating a duplicate virtual machine on a separate physical host and via vLockstep technology to ensure consistency of data, VSphere 4 offers a long awaited and straightforward alternative to complex clustering that further enhances the benefits of virtualization. No surprise then that currently the Microsoft Hyper V sales guys tend to belittle it as no great advantage.

Another VSphere 4 feature which also holds great benefits and is non-existent in Hyper V is that of Memory overcommitment. This feature allows the allocation of more RAM to virtual machines than is physically available on the physical host. Via techniques such as Transparent page sharing, virtual machines can share their common code thus leading to significant savings in the all too common situation of having to add more memory to an existent server which equates to more than the cost price of the server.

So while Hyper V has also recently caught up with a Site Recovery Manager equivalent with the Citrix Essentials for Hyper V package, it’s still doing just that i.e. playing catch up. One of the main arguments for Hyper V is that it’s free or nearly free but again that’s the marketing jargon that fails to elaborate that you have to buy a license for a Windows Server first and hence help maintain the dwindling lifespan of Microsoft within the Datacenter. Another selling point that Hyper V had was that they were better aimed for small to medium sized businesses due to their cheaper cost….the recent announcement of VSphere 4.1 may now also put bed to that claim. So like all great empires, collapses are imminent and while I don’t believe Microsoft are going to the I.T. Black Hole, they certainly don’t look like catching up with VMware in the ever emerging and growing market of virtualization.

Topic: Storage

Archie Hendryx

About Archie Hendryx

SAN, NAS, Back Up / Recovery, Virtualisation & Cloud Specialist.
Please note that the thoughts, comments, views and opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my own and not those of the company I work for. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by my employer and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the company I work for. Currently working as a Principal vArchitect for the company VCE.

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  • This is not a technologist post. This is a wannabe vSpecialist post and its validity was crushed as early as "let it go on record that I’ve never really had a bone of contention with Microsoft before" before rattling off your long list of pet hates - going as far back as Windows ME, as oraclistic as predicting the companies demise (US$4.5billion in profit in Q4, yep, struggling), and as stale as the Windows reboot jab.
    As far as an actual technologist reply - Dynamic Memory (albiet in beta) is a significantly better memory management solution (again, albiet, for current generation Windows machines, but lets face it - you're never going to choose Hyper-V if you're not a Windows shop). You try over committing memory ESX style in production. Seriously. If you're shop does this and preaches the benefits of consolidation ratios, its no wonder the cloud is gaining backing - your employer is far better off paying someone knowledgeable externally to host their applications.

    Exchange 2010 embraced DAS because enterprise SAN storage is ridiculously expensive. Rest assured the hatred is understood - putting all data onto a new SAN, running up some ESX blades and asking for a pay rise has been a recipe for success for many IT "Pros", why the hell should you acknowledge DAS still has merit. JUSTIFY THAT MASSIVE EMC LINE ITEM! DISASTER RECOVERY! HIGH AVAILABILITY! I'm surprised you mentioned Google Apps at all. Public cloud means vExperts are out a job. Preach ZIMBRA damnit!

    Once Hyper-V is installed on Windows, the parent partition is just that - a partition. STILL TYPE 1. Hyper-V Server is free, so you are only forced to pay for a Windows license (you have lots of these already, lets be honest..) if you're scared of the CLI, which you may well be given that ESX is pretty much next, next, next, profit these days.
    Harry Falkenmire
  • If you're a knowledge worker centric enterprise today, try Exchange, Sharepoint, Office, and Communications Server together, running your laptops on Windows 7 and your servers on SQL and Windows 2008 R2. Manage the fleet with System Center and secure it with Forefront. You won't hesitate to sign the ECAL/ECI Enterprise Agreement three months later. You'll probably have increased productivity so much that the first year of that new commerical relationship paid for itself in that first quarter.

    vSphere is a technologically superior and more large-enterprise ready hypervisor, today. It does Linux better, it does DR better, it does HA better, today. Not many people are arguing against that FACT, so people who are 5 years late to the party should stop trying to jump on the bandwagon.
    Ironically, the only enterprises that HAVEN'T yet jumped on the virtualization freight train are small to medium enterprises, and guess what - Hyper-V IS probably a better fit for them.

    Make sure you're next article discusses the benefits of both public and private cloud, and perhaps the obvious fact that iPad's will have replaced x86 endpoints by next year.
    Harry Falkenmire
  • Wow - it looks like falkenmire is doing exactly what the articles title stated MS employees would do.
    Good post and fully agree vmware, google and apple are all giving microsoft hell.
  • Groovy, Would be interesting to maybe see the thin clients cut out and have VM's boot straight into there own double layered sandbox environments, as perverse as it sounds why not indeed.
  • Sorry, but you missed the mark with some of your Hyper-V facts. VMware is great and is the market leader in features, but your lack of checking Hyper-V terminology and facts really makes this sound more like a rant than an informative report. Interviewing the growing number of those that actually use Hyper-V in the enterprise may be a better plan next time.
  • Got to say I really love this article and the reactions it's getting from hyperv folk. A rant maybe, but informative definitely. I left Microsoft before R2 came out and now speaking as a neutral there is nothing in this article which those in the virtualization industry don't already know. Ive just never read anyone say it so outright. Bravo!
  • Thanks to all for their comments.

    I appreciate the passionate response. While I have full respect for vendors, it's the clients/customers/end users imho that always come first and that sometimes means trying to break through marketing jargon to deliver some home truths.
    Firstly I agree that memory overcommitment has it's disadvantages as well as advantages. Memory commitment on the other hand is still a feature that many clients would like to and sometimes need to take advantage of, so it is far more advantageous the feature be available than not.
    As for Hyper v's Dynamic memory, I first heard of this feature back in 2008 and it seems that Microsoft are now finally going to push this as one of the ways to break further into the Enterprise market (why it's taken them so long is another subject). What I think is slightly misleading is to directly go down the marketing traps and compare Dynamic memory as something superior because 'Memory Overcommitment means Paging which means degraded performance and Dynamic Memory doesn't use Paging'.
    Looking again at the concept of Dynamic sharing:
    Dynamic memory will assign an amount of memory to the virtual machine from its inception, namely a Startup RAM. Dynamic memory will also have a setting of the maximum amount of memory that the guest OS can scale to. Hence once all the memory is allocated , the memory available to one Virtual Machine can only be increased if memory from another is reduced by a balloon driver.

    In the context of VSphere 4 and the subsequent requirement for paging, virtual machines on a physical host would collectively require more memory than exists on that host. In the Dynamic sharing context this would not be possible as the balloon driver would be unable to to free up memory as there would be none available on the physical host. This only puts limitations on end user requirements.

    Of course in both situations the sound solution would be via DRS or PROTips to migrate VMs to hosts that have enough memory resources available. Hence Microsoft are not actually offering any advantages here, if anything it's a very belated attempt at memory management of VMs.
    Archie Hendryx
  • As for the argument for SAN over DAS - I have no personal qualms with DAS. I strongly suggest that you run some tests as the guys at Wikibon have to see for yourself the marketing ploy Microsoft are using to shove Exchange on DAS. The customer's interest is not at the forefront of this announcement. Also your point mentions purchasing a new SAN - Microsoft are pushing customers to even move away from existing SANs to DAS. But this was not the core topic of the blog and one that I'm finding more and more customers becoming savvy to themselves anyway.

    As for small to medium businesses being better suited with Hyper V, this is something that I would have agreed with a year ago. I do not believe that this is now the case, with VSphere 4.1 being released and their new price list. It is apparent that VMware want to corner this market also and consequently I feel that Hyper V will suffer further in it's market share.
    Archie Hendryx
  • @VirtuallyAware
    I'm not really sure which Hyper V facts I've got wrong but please let me know and I will aim to correct them. As for Enterprise users of Hyper V, I am coming across many but these are all in the context of them migrating to VSphere 4 and adopting Site Recovery Manager for their DR solution.
    I'm finding that by merely presenting the features and benefits that SRM and VSphere 4 can provide end users, that in itself is enough to convince to them to move away from Hyper V. I do not go 'Hyper V bashing' and it may be a case in the future that Hyper V takes things further than VMware and I find myself discussing the Hyper V solutions.....but frankly right now I just can't see it. It would be interesting to hear from you if you know of any enterprise customers that have migrated away from vmware to hyper v and what reasons they gave.

    Archie Hendryx
  • As a recruiting agent for VMware (and non expert/non techie), I have recently met a lot of Microsoft SE`s who sheepishly tell me that more than 9 out of 10 of their customers are rejecting HyperV for VMware. Hence they want to work at VMware. I thought it was just VMware sales spin at first but was proven wrong.
  • We've moved onto VMware from Hyper -V and never looked back. Interesting to read this article becuase there still a lot more we can do with VMware than what we are currently doing. Really like the idea of fault tolerance.