Is It Time to Get Serious About Hyper-V?

Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualization hypervisor has been available for several years now, but lately it seems as if the company’s become more serious about the platform.

Certain trends of late have made Hyper-V more attractive IT pros, including an uptick in usage, more interest from Microsoft VARs, better management and development tools, and the upcoming Windows 8. Let’s tackle each in more detail.

Gartner claims VMware presently owns 65 percent of the server market. While that seems pretty good, several years ago that market-share was 100 percent. The market has become a lot more competitive, with Citrix/Xen and Linux KVM as solid rivals.

Despite that rivalry, large enterprise customers (such as Union Pacific and Target) continue to make use of Hyper-V, and it’s in use among a growing number of installations. Moreover, Hyper-V will be included with Windows 8, which ships this fall; that could make testing and installation a more attractive prospect for IT managers, since there won’t be additional software to purchase.

Microsoft offers a cloud cost calculator that compares Hyper-V to VMware (see the chart above). At the core of the company’s strategy are beefed-up management features for its System Center 2012 Cloud and Datacenter offering, which (at least in theory) make Hyper-V more manageable and scalable.

The Big Push

Hyper-V software will manage private and public clouds, as well as both Hyper-V and VMware installations. The latter is essential if Hyper-V has a shot at entering the datacenter alongside VMware. While the process of converting a VMDK to a VHD (the file formats used by VMware and Microsoft in their VMs, respectively) isn’t difficult, there’s the issue of duplicating other management tools to clone VMs when demand rises, or to handle security and other networking issues once multiple VMs are running. System Center is also the tool to use for application diagnostics for .Net apps, and process automation tasks.

Hyper-V isn’t Microsoft’s only weapon against VMware. Its App-V platform allows enterprises to virtualize apps such as Office 2003 and 2010, and deploy multiple copies throughout a company. App-V competes with VMware’s ThinApp (among other vendors). As a competitive booster, App-V includes virtual copies of Office.

But the virtual app space isn’t any easy one to handle, and deployments can involve a lot of moving parts. App-V, as an example, includes Package Accelerators, Sequencer Templates, Packaging Diagnostics and built-in best practices. That is a lot of stuff for any IT manager to learn before he or she can successfully deploy virtual apps.

Also helping Hyper-V is a concerted effort on Microsoft’s part to build out Azure’s private and hybrid cloud features, along with a vast developer network of Visual Studio and .Net followers. Microsoft’s development tools make it easy to create projects that can move from on-premises servers to VMs to cloud-based resources. Azure has become more inclusive of open source and Java too, which also helps the Microsoft message.

Over the summer, Microsoft has been gearing up its marketing campaign on Hyper-V to show that it can now compete with VMware in performance, pricing, and features. Microsoft claims that they can encrypt cluster volumes, migrate VMs easier, support multi-tenant solutions, and make use of hardware GPU acceleration—all things that VMware needs third-party support to do.

At their TechEd in San Francisco in July, Jeff Woolsey, in charge of server virtualization, said “The guys at VMware claim that they can deliver up to 300,000 IOPS from a single VM. With Windows Server 2012, we’re delivering 985,000 IOPS from a single virtual machine, more than three times [the performance].”  Here are their test results. But this report doesn’t necessarily mean much: based on 42 hosts with 2 CPUs each, it didn’t include hardware, storage or IT costs.

Also in July, at the Microsoft Partner Conference in Toronto, Mark Miller, Microsoft’s principal program manager for Windows Server and Cloud, announced that the company has trained about 40 of their partners on how to switch to Hyper-V tools and technologies. (The link will take you to a collection of articles and tools on moving your VMs from VMware to Hyper-V.)


But Microsoft also faces some complications, notably a rising interest in Linux-based KVM in the server virtualization space.

KVM “is going to gain steam because it’s the right price and a lot of people got [angry] with VMware last year when they tried to jack up prices,” said Joe Clabby, president of Clabby Analytics. He’s referring to the introduction of vSphere v5, when VMware redid its pricing model in a 40-page document that required additional clarification.

In the past year, KVM has been used by VM hosting providers such as CloudSigma and Contegix as a lower-cost option. Neither of these providers offers any Hyper-V support.

Meanwhile, VMware continues to hold the lion’s share of the server virtualization market, on top of making key acquisitions such as the deal last month to buy DynamicOps, a cloud provisioning and management vendor, and Nicira, a software-defined networking vendor.

That’s the competitive environment faced by Microsoft, as it tries to convince companies to take a second look at Hyper-V for their virtualization tasks.


Image: Microsoft