First look review: Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 R2
Live Migration makes Hyper-V a contender for VMware's crown
Reviews July 29th, 2009
Hyper-V 2008 R2 is an extremely low-cost option for virtual server environments. However, Hyper-V has a very short track record and is currently unproven in large deployments.
Live Migration enables VMs to be moved between host servers with no downtime. Hyper-V R2 offers much improved network performance. New menu makes installation easier.
Support for Linux based VMs is limited. Need to install agents inside VMs to automatically migrate VMs from busy hosts.
By Roger Howorth

Last week Microsoft released Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 to manufacture. This is the free version of Microsoft’s server virtualization engine, and the same updated software is also included in Windows Server 2008 R2, which was also released to manufacturing last week.

Firms could download and install as many copies of the free Hyper-V 2008 R2 as they want, but Hyper-V does not include the normal Windows graphical user interface or much of the other software found in the full Windows Server 2008 suite. Instead, it includes only enough software to run a collection of virtual machines. People would normally manage the Hyper-V environment from a computer connected to their Hyper-V servers via a LAN.

For example, Hyper-V could be managed using Microsoft’s free Remote Server Administration Tools for Windows Vista, and Live Migrations could be handled by Windows Server 2008’s Failover Cluster Manager snap-in. However, most customers would want to buy some additional software to get the most benefit from Hyper-V and to make managing Hyper-V servers as easy as possible.

The obvious choice here is Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008. However, like Hyper-V, this can only be run on hardware fitted with a modern x64 CPU. Also, VMM2008 requires Windows Server 2008, so the cost of that software must be factored into the equation when buying VMM2008. The current version of VMM2008 does not support all the features in R2, but Microsoft is preparing VMM2008 R2, which will support Hyper-V R2. VMM2008 R2 will be released within 90 days of the launch of Hyper-V R2.

We tested Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 by installing the software on a Dell PowerEdge R710 server. One of the new features in R2 is a simple text based menu tool for performing the basic configuration of the Hyper-V server. For example, we used this tool to configure LAN settings and join the Hyper-V Server to our Windows domain.

Another new feature in R2 is Cluster Shared Volumes software, which is a vital component of the Live Migration feature. We also used the text configuration tool to add the Cluster Shared Volumes software to our Hyper-V server. In all the Hyper-V installation took around 15 minutes to complete on our server hardware. This is considerably quicker than installing Windows Server 2008 but it also a lot slower than installing the main competitor product, VMware ESXi.

We tested the Live Migration feature by right-clicking on one of our VMs in a beta version of the VMM2008 R2 console and selecting the Migrate option and working our way through the Migrate wizard. About one minute later the migration had finished and our VM was running on a different Hyper-V R2 server. Microsoft said its goal was to ensure no TCP/IP packets would be lost during the migration. Although this allows a period of about 100 milliseconds, we didn’t notice the switch-over on the VM’s display during our tests.

One of the most useful things about Live Migration is that it can be combined with free Performance and Resource Optimization (PRO) tools from Microsoft and third party vendors. This combination could then automatically manage things if something goes wrong with a particular Hyper-V server. For example, Microsoft distributes a PRO management pack with VMM2008 that monitors Hyper-V resources such as CPU and RAM and could trigger a migration if a server is working too hard and there is spare capacity elsewhere. To use PRO you need to install Operations Manager agents on your hosts and virtual machines, so it’s a bit more intrusive than VMware’s Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS), and works only with guest operating systems for which agents are available.

Even so, using PRO packs we could configure our VMM2008 console to monitor our Hyper-V server for alerts about hardware failures or busy resources, and could set-up policies to automatically migrate supported VMs to an alternative Hyper-V server. Similarly, we could configure our management console to automatically restart a VM if it crashed.

Whether these features prove to be as popular as VMware’s DRS and HA features remains to be seen. However, Hyper-V’s Live Migration and PRO features mean Microsoft provides pretty much everything many organizations need for hosting and running their virtual machines.

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