Microsoft released Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V last year to a glut of fanfare -- with many saying it would be the first hypervisor to really challenge VMware's hold on the virtualization market. Since then, we've learned a lot more about new features such as shared-nothing live migration and a new virtual hard disk format that could be important for small or growing Hyper-V shops.
It's too early to say whether Microsoft will eventually replace VMware at the top of the food chain, but it's clear that Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V is already changing the virtualization market.
Whether you're a VMware customer contemplating a switch or a Windows Server 2008 shop getting ready for an update, this guide contains what you need to know about new features in Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V and how to move those new features to production.
Table of contents:
What's new with Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V?
Hyper-V Replica: New VM replication tool for cost-conscious IT shops
Among the most important updates to Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V for cost-conscious IT shops is the addition of a new disaster recovery feature called Hyper-V Replica that could help some small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) save money. Hyper-V Replica is a free tool within Hyper-V that creates and maintains copies of VMs. SMBs that can't afford the enormous capital cost of building a failover cluster can use Hyper-V Replica to replicate VMs from one host to another.
Get to know VHDX: The new Hyper-V virtual hard disk format
To go along with a shiny new version of their hypervisor, Microsoft released a new virtual hard disk format in Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V. The new VHDX format replaces VHD and offers a few notable improvements. Virtual disk storage capacity, for example, increased substantially from a 2 TB limit with the VHD format to 64 TB using the VHDX format in Windows Server 2012.
Updates put Hyper-V snapshots on par with VMware
As providers of the two leading hypervisors, everyone wants to compare Microsoft and VMware, and for years VMware has had a clear advantage when it came to virtualization features. But updates such as improved VM snapshots in Windows Sever 2012 Hyper-V are helping narrow the gap. The new ability to live-merge snapshots into running VMs puts Hyper-V on par with VMware -- at least when it comes to managing snapshots.
Hyper-V cluster scalability changes
If there's an area where Hyper-V continues to trail VMware's vSphere, it has been in production deployment among enterprise customers. VMware has long been trusted as a reliable hypervisor for tier-one applications, but now Hyper-V is making a push to expand its market share among these critical customers. With the importance of tier-one applications comes the need for high availability and clustering. Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V significantly improves cluster scalability, increasing the number of VMs allowed per host and hosts per cluster.
Bringing Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V to production and using new features
Create a Hyper-V update roadmap to get it right the first time
If you're planning an update to Windows Server 2012, there are some important points to consider before making the switch. First, you should know that you cannot simply upgrade Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise edition, because Microsoft has removed this licensing option from Windows Server 2012. You'll now have to choose between Datacenter and Standard edition.
Second, it's a good idea to test the upgrade in a lab environment before moving it into production, so you can get the upgrade right the first time. At the very least, be sure you have complete backups of all VMs on hand in case something does go wrong.
New virtual data center design decisions with Hyper-V 3.0
If you're thinking that all the new features in Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V could affect the design of your virtual data center, you're right. The new SMB 3.0 protocol and features such as shared-nothing live migration give administrators more flexibility and design options they didn't have previously.
Massive memory allocation has its faults
With support for allocating up to 1 TB of virtual RAM to a single VM, the scalability of Hyper-V 3.0 is impressive. But is a VM with 1 TB of RAM even practical? In many cases, it's not: Dedicating that much memory to a single VM can cause all kinds of problems. So before you're too amazed by all the shiny new features of Hyper-V 3.0, be sure you know the practical limits that can dull reality.
How Microsoft can fix Hyper-V storage issues
Like nearly every product release, Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V was bound to disappoint some people who had hoped for certain new features or simplified processes. While the improvements were an appreciated step in the right direction, some experts had hoped Microsoft's revamped storage architecture would fix pain points, like changing between virtual hard disk formats or expanding VM storage without downtime.
AddHyper-V hosts to SCVMM the easy way
Once you have Windows Server 2012 up and running, there's an easy way to add Hyper-V hosts to the System Center Virtual Machine Manager, and it's not through the graphical user interface tools. In this tip, PowerShell guru Jason Helmick explains how he uses PowerShell v.3 cmdlets to automate the process of adding Hyper-V hosts to SCVMM.
How well do you know new Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V features?
Whether a Hyper-V upgrade is on your radar or you just want bragging rights, take this quiz and see if you understand key changes in Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V.