The five best free tools for Microsoft Hyper-V management

Microsoft's Hyper-V makes virtualization easier for IT organizations of all sizes, but these free tools can improve virtual machine management.

How do you improve on an already free product? Why, you add more free products to make the technology work even better.

Microsoft's Hyper-V has gained traction in IT environments large and small because it provides an acceptable virtualization technology at essentially zero cost. If you've already got the hardware and the Windows Server licenses, creating a Hyper-V environment requires more clicks than dollars.

But like any no-cost solution, Hyper-V involves some minor idiosyncrasies in terms of its native management interfaces. One way to get around these limitations is by adding third-party products that help with certain tasks. In this article, I want to highlight five tools that can enhance the experience of running Hyper-V. Adding these no-cost capabilities to Hyper-V's already high-performance virtualization creates an enterprise-ready system for even the most challenging of IT environments.

Best free tool 1: The Offline Virtual Machine Servicing Tool
As I explained in my article on the hidden dangers of Hyper-V virtualization, powered-down virtual machines (VMs) may be little more than files on a disk. But if they're left powered down too long, the simple act of turning them on can introduce an unpatched security hole into your environment.

One way to patch those machines is with Microsoft's Offline Virtual Machine Servicing Tool. Currently in Version 2.0.1, this solution accelerator integrates System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) with Windows Server Update Services or ConfigMgr patching infrastructure to automatically wake up dormant virtual machines, trigger a software-update cycle, shut down VMs and return them to a library. Sweet.

Download the Offline Virtual Machine Servicing Tool for free from Microsoft's website.

Best free tool 2: HyperV_Mon
I've repeatedly said that virtualization is all about performance. The problem is that Microsoft's native tool for monitoring performance -- PerfMon -- is a ridiculously painful tool to use. Actually getting useful metrics with actionable data out of PerfMon requires a lot more work than you'd expect.

This is why many third parties have developed skins that wrap around PerfMon's data to more clearly display virtualization performance. One of those tools is Tim Managan's HyperV_Mon. This tool lines up the performance metrics across multiple virtual machines to provide a graphical representation of performance. The result is a single view of everything you need to keep tabs on a virtual environment.

Download the HyperV_Mon tool.

Best free tool 3: Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit for Hyper-V
Not only is VM performance important with virtualization management; so too is the performance of any physical machine to which workloads are being migrated. No matter what some vendors may tell you, some physical machines simply don't make good virtualization candidates. If these computers are added to a virtual environment, they would consume more than their fair share of resources.

One way to get useful data to make smart decisions about physical-to-virtual (P2V) migrations is through Microsoft's Assessment and Planning Toolkit (MAP) for Hyper-V. MAP consolidates tools for planning various types of Microsoft product deployments. It can monitor system performance across a physical environment and will watch performance counters for a day, a week or a month and then specify which servers are and are not good virtualization candidates.

MAP's final report provides specific detail about server performance, candidacy and which servers should be colocated onto the same virtual host. This information helps you start your virtual environment out on the right foot and with the best collection of virtual machines per host for the optimal use of resources.

Download the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit for Hyper-V from Microsoft TechNet.

Best free tool 4: StarWind V2V Converter
Microsoft's VMM comes equipped with its own P2V and virtual-to-virtual (V2V) tools. With VMM, you can convert physical machines to virtual as well as VMware virtual machines to the Hyper-V format. However, you can't go in the other direction. If you're looking for an external way to convert virtual machines in both directions, look no further than StarWind Software's V2V Converter.

This company, which is perhaps best known for its free iSCSI Target software for clustered Hyper-V environments, moves further into the virtualization add-on market with this free V2V tool. StarWind V2V Converter converts virtual machines from VMware's Virtual Machine Disk Format (VMDK)to Microsoft and Citrix's Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) format and vice versa. Using a sector-by-sector copy process, it converts disk files with no change to the source image.

Download the StarWind V2V Converter.

Best Free Tool 5: Citrix Essentials for Hyper-V, Express Edition
Citrix hasn't traditionally been known for free software, but in recent months, it has been changing its pricing for virtual products. After announcing that it would make its flagship virtualization product XenServer free, Citrix has upped the ante by recently announcing a limited version of its virtualization management product Citrix Essentials for Hyper-V.

Why use this product over Hyper-V's management tool sets? Simply put, Citrix is known for its high-end management systems. Now that hypervisors in virtualization software are approaching feature parity, many in the industry are asking, "How do I best manage my virtual infrastructure?" Citrix has offers enterprise-ready solutions that wrap around existing systems to improve management workflow.

The Express Edition of Citrix Essentials will support up to two servers, which are both connected to a single storage array. It adds capabilities for the easy provisioning of storage through Citrix's StorageLink technology for iSCSI and Fibre Channel storage.

Download Citrix Essentials for Hyper-V.

Free on top of free
Virtualization is quickly approaching a commodity status as IT shops everywhere clamor for ways to keep it effective while also affordable. With these five free tools, as well as other options on the horizon, organizations of all sizes will likely jump on the virtualization bandwagon in the months to come.

About the author

Greg Shields
Greg Shields is an independent author, instructor, Microsoft MVP and IT consultant based in Denver. He is a co-founder of Concentrated Technology LLC and has nearly 15 years of experience in IT architecture and enterprise administration. Shields specializes in Microsoft administration, systems management and monitoring, and virtualization. He is the author of several books, including Windows Server 2008: What's New/What's Changed , available from Sapien Press.


This was first published in September 2009

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