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Hyper-V 3.0 sneak peek intrigues users

A new extensible virtual switch and advanced live migration features have virtualization pros eyeing Hyper-V 3.0.

Microsoft Corp. previewed upcoming features for Hyper-V 3.0 along with Windows Server 8 at its Build conference this week, including networking, live migration and scalability improvements that bring it into closer competition with VMware.

The software is still pre-beta, meaning it is not intended for enterprise deployment but rather for developers to work on and perfect before the code is released. It will probably be a year or more before it is generally available.

Still, as of now, Hyper-V 3.0 contains new features that are turning heads among virtualization pros. Chief among them is a new extensible virtual switch, which will allow partners to build in advanced networking features, such as capture extensions  that can inspect, monitor and sample traffic. The new switch will also include VN-Tag and OpenFlow support as well as the ability to throttle network quality of service using per-vNIC bandwidth reservation and limits.

“Finally!” said Matt Lavallee, director of technology for MLS Property Information Network, Inc., which runs most of its IT infrastructure on Hyper-V. “VMware’s definitely been leaps and bounds ahead of them on that front for a long time.”

Lavallee said he’s hoping the new switch will be “the first step toward having network security--we’ve had to run multiple clusters of virtual machines to keep security isolation, because there’s no other way to maintain that within Hyper-V.”

An extensible virtual switch also opens the door for more third-party virtual switches like the Cisco Nexus 1000V, developed for VMware. “You can kind of jump to conclusions as to who some of those partners would be,” said Chris Wolf, research vice president for Gartner Inc. The top two that come to mind “would be the folks that have been a bit jilted by VMware,” meaning Hewlett-Packard and Juniper. Wolf also predicted, “Just because of the market potential, Cisco really has no choice but to be a part of that too, and why wouldn’t they?”

Live migration gets a facelift
Newly proposed live migration features also caught users’ eye. Live storage migration is one key update from Windows Server 2008 R2’s Quick Storage Migration, which required some downtime during the migration process. There are also indications that Microsoft plans to work with storage partners to offload storage migration to storage-array hardware.

Finally, the new release is slated to include support for concurrent live storage migrations, which stands out to users with Hyper-V in production today. 

“The concurrent migration scenarios definitely add efficiency to the work process,” said Rob McShinsky, senior systems engineer for Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. “Even in non-emergency situations, we’re always moving VMs between hosts and balancing and updating our host infrastructure. So, some of those concurrencies really add to the efficiency of administration.”

Also among the proposed new features is the ability to live migrate virtual machines without shared storage, using only a Gigabit Ethernet connection. So far, Red Hat’s KVM, through a project with IBM, is the only hypervisor that currently supports live migration without shared storage of any kind. This capability could theoretically drive virtualization into new environments, such as small businesses and public cloud computing, where shared storage is not always available.

But VMware is also solving a similar problem with the virtual storage appliance (VSA) launched with vSphere 5, countered Wolf. The VSA creates logical shared storage out of the internal disks on up to three VMware hosts and it’s supported in the small to medium-sized business-focused Essentials edition of vSphere.

Live migration without shared storage seems to be mostly a novelty at this point, Wolf said. “Customers care more about HA capabilities than they care about live migration. Live migration is something for scheduled maintenance, but HA is what saves my bacon if I have a server failure.”

New scalability, protection for mission-critical apps
With the next release, Microsoft is also planning new scalability that could help bring mission-critical applications, such as Exchange and SQL, into the Hyper-V fold. Each guest will support up to 32 virtual CPUs (vCPUs) and 512 GB of memory, up from a limit of 4 vCPUs and 8 GB of RAM. The CPU count matches what’s available with vSphere 5 and XenServer 6.0, though both of those platforms also accommodate 1 TB of virtual memory.  

Hyper-V 3.0 is set to support more than 32 nodes and 4,000 VMs per cluster. A new virtual hard drive format, VHDX, will support storage volumes greater than 2 TB.

Lavallee said the scalability increases will allow him to virtualize SQL Server and hopefully Exchange, as well. “Our smallest SQL server has 16 cores and our largest has 32. So going to 4 [vCPUs] is not even on the table,” he said. “The only things we’ve got left [that are still physical] are SQL and Exchange.”

Replica, embedded host-based replication already previewed by Microsoft at its Worldwide Partner Conference earlier this year, will also come in handy for mission-critical applications and using branch offices as failover targets, according to McShinsky. “I don’t see [Replica] as a full-scale replication failover type of backup environment,” he said, mainly because of network bandwidth concerns. “But I see it as [offering us the ability to] pick and choose parts of the environment that are critical to keep the business running and get it back on its feet quickly.”

Breathing down VMware’s neck?
Hurt feelings over VMware’s licensing policies with vSphere 5 prompted some users to evaluate a switch to Hyper-V, which comes included with the Windows Server licenses that many users already have in their shops.

“I think where [VMware is] really shooting themselves in the foot is with the licensing model,” said Christian Metz, a systems administrator at a Fortune 300 insurance company. “Pretty much everybody I’m talking to is saying, Hyper-V is looking pretty good, even at the enterprise level. “

 “This is compelling enough to make me consider dropping VMware when my maintenance expires,” said Thad Vaughn, senior systems engineer with Clayco Inc. after reviewing a TechNet blog about new Hyper-V features. “If I can meet my needs without increasing admin time and decrease my [operating expenses], it seems like a smart choice.”

Gartner’s Wolf, however, doesn’t think Hyper-V will take over the world just yet. Users have more than just the hypervisor to consider when it comes to swapping out a virtualization platform: Many users have third-party security, monitoring and backup tools and practices designed around VMware.

 “If Microsoft is smart, they’re going to have a lot of good hooks in their next-generation server applications so things like Exchange and SQL server are going to run very well now on Hyper-V on Windows 8,” Wolf said. “It might not mean a wholesale migration to Hyper-V, but it might mean a steady evolution where [users] start leveraging [Hyper-V] strategically at a particular application refresh interval.”

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for Write to her at

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