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An overview of Windows Server 2008 R2 and Hyper-V R2

The beta version of Microsoft's Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V R2 is available and offers support for live migration of virtual machines and clustered file systems. An expert provides an overview of Windows Server 2008 R2.

Both Windows Server 2008 R2 and the highly anticipated update to Hyper-V are still in beta, but Microsoft is making it clear that this is a virtualization platform you need to consider. I've recently tinkered with the Hyper-V R2 beta and am inclined to agree. This tip highlights new features in Hyper-V R2 that may prompt you to consider it in your platform decision process.

Hyper-V R2 overview for Windows
For Hyper-V 1.0 users, the process of adding Hyper-V R2 is the same because it's a role that has to be added from the server management console. Windows Server 2008 R2 allows the role to be scripted as well. To add Hyper-V R2 to a server, simply type the following command:

start ocsetup Microsoft-Hyper-V

Hyper-V Manager remains the default management interface in Hyper-V R2 and is the same in general appearance and installation. The only difference concerning Hyper-V Manager in Hyper-V R2 is that there aren't any required Windows updates.

If you haven't worked with Windows Server 2008, there are several versions to consider. With Hyper-V, choosing the right version is critical for planning out your evaluation or implementation. First, Windows Server 2008 R2 is available only in x64 editions, essentially making x86 obsolete. In fact, the Hyper-V role on the base release of Windows Server 2008 was available only on x64 editions. With this in mind, the following beta versions of Hyper-V R2 are available for download from Microsoft:

  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Beta Standard. This version is suitable for a basic hypervisor implementation. This version is managed with Hyper-V Manager.
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Beta Enterprise. This is a solid option for any deployment that will use System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) or implement advanced features such as clustered file systems. There are important changes with clustering in Hyper-V R2 related to the file system which I'll mention later.
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Beta Datacenter. This version has the same features as the previous two options but also allows unlimited virtualization rights.

Each version of Hyper-V R2 is available from the Microsoft website, including evaluation product keys. The base release of Hyper-V is also available as a standalone download commonly known as the free version of Hyper-V. This was a core version of the standard edition, but unfortunately there isn't a public beta equivalent to this offering yet.

Support for Live Migration in Hyper-V R2
For many administrators, Hyper-V's most distinctive feature is its virtual machine (VM) migration technology. While Hyper-V offers Quick Migration in the base release, the R2 beta introduces Live Migration for Hyper-V systems. Live Migration basically provides the same functionality that's present in VMware's vCenter Server. The biggest difference between Quick Migration and Live Migration is the amount of time needed to complete a VM migration. Greg Shields covers this topic in an article on Live Migration in Hyper-V.

Other new features in Hyper-V R2
Hyper-V R2 is chock full of new features that enhance its hypervisor. Some of the more significant changes include the following:

  • Jumbo frame support for VMs. This feature allows the network interface to work with a larger frame size, bumping up the default 1,518 byte frame to a 9,000 byte frame. Be sure that your network gear is configured to support jumbo frames, or there is no benefit to the configuration. Jumbo frames can benefit any high-transfer system, including backups of VMs from a host server. It should be noted, though, that Windows Server 2008 hosts have offered support for jumbo frames since its initial release.
  • Clustered shared volumes and enhanced clustering. One of the problems with managing a large number of VMs with Hyper-V is the lack of a clustered file system. Thankfully, Windows Server 2008 R2 addresses this issue by introducing clustered shared volumes. In addition, this feature extends to the cluster validation tool and provides special provisioning for Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) files that run VMs. Greg Shields takes a detailed look at this technology in an article on on Microsoft's Cluster Shared Volumes.
  • VHD booting. Windows Server 2008 R2 introduces a slick mechanism for servers and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) deployments that allow a computer to be booted from a local VHD file. This VHD booting mechanism works with physical and virtual systems. This TechNet blog post on VHD booting is a good place to get a feel for the potential of this technology.

Remote Desktop Services in Hyper-V R2
Windows Server 2008 R2 offers more than server virtualization with Hyper-V. Among the other tools in the bundle, Microsoft has included cutting-edge terminal services features. Remote Desktop Services, formerly RemoteApp, is a presentation and application virtualization technology.

Remote Desktop Services' functionality has improved in R2. Specifically, it can now deliver applications transparently to clients. Remote Desktop Services is a critical component of another effort that Microsoft is working on: a VDI technology. Little has been said about this project, but rest assured that it's in the works. In fact, many organizations may turn to this technology as a VDI option because it will provide solid client environment support.

A good place to start with Remote Desktop Services is the  Windows Server 2008 Terminal Services homepage. Terminal Server Client Access Licenses (TSCALs) for Windows Server 2008 has undergone significant licensing revisions. Because of these changes, and the fact that TSCALs from prior versions cannot be transferred to Windows Server 2008,check your entire environment's licensing status before upgrading to Windows Server 2008 R2.

Hyper-V R2: Big steps forward but are they enough?
Hyper-V R2 brings much-needed functionality to the Microsoft virtualization portfolio. With the highly competitive virtualization landscape , Microsoft has taken steps in the right direction with this beta. What's unclear is whether the industry will embrace Hyper-V R2 once it delves into the details and performs the necessary internal comparisons.

   Rick Vanover, (MCITP, MCTS, MCSA) is a systems administrator for Safelite AutoGlass in Columbus, Ohio. Vanover has more than 12 years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration and system hardware.

And check out our Server Virtualization blog.

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