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How Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V is changing the virtualization market

Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V is gaining traction in the virtualization market. Find out why one expert thinks now is Microsoft's time to shine.

Over the past year, we've seen Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V take its position as a serious contender to VMware products....

New improvements have caught the attention of many IT pros, and now businesses are taking note. The question is, will Microsoft's Hyper-V ever catch VMware Inc.'s vSphere the longtime market leader in server virtualization? With that in mind, I asked author and Microsoft MVP Aidan Finn for his unfiltered (and admittedly biased) opinion on Microsoft's place in the virtualization market. Finn is the co-author -- along with Patrick Lownds, Michel Luescher and Damian Flynn -- of the upcoming book Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V Installation and Configuration Guide.

More than a year ago, many analysts were speculating that Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V would present the first serious challenge to VMware. Where do you see the Hyper-V versus VMware comparison today? Were those analysts correct?

Aidan Finn: In my opinion, the analysts were correct. We had a good idea where Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V was going after Build in 2012. We didn't know the eventual host/virtual machine/cluster scalability or all the features, but it looked really competitive. Features such as SMB 3.0 storage, shared-nothing live migration, network virtualization and virtual Fibre Channel/SR-IOV without preventing Live Migration were hugely important, giving us things that VMware couldn't. Improvements in clustering, such as cluster-aware updating or simplified Cluster Shared Volumes management reduce the cost of ownership.

You just can't get around the fact that Hyper-V is free and comes with all the features and scalability in every edition.

Aidan Finn,
Microsoft MVP

Thanks to The Great Big Hyper-V Survey, we know that the primary reason businesses to want to virtualize is flexibility. We get unparalleled flexibility with Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V; I can live migrate a virtual machine (VM) from a nonclustered host to another, and then onto a cluster, and then to a second cluster, and then to a different subnet, all without downtime to the VM's services. I have flexibility in how I design my hosts, networking and storage. This means Hyper-V makes life easy.

Microsoft lived up to the promises and more. VMware's hope that this was a vaporware release was dashed on the rocks. A very passionate group of people in Microsoft delivered a credible and powerful product that does things that no other virtualization platform has been able to do. Even happy VMware customers need to thank Microsoft; vSphere 5.1 included several new features in VMware's effort to compete with Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V.

I believe Windows Server 2012 is a better product than vSphere at this point, but I am a little biased. At worst, Hyper-V is on par with VMware in terms of virtualization, but Hyper-V is more than just a virtualization product. Microsoft designed Windows Server 2012 to be a cloud operating system.

Will we eventually look back at Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V as the "turning point," where Microsoft got a leg up on VMware?

Finn: I think so. History shows us that we should never bet against Microsoft when it comes to business software. Where are OS/2, NetWare, Lotus Domino and SmartSuite now? I don't think VMware will disappear completely. They make great virtualization software and they have a huge footprint. But, we are starting to see a change.

I'm seeing it locally where Hyper-V is beating VMware in competition when it is given a fair chance. I heard from numerous large companies at the U.K. launch of Windows Server 2012 that said they considered Hyper-V ready. I'm seeing story after story of companies making the switch from VMware.

VMware still has a strong hold on the current market, and it could be some time before many shops are ready to move away from what they're familiar with. What factor(s) do you think will ultimately spur organizations to move toward Hyper-V and away from VMware?

Finn: I don't pay too much attention to market share; I'm more interested in what's happening in competition now. Which product are organizations deploying more right now?

It starts with licensing. You just can't get around the fact that Hyper-V is free and comes with all the features and scalability in every edition. Some "vFanboys" will always say it's not free, but I'd love to audit the licensing at their sites. The truth is that when you license Windows Server VMs correctly, you have a decision to make: Do I use the license that I've paid for and install Windows Server on the host to enable Hyper-V, or do I pay more for another virtualization product that lacks similar features unless I pay for a more expensive license?

But let's get beyond that for the moment. Why does a business have IT? IT provides services. Everything in System Center and Hyper-V is designed to deliver, manage and control the quality of services, either in straight-up virtualization or via a cloud. I just don't see that in the loosely coupled framework of VMware products.

I think we'll see the following changes:

  1. New deployments will start leaning toward Hyper-V.
  2. Small and medium-sized businesses will start migrating to Hyper-V.
  3. Larger enterprises will evaluate Hyper-V, start deploying some workloads to it, and eventually make the move.

We've seen the rhetoric over pricing and feature sets heat up between VMware and Microsoft in recent months. What advice would you have for customers struggling to accurately compare the two? Do you find it hard to weigh the competing claims of which costs less and which performs better at a particular task/workload?

Finn: It's difficult to compare real-world acquisition pricing unless you're dealing with sales reps from both companies. Both sides have public pricing, but that public pricing rarely applies. However, no matter how you look at vSphere pricing, it'll always cost more than free.

We can't just consider virtualization by itself. I started working on VMware. I was happy until I wanted to know what was going on with the services that I was hosting. I made the switch to Hyper-V because System Center gave me lower cost of ownership and the ability to offer a better service. Microsoft provides an end-to-end, network-to-client perspective to enterprise management and cloud solution in System Center. I can't make heads or tails of VMware's confusing offerings, other than the fact that it requires lots of additional licensing, and there are lots of disconnected parts that will require lots of work to use together. I've sat through VMware briefings on their products and I find myself confused within minutes, wondering if I've woken up in a Monty Python sketch.

What do you expect to see from Microsoft in 2013 on the server virtualization front?

Finn: We can expect the release of Service Pack 1 for System Center 2012 in early 2013. This will give System Center 2012 support for managing Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 (and Hyper-V Server 2012). This will be a huge deal. Microsoft describes Windows Server 2012 as being 'built from the cloud up.' It includes numerous cloud features, such as resource metering, network virtualization (software-defined networking) and private virtual LANs that will be lit up by System Center SP1. Cloud service providers, be they hosting companies or large enterprise data centers, will be able to deploy clouds based on Windows Server and System Center that offer all the traits of the cloud.

We already know that we'll be able to migrate offline VMs to and from Windows Azure, Microsoft's public cloud. I suspect we'll see more of this hybrid cloud model. Microsoft has made huge investments in those data centers, and we should expect to see more options for service owners to pick and choose where they deploy their applications.

Where will Microsoft have to evolve or improve to keep pace with VMware or wrestle away more of the market share? What challenges does it still face?

Finn: The biggest challenge right now is that VMware is the legacy incumbent. VMware has built up a huge market presence over the last decade, while Microsoft has rapidly gone from zero to a worthy challenger. Over that time, a lot of fears and false information have flourished about Hyper-V. I still encounter people who think that there's no Live Migration in Hyper-V (Hyper-V has more live VM mobility than vSphere does now). There are some who think that Microsoft won't support Linux, even though there are more Linux distributions on the Hyper-V-supported guest OS list than there are editions/versions of Windows! I think it's going to take time to clear up a lot of this stuff so that the market becomes aware of how genuinely powerful Hyper-V really is.

VMware does have an annual release cycle. That has proven to be useful for the smaller company, allowing them to improve gradually every year. Microsoft has had a less frequent release cycle, which makes them appear slower to improve. The number of changes and new features in Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V is staggering.

Which is the right way to go? I'm sure the commentators love the VMware approach because it gives them lots to talk about. But do businesses like that approach? We know that server operating systems are slow to upgrade; are virtualization platforms the same? Is an annual upgrade too much risk and too much change too often? Is the big jump every two or three years better? I think that's a question for the IT manager or CIO to decide for themselves.

Microsoft has to get two messages out to win.

  • They need to let people know what's happened with Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012, to get beyond the usual blogosphere and user groups and reach the decision makers.
  • They have to show the decision makers how System Center makes Microsoft's offering more relevant by being a service management system instead of a virtualization management framework.

About the author
Aidan Finn, a Microsoft Valuable Professional (MVP) with the Virtual Machine expertise, has been working in IT since 1996, specializing in server/desktop management and virtualization. Currently, Finn is working as a technical sales lead for a distributor in Dublin, Ireland, specializing in Microsoft technology. He blogs on http://www.aidanfinn.com, tweets as @joe_elway and regularly presents on topics such as Hyper-V, Windows Server/desktop and System Center. Finn has also contributed to or written books, including Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V Installation And Configuration Guide, Microsoft Private Cloud Computingand Mastering Windows 7 Deployment.

This was last published in December 2012

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Do you think Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V is on par with VMware?
Hyper-V is getting there…
Having worked with both over the past 6 years, I see both on a level par, if one of them could support each others file format ie vhd,vmdk,vdi, they would have a real winner!
Hyper V3.0 will reign supreme over time
It’s already ahead of VMware
Hyper-V is already ahead
More features, easy management and cost make it superior. In combination with System Center 2012, it is a far better product.
Hyper-V is getting really close… it just need to fine tune some stuff…
End to end virtual cloud management in simple terms Hyper-V and System Centre. Job done no bag of expensive vbits!
They are close
So again Microsoft will be the "standard" thus monopolizing the Virtualization Industry? Let's all be dependent on their "own" agenda of improvements. Will they also mandate what you eat, where and how? I think a TRUE viable offer would be the one that is NOT locked to an specific OS, I will pay attention to HyperV when it becomes a "bare-metal" Hypervisor without having to patch and reboot (likely) a Windows OS.
I guess the whole "will VMware be the next Novell" argument will run and run. People have been talking about it since 2003. It always makes for good story. However, for every technology player MSFT has sunset'd there countless others where they have specularly failed. Anyone fancy restoring up their stuff with Microsoft Backup...?
not there yet
Not untli they become Microsoft-less, bare metal install, which obviously I don't think they will ever do.
not yet
With System Center 2012 suite Microsoft far more ahead as whole solution provider.
Hyperv 2012 is ahead bar none. Everything vmw has and more without the sticker shock.
If Hyper-V is good, it still need time for people to recongize.
2012 is way mor flexible than vmware
Great ad, too bad the facts aren't all there.
As usual it's easy to talk... Installing Windows Server 2012 CORE with Hyper V3.0 is a real challenge. :-(
The ability to hot-add hardware in the VM is not there yet. On the scalability side, I think they either match or exceed VMware. On the management side, there's a lot of coherency issues between the various tools (Hyper-V Manager, Failover Cluster Manager, SCVMM). The vSphere client looks more mature and polished.
Reiterating, totally agree, NOT until HyperV becomes a bare-metal hypervisor, but Windows people should use it because that is what they know and understand.... and pay for (in every way) already. No biggy rebooting the whole stack, again they are used to rebooting anyways.
If your business is Windows, then no contest, you are used to patching, rebooting and disruption anyways. VMware is still speaking business language when it comes to virtualization, Windows, well it is Windows so that's that.
Hyper-V+System Center 2012 SP1=Winner!
Hyper V need to mature a lot still, they have only won the market on price and GUI user freindliness, the flaws though are faster addressed by Micrsoft compared to VMware, only releif for now is live migration migraition of Vm on other Hyper V host to test and aplly pathc on Hyper V, the insecurity of wheather the host will come up safe and sound is still a question?
Hyper-V is just part of the OS, not another product to learn about.
I do struggle with these very one sided points of view. I wish people would focus on the merits of the different products without attempting to discredit the alternatives. I have worked for a number fo years with both products and am very excited about the latest Hyper-V functionality but I also recognise the benefits of the VMware solution and would argue the product set and certainly licensing is easier than the current Microsoft offerings but that might be because I am more familiar to that approach and if my custoemrs purchased more Microsoft I may feel the other way. Veeam recently published a very good unbiased comparison document which is a great way to understand the differences and similarities. I think it is also key to remember that just because something have the same "features" does not make it a comparitive product. Using a car analogy you may have two cars, both have four wheels, electric windows and a stereo does that make them equally as good as each other? This article lost its credibility early on for me because of the obvious emotive and biased content.
SCOM 2012 is still vaporware and until ready can't compete with vCenter but.... still looking forward to seeing it in all it's glory when it is finally ready!
Microsoft does not address virtualization of security and networking.
Way to Go MS
The trend is obvious: As new Server 2012 installations come on line, Hyper-V is going to take over the market.
Lo ignoro al 100%, pero me imagino que si
Interesting results. More people voted that Hyper-V is ahead of VMware than I thought would.
I have gained tremendous information on Hyper-V features especially on the range of guest OS supported. How about Solaris guest OS?
Hyper-v has gone beyond virtualization in terms of capacity, security, deployment and management with SC2012.
hyper-v is great
Hyper-V is getting really close... it just need to fine tune some stuff...