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Virtualization platform pioneering: Hyper-V licensing for VMware admins

If you're a VMware admin who wants to use Microsoft's virtualization platform, you need to understand Hyper-V licensing first.

Even though they’re competitors, VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V can go hand in hand. There are several beneficial reasons to add Microsoft’s virtualization platform to your vSphere virtual infrastructure.  

Even if your organization isn’t considering Microsoft virtualization now, Hyper-V adoption is rising, and one day you might be asked to manage this virtualization platform. And understanding Microsoft’s hypervisor all starts with Hyper-V licensing.

How Hyper-V licensing works
Before you dig into Hyper-V’s buttons and boxes, you must decide whether this virtualization platform fits your deployment’s needs. If you’ve already invested time and money into vSphere, determine how a second hypervisor might assist -- and if the Hyper-V licensing costs are worth it.

Many organizations first consider adding Hyper-V to a vSphere infrastructure because of cost. Hyper-V installs as a role within an existing instance of Windows Server 2008, and that role adds no cost to the virtualization platform beyond those for the operating system itself. Thus, IT shops with Windows licenses lying around might find easy return on investment (ROI) by repurposing them as Hyper-V hosts.

But don’t automatically assume that “no added cost” means “free,” because Hyper-V licensing gotchas can arise. You get additional virtual OS licenses with each physical license of Windows Server 2008 and R2 in the Datacenter Edition, for example, but they’re licensed per-processor. More VMs per host therefore requires more processors, which will affect the cost of this virtualization platform considerably. As you delve into Hyper-V licensing, measure carefully how many VMs you expect to host on each Hyper-V server.

You should also know that Windows Failover Clustering -- the technology that facilitates live migration -- requires Windows Server’s Enterprise or Datacenter Edition. You can install Hyper-V itself atop Windows Server Standard Edition, but you won’t enjoy clustering, high availability or load balancing.

If the Standard Edition is your OS of choice, or if you’d rather bypass this Hyper-V licensing confusion altogether, consider Microsoft’s alternative: the free Hyper-V Server, which runs only the Hyper-V role along with its supporting roles, role services, and features, including Windows Failover Clustering.

Hyper-V use cases for VMware admins
Of course, hypervisor licensing is only one part of the cost of adding a second virtualization platform. Management tools, staff training, updates to processes and procedures and other integration costs all add to the price tag.

But if you integrate Hyper-V in the right use cases, your returns will be worth this investment. Test and dev environments, branch offices and other non-critical environments are all low-hanging fruit for Microsoft’s virtualization platform. These environments often don’t require advanced high availability and load balancing, so using the occasional Hyper-V instance can be a smart move.

Another use case where Hyper-V may bring advantages is within virtual desktop infrastructures. With Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1, Hyper-V now supports dynamic memory allocation and RemoteFX, as well as tight integration with Remote Desktop Services and, at an added cost, Citrix Systems’ XenApp. These built-in features can improve your ROI on hosted desktops.

Hyper-V and its management tools are certainly capable of running production and highly critical workloads as well. But using Hyper-V as a second virtualization hypervisor requires you to look carefully at which assets your environment needs and decide if the cost is worth it. To facilitate Windows Failover Clustering, for example, you have to create a cluster of Hyper-V hosts, which tends to add overhead and could hike up costs.

Both VMware and Microsoft have cross-platform management tools for integrating with other virtualization hypervisors. Microsoft’s System Center Virtual Machine Manager natively supports ESX and ESXi management through VMware vCenter Server. VMware’s support for managing Hyper-V hosts is far less integrated, available only as an experimental download for vSphere 4.1 called vCenter XVP Manager and Converter. Third-party tools are also available to manage both platforms.

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