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Hyper-V 3--Microsoft's Virtualization Platform Grows Up

The server virtualization market is about to enter a "you've never had it so good" era akin to the Swinging Sixties. Everyone stands to benefit--everyone except VMware, that is.

What's prompted this flood of virtualization optimism is the latest news about Hyper-V 3--the virtualization technology being built into Windows Server 8 as we speak.

Now it's a hoary old chestnut that Microsoft tends to get things right with version 3 of its products, I know, but the reason it's a hoary old chestnut is because it tends to be true. And so it is with Hyper-V. Version 1 was a bit rubbish really, especially compared to what was on offer from VMware. Version 2 with Live Migration was much better, but it still lagged far behind VMware in almost every area. But Version 3? Let's be quite clear about this: When Server 8 comes out, Microsoft will finally have a serious server virtualization platform on its hands that will do everything most companies require of it. In other words, it will be Good Enough--in some areas better than VMware--in many cases at a fraction of the cost of a vSphere implementation.

Virtualization systems are not something most companies change at the drop of a hat because of the significant investments in software, processes and training they entail. But there's no doubt VMware is going to have to offer more to justify the premium prices it charges for vSphere and the rest of its virtualization system. Otherwise, it will need to cut its prices to bring them more in line with what Microsoft will be charging, when Hyper-V 3 is released. If it doesn't, then it will find it much harder than it has been in the past to get new customers. VMware may not hemorrhage current customers immediately, but it may find that its customer base slowly evaporates.

VMware is not stupid, and it will no doubt see the parallels between the premium-priced UNIX market and the shrinking user base for that operating system, as enterprises move to lower, Good Enough platforms like Linux.

That's why we can look forward to a golden age of virtualization in which VMware has no choice but to compete with Microsoft on price or to push the boundaries of virtualization so far that Hyper-V is no longer Good Enough. Either way, it's the enterprise customer that wins.

So what's so great about Hyper-V 3? For starters, Microsoft has added the ability to perform multiple Live Migrations concurrently--something VMware has offered for a long time, but which Hyper-V couldn't manage. And there's no shared storage requirement for Live Migrations: VMs can be moved over a LAN cable--or even over WiFi if you really want to, (although you almost certainly don't). The company has also upgraded Quick Storage Migration to uninterrupted Live Storage Migration, and you can live migrate large numbers of VMs and their disks at the same time.

With half an eye on VMware's "monster VMs," Microsoft has also beefed up Hyper-V 3's scalability. It can run on a host machine with up to 160 logical processors (meaning cores or hyperthreads) and up to 2TB of RAM. It also supports VMs with up to 32 vCPUs (with more promised in the future) and 512GB RAM each, up from four vCPUs and 8GB RAM. That's a tremendous difference that will make the virtualizing mission-critical large-scale apps much more practical. VMware supports more (1TB) RAM in each guest, but 512GB will be enough for many applications. And Microsoft's new VHDX file format supports virtual hard drives that break the 2TB barrier--they can now go right up to 16TB.)

The new hypervisor also supports whopping 63-node clusters with 4,000 VMs per cluster, and the Replica feature allows you to put a replica VM on another Hyper V server in a remote location, and keep the replica synchronized with all the latest changes.

Finally, Microsoft has beefed up Hyper-V 3's virtual switching with a far more capable, and extensible, virtual switch. Out of the box, it can shape traffic to provide maximum and minimum bandwidth guarantees to VMs, and, more significantly, Cisco announced yesterday that its Nexus 1000V virtual switch will be supported in Hyper-V, providing the same virtual networking capabilities, including inter-VM traffic visibility and control, as it does for VMware's ESXi hypervisor.

The other new features in Hyper-V 3 are too numerous to discuss here, and in fact there's really no need to. What's important to know is that with Hyper-V 3, Microsoft will have a serious alternative to VMware's vSphere for server virtualization and for private cloud, hybrid cloud and public cloud implementations.

The virtualization market is about to get a whole lot more competitive. Prepare to let the good times roll.

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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This article was originally published on September 21, 2011
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