Taking Microsoft’s Hyper-V R2 for a Spin

Is Microsoft's latest Hyper-V incarnation track-ready? We take it for a spin to find out.

I’m taking a short hiatus from the portable hypervisor series to bring you up to speed on Microsoft’s Hyper-V R2 hypervisor software. Upon first glance, Hyper-V R2 (R2) looks and feels the same as R1 does. This provides comfort to those who’ve already adopted the technology and know their way around it. Hyper-V didn’t receive a new paint job, new grille or tail lights but it has some interesting new improvements under the hood that might make competitors take a look in their rear view mirror and not see Microsoft trailing behind.

Though Hyper-V is supposed to be a Type 1 hypervisor; I installed Windows Server 2008 first and then installed Hyper-V as a role. In general, this type of installation is defined as a Type 2 hypervisor.

Kicking the Tires

From the beginning to the end (Including obligatory reboots), the installation process took about an hour. Installation began with the standard Windows Server 2008, which included booting from CD, partitioning, copying files, changing the initial Administrator password and configuring network settings. Next, Hyper-V services were installed as a role via the Server Manager. After two reboots, Hyper-V is installed and ready to begin life as a virtual machine host. Once installed you’ll need to update your system by activating your copy and allowing Windows updates to download and install. If you’re impatient, your system is ready for virtual machines as soon as you open Hyper-V Manager.

The Virtual Showroom

Live migration is an impressive new feature of R2 where you can migrate live VMs to another physical system. Processor architecture for migration can be different generations within the same manufacturer. This means that Intel to Intel migrations are allowed but Intel to AMD migrations are not. Live migration is good for balancing VM loads and performing maintenance during planned downtimes.

High Availability is a feature implemented to solve the unplanned downtime interruptions and service losses. Management tools for both of these features are available for Windows 7 (Don’t kill the messenger).

Under the R2 Hood

  • Live Migration
  • High Availability
  • Hot Add/Remove Virtual Storage
  • 10Gb/E Ready
  • Better Network Performance
  • Greater VM Density

Hot Add/Remove virtual storage is the solution many were anticipating for this release. The ability to add storage to a system without first bringing it down is required of a true enterprise-capable solution.

R2 carries high-end networking to the next level with its 10Gb/E readiness. This technology coupled with the new increased network performance and remoting make the idea of virtual desktops a near-future reality.

Microsoft also claims greater VM density per virtual host—up to 384 running VMs or up to 512 virtual processors. I’m skeptical of that one but theoretical numbers are just that, theoretical. I’d be thrilled to see 100 VMs per virtual host as a practical upper limit.

Hypervisor Definition

  • Type 1: A Type 1 hypervisor is also referred to as a bare metal hypervisor. This type of hypervisor might or might not include a Domain0 or primary virtual machine (VM) operating system with which to interact.
  • Type 2: This type of hypervisor is installed and runs as an application inside an operating system. The operating system is not a virtual machine.

Test Drive

My personal test drive of R2 was limited to the few days between its release and this writing but in that short span of time, I find that I like R2. I can’t say that it’s all that much different for me than R1. I’m happy that Microsoft made the enhancements and are continuing Hyper-V’s development. I did notice some speed improvements over R1 when installing new VMs. Startup seems faster and VM creation only takes a few seconds—even for an 8GB virtual disk.

Microsoft also claims to have improved the speed of using dynamically expanding virtual hard disks by 87%. Though they’re not recommended, this improvement might have some of your migrating right away. With the virtual storage Hot Add/Remove feature, I assume this is a temporary enhancement to be deprecated in some future release.

You won’t experience any sticker shock with Hyper-V because, like its open source counterparts, it’s free. If R2 lives up to its hype, it should give some of the other entrenched technologies a run for their money. Yes, Hyper-V still has a little ways to go before it’s a VMware killer but it’s well on the way. Given a couple of years and some good user feedback, the winner between Hyper-V and other hypervisors might be a photo finish.

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