Virtual machines are nothing new. IBM devised the idea of creating images of guest operating systems, or partitions, on mainframe systems back in the 1960s. But only with the arrival of VMware and its virtualization software in 1999 did running a virtual machine on an Intel-based server become a reality.
Naturally, it took a few years for VMware to attract the attention of IT professionals. Initially, few data centers thought they needed it. After all, Intel servers were relatively cheap, and it was easier to simply load an application onto a single, dedicated machine than to buy and learn a new, complicated technology. But much has happened in the past decade to transform virtualization from an interesting idea into a must-have technology for IT managers. And if you’re not using Hyper-V today, you may be soon, in part because Microsoft is making it easy to acquire.
Microsoft’s release of Hyper-V in Windows Server 2008 this past summer illustrates the changing conditions in the virtualization market. VMs have become so prevalent today that Microsoft has decided to include the technology as a standard tool within its server OS — and when Microsoft ships something standard, you know the technology has gone mainstream.
Here are five reasons for adopting Hyper-V.
When it comes to saving money, you can’t beat free. The software is part of Windows Server 2008. (Microsoft has the second version, Release 2 — or R2, as it is known — available as a beta and plans to issue a final version later this year.) You can also download Hyper-V and the R2 beta at no cost.
In today’s economic climate, money matters more than ever to IT professionals. “CIOs are looking to save money, and virtualization is a no-brainer way to save money,” says Christopher Steffen, principal technical architect for Kroll Factual Data in Loveland, Colo. Steffen estimates a competing product could cost three times as much.
Chris Wolfe, a senior analyst with the Burton Group in Midvale, Utah, points out that the lower capital expenditure costs from server consolidation, coupled with reduced power and cooling and maintenance costs, “build a strong ROI case for server virtualization and consequently make it easy for IT folks to secure funding for virtualization projects.”
Less hardware wrangling is a top reason for moving to virtual machines, says Jodi Hurley, infrastructure operations manager for the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE). Server consolidation has allowed her agency to better cope with state budget cuts in the past year, she says. In a cooling economic climate, that’s important.
The state cut about 9 percent of the budget in 2007–2008. The reduction has meant that some of the state’s 174 school districts couldn’t afford to buy additional servers to support expanding applications, such as Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), used for patch updates. “The schools don’t have the money for new servers,” Hurley says.
KDE plans to roll out Hyper-V to all Kentucky school districts this year. “Now if each of these schools had to buy a new server to run WSUS, it would swamp the budget. We plan to eliminate that hardware cost completely by running it in Hyper-V on an existing box,” she says.
VMware has superior disaster recovery capabilities, says Michael Johnston, vice president of IT for Jackson Energy Authority (JEA), a public utility in Jackson, Tenn.
“Where VMware shines is in extremely advanced disaster recovery stuff — the ability for the machine to understand that a server might have gone down and to move that server over to another cluster and bring that up automatically in 60 seconds,” Johnston says. “Hyper-V is not as automated as VM-ware. The same operation with Hyper-V might take you five minutes.”
Ultimately, Johnston determined his operations didn’t require the instantaneous recovery capabilities that VMware offers. “Most users and apps can be down for a few minutes,” he says, noting that his operation runs business applications on an SQL Server and isn’t responsible for power generation, just distribution. Instantaneous recovery capabilities weren’t as critical for him.
A Selection of Virtual Worlds for x86 Servers
Hurley says KDE plans a two-phase approach to deploying Hyper-V and expects her savings to grow as she implements the technology. In the first phase of implementation, the department plans to consolidate 48 servers down to two, potentially saving $875,000 in hardware, operational support, power, storage area and cooling costs, she estimates.
IT is already running Hyper-V at the Department of Education’s central operations in Frankfort, where it supports 17 virtual machines, she says.
Kroll Data’s Steffen “conservatively” estimates provisioning takes about five minutes. “But really, it’s about as fast as pressing a button and making a copy. That’s no exaggeration,” he says.
That familiarity — knowing which button to press when working with Hyper-V — leads to the final reason why users opt for Microsoft’s virtualization technology: If you’re already running Windows, then your IT administrators already have competence using Microsoft’s system management tools.
VMware may offer a superior feature set, say users, but Hyper-V offers a more than adequate set of its own. Burton Group’s Wolf concludes that VMware’s product “is the most mature and will continue to win the feature war.” But in a downward economy, the bottom line rules — and you can’t beat free.
At Kroll Factual Data in Loveland, Colo., Christopher Steffen, principal technical architect, is looking for improved management tools in future Hyper-V releases. He is particularly concerned with the patch management of “sleeping virtual machines.” Those are VMs that contain OS and application images that are not active on the server.
Currently, VMs running on Hyper-V need to be active in order to be patched. If users have other backup or sleeping VMs in their cluster (and most users do), Microsoft’s patch management tools can’t update them automatically.
Another Hyper-V improvement most users want is the ability to move a workload dynamically from one physical server to another (the VMotion feature currently available from VMware). Microsoft has demonstrated a similar “live migration” feature, which should ship with the next release.
Each data center has a mix of operating systems that users would like Microsoft to support as guest VMs running on Hyper-V. Currently the software runs more than a dozen Microsoft OSes, including XP, Vista, Windows 2000 Advanced Server, Windows 2003 and Windows 2008, as well as Novell’s Linux package, SUSE. More guest OS support is likely in future Hyper-V updates.
Windows Server 2008 R2 is available in beta and includes some of these new features.