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Why do I finally care about Microsoft HyperV?

December 7th, 2012
System Center 2012

Microsoft System Center 2012

It’s not a secret that traditionally I’ve been a big fan of VMware and it’s product portfolio. But with the latest release of Microsoft’s extensive 2012 portfolio (the Systems Center stack and the Windows stack) I suddenly find myself unable to be dismissive of this stack any more. I’m not dismissing RHEV, Xen or Oracle for a second here either, I’m just focusing on VMware and Microsoft for various reasons (which I won’t go into here). Traditionally it’s been quite easy, although Microsoft had some great marketing around their private cloud technology it just wasn’t quite there for me at the hypervisor level, but 2012 fixes a lot of that! Just a quick overview of HyperV features that make it a contender.

  • Live Migration – functionally a good comparison with vMotion
  • Cluster Shared Volumes – a great alternative to VMFS and SMB support is exciting!
  • Dynamic Memory – we could argue all day as to why VMware’s memory technology is different / better than Microsoft’s and vice-versa. Simply put they do a very similar thing and net gains are going to be very similar. But server memory is cheap! And applications like Oracle, SQL and Java grab it all regardless and prevent any fancy hypervisor techniques.
  • Virtual Networking – Always one of my biggest complaints / criticisms with HyperV, but it seems Microsoft might just have finally fixed this.

Sure, there’s a lot of technicalities if we get into the detail, maximum cluster support, maximum vCPU vMemory support, etc. etc. But really, the common IT organisation just isn’t going to care and isn’t going to scale to those levels! Outside of the lab, I’ve never seen a VM with more than 16 vCPUs or more than 32GB RAM. Designing our new Cloud platform at Kelway I had to carefully consider all the cluster and management maximums, but we will be running thousands of virtual machines across hundred of customers. I really don’t mind too much if I have to have 2 management windows if I get to the point of managing 1000’s of VMs, that’s not a bad ratio! I really care little about the pissing contest that is the technical maximums. I care about the stuff I’ll actually be using regularly, namely…

  • Hypervisor overhead – minimal with either hypervisor
  • Intelligent memory handling – whatever you want to call it, I want to overcommit my memory as it’s always the most competed for resource
  • Virtual networking – the network is complex enough already without having dedicated interfaces to different networks
  • Virtual machine mobility – I want to minimise downtime due to hardware maintenance and failure
  • Simplified management

So it seems that at a basic hypervisor level I no longer have to make major compromises in choosing one of the other. So how do you choose?

VMware have a fantastic cloud portfolio now and the ecosystem around the hypervisor has never been stronger. This is great for the VMware houses that have already invested significant time and money in developing a solid infrastructure. This can continue to grow with VMware products and technologies. vSphere has never been stronger, this year announced better, faster, more optimised platform than ever before.  The vCenter suite is becoming incredibly strong (and as complicated as the Systems Center suite). The various acquisitions over the past few years are finally being tied together in a pretty coherent way. The vCloud suite is also looking very strong. I personally feel it’s strengths still lie in the service providers and not for end-users, but that’s debatable (and I won’t bring that discussion here). The vFabric suite introduces VMware into the application layer which is very interesting and I think is something that will see them through the next 5 years.

Microsoft HyperV 2012 has proven that Microsoft can fix things and do listen to it’s customers (or at least know how to follow the market). But I’m not really that excited about HyperV, great it finally has all the features I need to confidently run it as part of my platform. The key differentiator I think with Microsoft is the whole suite, lets consider a few key things here.

  • I already have a Microsoft license agreement, whether select or enterprise, I’m already paying Microsoft for licenses. VMware is always an additional cost, but HyperV is pretty much paid for if I am licensing my guests with Enterprise or Datacenter (if you aren’t paying for Datacenter seriously consider it and look at the net benefits, not just the upfront per-CPU costs). If you are using Standard edition, just the EULA in regards to virtual machine mobility and vMotion / Live Motion (just saying).
  • I might already have Systems Center, whether just Operations Manager, or perhaps from a end-user compute project that requires some different elements. Again licensing I think is key. If you buy the full suite you’re more likely to get generous discounts that just picking and choosing.
  • Full system lifecycle! Provisioning is create, I can script it, create authorisation workflows and so on, but this is only half the story when it comes to infrastructure. I can’t stress how important lifecycle management is. I need to be patching my systems, checking configuration compliance, doing application lifecycle and so on. VMware have been doing some interesting stuff in this space, but as they aren’t the underlying operating system or the application vendor, there’s only so far they into the stack that you can go. Microsoft has the upperhand here I think as it’s all native integration.
  • I don’t need to run the Microsoft hypervisor in order to use the full management suite. I can still use the full Systems Center suite for all the guest side of things, and with VMM I can also do certain operations within vCenter anyway. So from general day-to-day management (provisioning, capacity planning, basic system lifecycle) I have all these boxes ticked.

So to sum things up. I’m finally interested in HyperV, not because of the hypervisor itself, but because of the full 2012 suite. Microsoft are, as ever, a force to be reckoned with, but when you consider the full picture of Microsoft licensing that a business requires, it starts to make a lot more sense! The Enterprise License Agreement also starts to become more appealing, the more products you include, the better the deal and overall the cheaper the cost per single system. For anyone looking at comparing HyperV and ESXi, I would seriously recommend doing a full cost comparison and not just looking at the hypervisor.


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