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Microsoft Profiles Hyper-V Improvements in Windows Server 2012 R2

One of the standout presentations from last week's TechEd event was the new Hyper-V improvements to come with Windows Server 2012 R2.

Public preview releases of Windows Server 2012 R2 will arrive this month, with the product expected to ship by year's end. However, in terms of Hyper-V technology, Microsoft will be getting ready to deliver "generation-2 virtual machines" (gen-2 VMs) with this Windows Server release.

Ben Armstrong, a program manager on the Hyper-V team at Microsoft, said that the gen-2 VMs get rid of "the fluff" in the gen-1 VMs that made the VMs look like computer hardware. The gen-2 VMs, which presently are only supported on Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 64-bit hardware, will dispense with some of that baggage, Armstrong explained in his TechEd presentation.

UEFI Security. Hyper-V with gen-2 VMs will take advantage of the security enhancements in the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) instead of the old BIOS. Tapping UEFI will give IT organizations the advantage of having "secure boot" protection inside a VM, according to Armstrong. The secure boot capability, which is part of the UEFI specification, is a method for thwarting potential rootkits that could get injected into the pre-bootup processes of an operating system.

SCSI Boot. Armstrong said that the real benefit of using gen-2 VMs is the ability to boot off a SCSI controller. There are a couple of performance benefits, too, such as enabling the operating system to boot 20 percent faster, as well as speeding up OS installations by about 50 percent. That said, he gave the opinion that gen-1 VMs would not be going away, but that IT organizations would run the two VM types side by side.

Automatic Activation of VMs. On the licensing side of things, the new Hyper-V will enable automatic activation of VMs when running the Datacenter edition of Windows Server 2012 R2, which makes things easier for service providers and enterprises. Armstrong added that this capability doesn't require having volume licensing in place as "if it's Datacenter and it's activated, you've got it." He added that the VMs don't depend on keys, so it's possible to move them around without worrying about that issue. This automatic activation feature depends on having the host run Windows Server 2012 R2 Datacenter edition with Windows Server 2012 R2 running in the VMs.

VM Copy and Paste. Microsoft enabled copy-and-paste operations from one VM into another with Windows Server 2012 R2. Armstrong explained that these sorts of operations now can take place while not having a network connection. This offline copy-and-paste capability is enabled via the Remote Desktop Services in the VM and applies to smartcards, folder redirection and USB drives. The capability will work with both gen-1 and gen-2 VMs using the new Hyper-V.

Live Migration Improvements. Microsoft supports live migrations while the VM is running with the new Hyper-V. It's also possible to export VMs or to export a snapshot of a VM while they are running. During Armstrong's demo, the live migration of a VM that was still running took about 90 seconds. He also demonstrated the use of compression during a live migration, which is now the default option in Windows Server 2012 R2. The addition of compression brought the live migration time down to 41 seconds. A third option is to turn on remote direct memory access (RDMA) during the live migration, which uses Server Message Block Direct (SMB Direct). Armstrong said that compression uses the CPU to reduce the data sent over the network and that approach is a good option in IT environments that have bandwidth limitations. RDMA, on the other hand, is the best option to use when there are plenty of network resources available but limited CPU use. Microsoft's guideline is to use compression with bandwidths of 10 gigabits or less, but use SMB or SMB Direct with bandwidths of more than 10 gigabits.

Using Live Export for Analysis. IT pros can use the live export (or "clone") capability enabled by Windows Server 2012 R2 to do things like perform a diagnosis on a failed app without taking down the whole VM, Armstrong explained. It's possible to live migrate VMs from Windows Server 2012 to Windows Server 2012 R2 without compatibility issues. That VM compatibility also holds up after performing an in-place upgrade from Windows Server 2012 to Windows Server 2012 R2, he said.

Shared VHDX. The "biggest game changer" with this upcoming release of Hyper-V will be guest clustering with shared VHDX, according to Armstrong. IT pros no longer need standardized storage hardware but can use commodity hardware instead. VHDXs can be resized even while the VM is running.

Linux Guest Support. The new Hyper-V provides a number of features that support Linux systems. The features include "dynamic memory" provisioning, online backups and VHDX resizing, as well as a new virtualized video driver for Linux. Armstrong said that Microsoft now has the best backup story for Linux. Linux VMs can be backed up online with "zero downtime." He added that IT organizations can use "any enterprise backup solution that supports Hyper-V and you'll get full Linux backup support." Organizations can run Windows and Linux VMs side by side.

Hyper-V Replica Improvements. Microsoft added "extended replication," as well as "finer grain control of replication" with the new Hyper-V Replica. Extended replication is a feature for hosters, allowing them to use Hyper-V Replica to provide disaster recovery support for tenants. It's possible to replicate from one VM into another, and the new finer grain controls consist of faster and slower options for when that replication takes place. A new 30-second option assures that the replication won't ever be a minute behind the VM, Armstrong said. The other option, a 15-minute replication option, is useful for when data isn't sent as frequently, such as over a satellite link.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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