In-Depth

Hyper-V Moves into the Fast Lane

The Microsoft hypervisor is gaining more respect and usage for datacenter and hybrid cloud virtualization.

When UMC Health System first started virtualizing its server farms, VMware Inc. offered the only suitable hypervisor platform available. Nearly a decade later, 55 percent of the Lubbock, Texas-based hospital and regional healthcare provider's infrastructure has some 300 virtualized applications predominantly with the VMware ESX and vSphere platform. Now, as the 3,200-employee organization serving parts of Texas and New Mexico moves to virtualize the remaining infrastructure, it's planning to do so primarily with Microsoft Hyper-V instead. Hyper-V is also now replacing Citrix XenServer for its 600 virtual desktops at UMC Health System. Once unthinkable, that's become more feasible and commonplace over the past two years as Hyper-V has become more enterprise-ready, particularly with Windows Server 2012 R2.

"We started looking at Hyper-V because a lot of the features are now very competitive and some are even a step above in performance, such as disk deduplication," says Chris Akeroyd, UMC Health System's director of IT infrastructure. Like many IT decision makers, until recently Akeroyd and his team had largely shunned Hyper-V for business-critical systems. "When Microsoft first released Hyper-V in 2008, we shrugged our shoulders and said `no,'" Akeroyd recalls. "We didn't think it was a competitive product. Windows Server 2012 piqued our interest and then R2 came out and that's when we started putting it in."

A growing number of shops like UMC Health System are moving more business-critical workloads to Hyper-V. In 2013, VMware accounted for 53 percent of hypervisors deployed last year, according to data released in April by IT market researcher IDC. While VMware still shipped a majority, Hyper-V accounted for 29 percent of hypervisors shipped. VMware still accounts for 67 percent of hypervisors installed, according to a recent online survey of 515 Redmond magazine readers. Hyper-V accounts for 28 percent and Citrix XenServer 4 percent. While respondents were from enterprises of different sizes, the majority were midsize and small shops. In the competitive hypervisor race, few would dispute Microsoft is picking up speed.

"We are seeing Hyper-V growth. Every quarter it seems we're pretty much winning a point of share or more while VMware has been losing share for quite a while now," says Jeff Woolsey, Microsoft's principal program manager for Windows Server and System Center. Analyst Mark Bowker of The Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) adds: "VMware has had tremendous success over the past seven years, and let's face it, Microsoft was lagging from a features and functions perspective. Now I think now they're pretty much on par."

Strong Incentives
Hyper-V could also get a boost from the looming expiration of Windows Server 2003, which Microsoft will stop supporting in July 2015. Organizations upgrading to Windows Server 2012 R2 will have a strong incentive to consider Hyper-V, considering it comes with the server OS. "Most of these customers with Enterprise Agreements already have Windows Server and System Center, they already have our stack," says Woolsley. "We tell them you can continue to write that check to VMware but you own our entire Microsoft private cloud stack." Indeed, the Microsoft private and hybrid cloud OS story is also driving the move to Hyper-V, Woolsey says. "Azure is powered by Hyper-V," he adds.

Scores of other third-party partners tell Redmond they're seeing increased plans to implement or expand their use of Hyper-V and have started supporting or stepped up support for the Microsoft hypervisor in their wares (see who's jumping on the Hyper-V bandwagon).

"Hyper V is coming on very fast," says Dave Mountain, vice president of marketing at Bluestripe Software Inc., which last month added Windows Server 2012 R2 support for FactFinder, the company's monitoring and reporting add-on to System Center 2012 R2 Operations Manager. "We see a lot of accounts focused heavily on Hyper-V in two flavors: one is the VMs themselves become a much easier to manage platform once they go virtual, and the second is the move to private cloud. Inside of larger organizations, there is a strong desire to have a more refined way to interact with the different business units and groups, and private cloud becomes a very, very strong organizational entity, more so than technical."

Even those with roots in the open source community are now investing in Hyper-V. Arsalan Farooq, CEO of Convirture Corp., a supplier of open source hypervisor management tools for the datacenter and hybrid and public clouds, says his company recently added support for Hyper-V after observing strong interest in it following the release of Windows Server 2012 R2. That's especially the case for IT organizations that want to use Hyper-V to deliver self-service capacity. "To my surprise, people love doing this for Hyper-V," Farooq says. "That's a great place for Hyper-V to be a tremendous platform. Windows Server 2012 R2 is great, our customers love it and they want to put modern virtualization on top of it."

While ESG analyst Bowker is seeing increased interest in Hyper-V, it's measured. "I don't see a broad market-wide fire underneath IT to take their VMware investment and move it to Hyper-V," Bowker says. Indeed, adding Hyper-V to new installations and running it alongside VMware has become a relatively straightforward task, thanks to tools and broad support from ISVs and infrastructure suppliers.

Migration Madness
However, switching existing VMware to Hyper-V is a much more complex undertaking. One might compare it to switching an Oracle database to SQL Server or moving to a different backup and recovery platform. Changing these OSes is analogous to repairing a jet engine mid-flight or changing the tires of a car while it's in motion.

"I tend to doubt many are doing a full migration at this point," says IDC analyst Al Gillen. "Our research finds that VMware is very, very sticky." Gillen for some time has noted Hyper-V's incremental increase in share.

Microsoft is making a strong effort to get customers to make that conversion using its free tool called Virtual Machine Converter, which lets administrators move VMware VMs to Hyper-V. The company released a new 2.0 version in April (see "Migrate to Hyper-V").

Still, experts believe those actually converting existing VMware systems to Hyper-V is relatively small. "I think it's a great move for Microsoft to be able to have the ability and have a tool in [its] toolbox to be able to do so," Bowker says. "The fact is there will be some folks [who] do that migration, and having a tool in their toolbox to do that is good. But most is net new, where people are building new virtual machines as opposed to migrating away."

For example, Peak 10 Inc., a Charlotte, N.C.-based cloud provider, has run its 24 datacenters throughout the United States on vSphere since 2006. While seeing the growth of Hyper-V, Peak 10, a Microsoft and VMware partner, doesn't plan to change out its existing virtual infrastructure, says Ken Seitz, director of product strategy. "The cost to change is pretty high," Seitz says. "Mostly from re-skilling our staff and having to support multiple environments, we're able to get the functionality we continue to need out of that environment. But we certainly see Hyper-V becoming more prevalent with our customers as their virtualization platform of choice and we are extending more services to help complement that."

The Redmond survey found 21 percent of those who consider VMware their primary hypervisor platform have plans to migrate that infrastructure to Hyper-V. But when asked whether they'll actually add new Hyper-V servers moving forward, 17 percent said they will do so but keep existing VMware infrastructure in place, while only 8 percent say they plan to actually migrate VMware systems over. Another 9 percent say they already moved those systems to Hyper-V. Yet speaking to the "stickiness" of VMware, 47 percent don't have plans to move to Hyper-V. At the same time, ESG research shows VMware's license growth "has slowed down significantly" Bowker says.

For its part, UMC Health System last year started putting new Hyper-V instances in as proof of concepts, testing such benchmarks as uptime, resiliency and how manageable it was. "There was still a lot of doubt around it -- we had to prove it to ourselves," Akeroyd says. "Once we were comfortable with our ability to manage it and make it work and how the ins and outs of the product worked, I started setting up my test environments on all the different servers and watched how those performed."

Like the majority of organizations embracing Hyper-V, Akeroyd is looking at a dual hypervisor environment under a common management platform. In his case, that's System Center Virtual Machine Manager. "We're still taking a very slow, cautious approach to it," he says. "We're not supplanting or replacing VMware today, that's not our goal at this point. We're running a mixed environment, we're waiting to see what the next releases of both look like. We're looking to see who's going to come on top of this hypervisor world

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