Windows Server How-To

First Impressions: Windows Server 10 Hyper-V Preview

Is Microsoft finally preparing a version of Hyper-V that can compete with VMware?

Lately, I have been hard at work on my next book which will discuss VMware-to-Hyper-V migrations. The writing has kept me so busy that I haven't had a chance to weigh in on the new Hyper-V preview. That being the case, I wanted to take this opportunity to share my initial thoughts.

My initial impression of the Hyper-V preview is that Microsoft seems to have a different goal than they had with Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2. Back then the goal seemed to be to add an overwhelming number of features to a previously sub-par hypervisor in order to make it a legitimate alternative to VMware. The new release preview seems to be less about introducing new features and more about laying the ground work for the future.

Admittedly, what we have right now is a preview release. Microsoft could easily add features prior to the actual release. My guess, however, is that they are laying the groundwork in the Windows Server 10 time frame and we will probably see that groundwork put to good use in the Windows Server 10 R2 time frame.

So what does Microsoft have up their sleeve? I honestly don't know, but I have a few guesses. One guess is that Microsoft is working toward a more simplified management experience for small- to medium-sized organizations.

At one time, Microsoft signaled that they might be adopting a "PowerShell First" approach to virtual machine management, but seems to have abandoned that idea because it would undoubtedly alienate customers. If you think that people were upset by the Windows 8 GUI, just imagine what would happen if Microsoft took the GUI away completely.

Today most larger shops use Virtual Machine Manager to manage Hyper-V, with smaller shops using Hyper-V Manager. To say that Hyper-V Manager is lacking is an understatement. It will handle the basics, but isn't the most efficient tool. Conversely, Virtual Machine Manager can be overkill. It has become far more than a Hyper-V management tool. You can actually use Virtual Machine Manager to construct private clouds.

Microsoft would do well to build a mid-level virtual machine management tool. Imagine something like the Hyper-V Manager, but with the ability to view the virtualization infrastructure as a whole. Microsoft has stopped short of doing that (at least so far), but they are making some badly needed updates to the Hyper-V Manager. In the preview release it is possible to manage multiple versions of Hyper-V, there is support for using alternate credentials and the Hyper-V Manager has been updated so that it can use the WS-MAN protocol (which is also used by Virtual Machine Manager).  Hopefully these improvements are setting the stage for a more powerful management console.

On a side note, Microsoft is also going to start delivering updates to the Integration Services through Windows Update. That doesn't really fit in with what I see as Microsoft's vision for the future, but it is such a welcome change that I just had to mention it.

The other way that I see Microsoft preparing for the future is in that they have created a couple of new file formats. The new .VMCX file will store virtual machine configuration data. The .VMRS file will store runtime state data. Microsoft says that the move was intended as a way of improving read efficiency and reducing the chance of data corruption in the event of storage failure.

While Microsoft's explanation is likely to be true, I think that it is probably only part of the story. In my opinion, the move is probably Microsoft's way of making virtual machines more modular.

Think about the way that the Virtual Machine Manager libraries work. You can create profiles for things like virtual machine hardware configurations and application configurations. I could see future versions of Virtual Machine Manager using these profiles to directly generate .VMCX files that could possibly be shared among multiple virtual machines as a way of maintaining a consistent configuration across those VMs.

Using a binary file to store state data opens up a lot of possibilities too. For instance, I think that it will eventually be possible to live migrate a running VMware VM to Hyper-V by directly injecting a VMware VM's run state into a VMCX file.

I will be the first to admit that much of this is speculation, but I strongly suspect that Microsoft is putting the pieces in place to make it a lot easier to achieve virtual machine consistence and mobility.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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