Microsoft Thursday released its Hyper-V virtualization server, which has been nearly five year in the making and is a major play in the company's march toward services-based computing.
Hyper-V, which was code named Viridian and Windows Server Virtualization, hit its release-to-manufacturing (RTM) stage and will be posted on the company's Web site today. It also will be available via automatic update starting July 8.
Hyper-V is free to users with a Windows Server 2008 license.
Microsoft originally said Hyper-V would ship "within 180 days of the shipment of Windows Server 2008," which was Feb. 27. Most experts had pegged August as the delivery timeframe, but in April Microsoft began to hint that the software would come in June or July. Regardless, the technology has been late in arriving given that it was originally slated for inclusion with Windows Server 2008.
Virtualization is one of the hottest technologies in corporate computing today, although many studies show only a small percentage of servers have been virtualized so far. Still Microsoft is entering a crowded field and can't afford any gaffs.
VMware is the dominant player and says it is ready for Microsoft's challenge. In addition, Citrix, Oracle, Red Hat, Sun and Novell all offer Xen-based virtualization platforms. Just last week, Red Hat introduced a new Linux-based hypervisor called oVirt that can fit onto a 64MB flash drive and boot on virtually any piece of x86 hardware.
"Microsoft knows a lot is riding on Hyper-V," says Rand Morimoto, a consultant with Convergent Computing, which helps companies implement virtualization and has some 20 Hyper-V customers with more than 100 virtualized servers deployed.
Late to the game
To underscore the importance of Hyper-V, Microsoft's incoming chief software architect, Ray Ozzie, has tagged virtualization as one of the foundation technologies for the company's software plus services platform that will define the next chapter in its history.
A survey conducted in February by Walker Information for IT services and product supplier CDW, however, found that users have not been waiting for Microsoft.
The survey showed that 35% of respondents have already implemented server virtualization, 18% are evaluating the opportunity and 9% are making plans to implement within the next 12 months. That means many are already running or evaluating the platforms that will compete with Hyper-V.
But some users in the Hyper-V early adopter program say the software is making their initial skepticism fade away.
"With performance, so far so good," says Robert McShinsky, systems engineer for Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Hanover, N.H. McShinsky runs 15 virtual servers on Hyper-V and 150 on Microsoft's current platform, Virtual Server 2005 R2.
"In our testing, Hyper-V has just blown away Virtual Server. We started to push higher transaction databases into it. We have a lot more flexibility around disk I/O. We also wanted some of the benefits of quick migration so we could provide service level one [support] by being able to move things back and forth for application availability and management."
McShinsky, however, thinks Microsoft must deliver live migration features similar to what VMware has with VMotion in order to fully challenge the market leader. (See related story, "VMware trumps Hyper-V on functionality, but not on price".)
Microsoft cut the live migration features from Hyper-V in May last year but plans to add them in a future version. At that time, Microsoft also dropped the ability to hot-add resources such as storage and memory and reduced the number of processors supported from 64 to 16.
Regardless of the development delays, DHMC is building virtualization clusters on HP 460C blade servers and wants 75% of its infrastructure virtualized in the future.
"That will make it easier to manage, easier to provision and easier to recover," McShinsky says.
Management a key issue
In March, Microsoft said the three most common roles virtualized among early adopters were IIS, application server and Terminal Services, and that the four most deployed Microsoft applications are SQL Server 2005 and 2008, Exchange Server and Forefront. The company said more than half its testers are running an antivirus/security application, nearly 50% are running a backup appliance, and approximately 75% are running Hyper-V with some attached storage.
Despite those numbers, Microsoft says it is still testing some of its more complex applications with Hyper-V.
"For some app teams, they do want some more time with the RTM bits to do final qualifications," says Mike Neil, Microsoft's general manager of virtualization. "For Exchange and SharePoint, they want to provide prescriptive guidance to customers on specific configuration and sizing parameters. You will see that material come out over the next couple of months as each team validates their solutions."
Neil added, however, that those applications will run now in Hyper-V virtual environments.
Microsoft also plans to release in 30 to 60 days the final code for its Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) management tool, which is currently in beta.
Management has emerged as a core issue in virtualization deployments and analysts think Microsoft has a good set of tools. (See related story, "VMware, Microsoft battle over virtualization management capabilities".)
"That is one of their greatest strengths," says Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata. "For the Microsoft environment they have a fairly decent set of management tools that lots of people are already using."
Microsoft is using Beta 2 of VMM to manage its production deployment of Hyper-V to support both its TechNet and Microsoft Developer Network Web sites.
Hyper-V is being released as a module that can be added to Windows Server 2008. Once installed, the server operating system will list Hyper-V as one of the roles that the server can be configured to perform. It supports both Windows and Linux guest operating systems.
Microsoft says future versions of the virtualization platform will be released as part of the Windows Server code.
Neil also says the standalone version of Hyper-V that will run on Windows Server 2003 will be released by year-end. The standalone version is price at $28 and allows an unlimited number of virtual machines on a single box.
Hyper-V is just one part of Microsoft's virtualization strategy that includes desktop virtualization via Microsoft Application Virtualization (formerly SoftGrid) and Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (formerly Kidaro). Microsoft also says it is developing server application virtualization similar to SoftGrid that will let users create pre-configured and tested middleware and application images and combine them on the fly to meet capacity demands.