A Weekend With Hyper-V

This weekend I spent a good bit of time working with Microsoft's Hyper-V in the Converging Network Labs, following my daughter's baby shower on Saturday (which went swimmingly well thanks to all hard work my wife put into the event.) I installed the release version of Hyper-V on an Intel Q6600 Quad/8GB memory system running of course the Windows Server 2008 64-bit operating system. This is the full Windows Server install, with the Windows management interface, rather than the slimmed down Windows Server 2008 CORE version. I have to say my overall impressions are good, but mixed in some respects given what Hyper-V is all by itself. I'll say a bit more in just a bit.

Though I tested the Hyper-V beta, I spent more time testing various scenarios with the Hyper-V final bits. The experience was a bit surreal as it in many ways reminded me of the first time I downloaded and tried out VMware Server when it first came out. Hyper-V along with the Hyper-V manager in Windows Server 2008 is at about that same stage of functionality. The biggest comparative difference is Hyper-V's performance, compared to early versions of VMware Server. 

Everything you need to create and run virtual instances is right there. Define how much RAM and disk space you want to allocate is about all you have to specify when setting up a new virtual instance under Hyper-V, and even those options can be defaulted. Responsiveness of the various Windows OS's I set up seemed to make efficient use of the CPU and memory without too much overhead. One performance issue I did find was some slowness accessing the DVD, which was odd given this was a 20X SATA Pioneer DVD drive. That made installing from CDs a bit slow, showing again why you want the added image management capabilities found in more mature products like Citrix Xen and VMware. It really shows why management capabilities coming in System Center and Virtual Machine Manager, and the value added in Citrix Xen and VMware products, are so valuable.

I haven't tried any Linux distros on Hyper-V yet, though I'll be doing that over the next few days. Novell is the only Linux officially supported but many report Red Hat and other distros working fine -- you just won't get support from Microsoft for any issues. The good news about that is if you did run into big problems, Hyper-V images are compatible with Xen's products so there might be some other options there if you're in a bind. 

As an environment to create and run a few virtual instances, Hyper-V on Windows Server 2008 is more than adequate. It's stable, performs well and is very easy to work with. For testing products, like I do a lot, setting up lab configurations, or maybe prepping for an exam certification (like one of the Microsoft Certified Professional certs), it's a great tool. Running a handful of virtual images in production situations on a small scale to start out with seems very doable as well. I think we'll see Hyper-V getting good use in production environments relatively soon that don't yet require more sophisticated management capabilities. Having the standalone Hyper-V hypervisor (not dependant on having Windows Server 2008) and the System Center capabilities will make it much more feasible for bigger deployments.

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