Microsoft is poised to improve its standing in the world of virtualisation with the much-anticipated update to Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V, Redmond's hypervisor-based server virtualisation solution for 64-bit Intel- and AMD-based servers.
First released last year, Hyper-V proved a less-than-compelling offering compared to virtualisation platforms from VMware, Virtual Iron (now Oracle), Citrix, and other rivals. Hyper-V Release 2, part of Windows Server 2008 R2, delivers some exciting new features that change the game.
Among Hyper-V R2's new features is support for 64 logical processors; Live Migration support, which allows admins to move a VM from one physical server to another without service interruption; VM Chimney, which provides TCP offload support; and a new processor compatibility mode for Live Migration, which enables migrations between different CPUs in the same family.
On top of these enhancements, Hyper-V will remain free with the purchase of Windows Server 2008, which seems like a great deal. However, to use the new Live Migration capability - and to centrally manage more than one Hyper-V host - you also need System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM), which costs $869 per physical server. Depending on what you're running at your organisation, SCVMM may be a welcome addition. Among its features, it can manage both Hyper-V and VMware servers.
Start your virtualisation engine
Installing Hyper-V is no different than installing standard Windows Server 2008, although you do need to install the new Hyper-V Manager MMC (or SCVMM). The Hyper-V Manager can be installed on the same server as SCVMM or on a separate machine. It can run on Windows Server 2008 or Windows Vista SP1.
Guest operating system images can be installed from physical media or ISO image files, as well as over the network from a network image server. I had no problems installing any of the supported versions of Windows or Linux that I tried.
Installing SCVMM 2008 R2 is somewhat more complex than installing the usual single application: It depends on SQL Server 2005 or SQL Server 2008 (SCVMM will install SQL Server Express, but you'll need the full SQL Server if you'll have more than 150 hosts), plus PowerShell 1.0, the Windows Automated Installation Kit 1.1, IIS 7.0, and an instance of System Center Operations Manager 2007 for reporting. Installing Operations Manager isn't strictly necessary, but only through the combination of SCVMM and Operations Manager can you monitor and manage virtual servers and their physical hosts together.