Microsoft Releases Hypervisor Users Call Fast, Stable

Microsoft announced today that is releasing its Hyper-V hypervisor to manufacturing. The release comes two months before the company's self-imposed deadline of six months after the release of Windows Server 2008, which was released in late February.

Release to manufacturing is the formal, pre-retail release of a Microsoft product that is sent to server and PC manufacturers who can then add it to their own hardware for sale without the restrictions of beta tests.

The early release is at least partly due to what both Microsoft executives and beta testers called an unusually smooth final test and development process, according to Jeff Woolsey, senior program manager, virtualization for Microsoft.

"The testing program was smooth enough and went quickly enough that we were able to add [support for] a whole series of guest operating systems that weren't on the list for the initial release," Woolesly says. Most of those are various editions of Windows Server, but several versions of Linux are also represented.

Woolsey's version of the development process can be expected to be rosy, but doesn't miss the mark by much,, according to Chris Steffen, principal technical architect at Kroll Factual Data, a credit-reporting and financial-information services agency.

"I've attended some conferences where I hear people say Hyper-V isn't ready for prime time, that it's a 1.0 product and it's not reliable and all that, and I haven't the foggiest clue what they're talking about," says Steffen, who's been testing Hyper-V for months and is migrating Kroll Factual Data's servers to it as quickly as his staff can migrate them.

Kroll Factual Data, a subsidiary of security specialist Kroll, Inc., runs about 300,000 transactions per day across about 300 physical servers and 1,600 virtual servers running on Microsoft's Virtual Server product, the predecessor to Hyper-V.

"We run probably 300,000 transaction per day over our environment, with a little less than 300 (physical) hosts and about 1600 on Virtual Server," Steffen says. "About 100 of those are running Hyper-V and they're completely solid. It's hard to say how much of an improvement [Hyper-V is compared to Virtual Server], but at this point we're seeing something like a 15 to 20 percent lift."

That estimate is low compared to what many of the customers of Oakland-based integrator and virtualization services company Convergent Computing is seeing, according to Rand Morimoto, the company's president.

"Even before it ships, the product has proven to be reliable," Morimoto says. "You would think this would have the potential for problems. It's a 1.0 product, it's an infrastructure product. But the thing is, it's still based on Windows, and on [Microsoft's] virtualization stuff, which they've been doing for years. We were surprised when the product first came out," Morimoto says. "We expected slow performance, instability. We expected the worst, but we didn't see it."

Cost Advantage

Hyper-V will hold a significant cost advantage over products from VMware, which dominates the server virtualization market. But in tools for the management of performance, provisioning and security of virtual machines, VMware still holds a large lead, most analysts agree. Microsoft is quickly adapting its own physical-server management software to handle the virtual world, but has not yet caught up to the capabilities of the tools VMware already has available, they say.

Still, Hyper-V is a "huge advance" over Microsoft's previous entries in the virtualization market, Woolsey says. Direct performance comparisons between Hyper-V and Virtual Server show that Hyper-V "smokes Virtual Server in virtually every configuration," Woolsey says. Tests from Intel and Microsoft partner QLogic show the same result, largely because of Hyper-V's more efficient approach to input/output and virtual network-interfaces, Woolsey says.

Hyper-V also scales much more efficiently than Virtual Server, with each new VM adding very little overhead to slow things up, Woolsey says.

"We have 26 customers across a lot of verticals and sizes who are running Hyper-V on a total of more than 100 servers, running from four to 10 guest sessions each," Morimoto says. "We had one customer we quoted a project at about $275,000 for hardware, software and services, for 40 servers and all the software required. The price was just too high, and the deal fell off the table. Later on we were able to include them as an early adopter. We were able to do the same thing with a third of the equipment and virtual servers, plus all the services, and we could put it in for about $140,000. It was less for the customer to spend and it was great for us because it increased the services part of the bill by 30 or 40 percent, and the margin on services is a lot higher than on hardware; you can't make any money just selling hardware."

Saving money is a good justification for virtualization, but not as good as agility, Steffen says. "We can reconfigure servers, move things around, provision a new server in 15 minutes for failover, or DR or a new task. That kind of flexibility helps make us a lot more nimble than our competition."

The release of Hyper-V, especially in a high-performing, stable iteration, will put a lot of pressure on VMware, Steffen and Morimoto agree.

"VMware can focus on adding value, focus on the management part, but honestly, Microsoft has a pretty good story on the management front. It owns the management stack from SMS and the rest of the stuff it's done for physical servers," Morimoto says. " We've made a lot of money selling VMware, but Microsoft has addressed about 80 percent of the high availability stuff VMware has, including failover clustering. There's no question that ESX is a great product, but you can mix it with Hyper-V and it works the same."

" VMware needs to change its model," Morimoto says. "You can't charge for something people can get for free or for a lot less money. I'm not sure where VMware is going to be a year from now."

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