The Major Benefits of Hyper-V Virtualization
Virtualization is having a virtual machine that stores information and can be accessed through an authorized server. But many IT professionals reading this probably already knew that. However, as a novice to virtualization, that is about as much as I can tell you.
Luckily, I got a chance to speak with three instructors at New Horizons who are experts on three different platforms. They gave me an overview of virtualization and discussed which platform they believe is best.
The first two pieces in this series gave me a chance to speak to two experts in virtualization: Ryan Birk for VMware vSphere, and Khalaf Haddad for Citrix Xen. Both gave me great insight about these virtualization platforms and how they each have their own benefits.
In the first post, Why vSphere is the Best Virtualization Platform, Ryan Birk told me about vSphere benefits, such as longevity of their products, the latest updates and how it excels at innovation. Khalaf Haddad helped me understand What Makes Citrix the Best in Virtualization. He showed me that Citrix is keeping things current with the latest release of Xen version 7.12, with lots of features available, and also about a new Citrix course that will be in June.
In the final post of this series, I was given the opportunity to talk with Warren Hammond, the man to talk to about Hyper-V. By this point, I thought I knew a lot about virtualization and its multiple platforms. However, Warren gave me some great knowledge and proved that not all virtual machines are the same:
How do most customers utilize virtualization?
Well the idea is to reduce your server footprint. So back in the old days, you had a server room. You’d have all these physical boxes, and what was happening was that companies were just sprawling with more and more and more servers. Back in the 90s, when I started, there were a lot of companies building these massive server rooms and then two years later they needed a bigger server room, then two years later they need a bigger one.
So the big thing with virtualization is it gives you the ability to create servers without actually having a physical box. There’s always a physical box hosting the virtual machine but one physical box could host 10, 20, even 30 different virtual machines. Once we have the virtualization infrastructure in place, we build the virtual machines on the fly: we can move the virtual machines around, we can give a virtual machine more memory, more processing power and take it away. I think about three-quarters of businesses today do use some form of virtualization. So it’s definitely a revolution that has taken over IT departments all around the world.
What are some of the bigger industry trends surrounding virtualization in 2017?
Well, like I said before, a lot of its popularity has to do with the rise of cloud computing. Cloud computing is the same thing as virtualization; it’s just having a third party provide the infrastructure. So instead of hosting the virtual machines inside your own data center you have a cloud provider hosting the virtual machines for you. That offers people even more agility and more flexibility because now they don’t even have to provide their own data center.
The direction Microsoft is trying to go – and they’re not entirely there yet – is to be able to manage your internal virtual machines and your cloud based virtual machines seamlessly from one management console. So right now, there’s a little bit of split brain, where half the time you’re managing some of the stuff that is internal; that’s supposed to be your data center. Then you have different tools or different consoles that you have to go into to manage your cloud based virtualization infrastructure. What they’re trying to do is merge that all into one seamless interface, where managing local and cloud stuff is totally interchangeable. It seems like all the vendors are trying to race to get to that level, to get their technologies that seamless. But it might take some time before everybody gets there.
Can you briefly describe Microsoft Hyper-V and its typical role in an IT network?
It’s just virtualization. Hyper-V is just the base component that allows you to host virtual machines. It’s been around since 2008 and was kind of the first release of Hyper-V. Instead of always having to implement physical servers, it gives you that agility and ease to stand up new virtual systems without having to buy a whole bunch of extra hardware and waiting two weeks to get the hardware in, then having a server room that doesn’t have enough space. So Hyper-V is your step 1 in implementing a virtualization infrastructure.
As far as typical role, just about every IT department now is using it. I did mention that places like government and hospitals would benefit from virtual machines but there is also the question of security. Especially for those examples because they have legal security requirements they have to meet, like HIPAA. New security measures are being developed for cloud and some are even available now. Aside from that, pretty much anybody would use virtualization. Anybody who has a server infrastructure or a network infrastructure.
Has Microsoft recently updated Hyper-V? If so, what are some of the new capabilities for 2017?
Well they just did a big release in 2016; Server 2016 just came out, probably 6 months ago. So I don’t know if we’re going to see any new releases in 2017 for Hyper-V. But 2016 added a few big features. One is called Containers, which started Server 2016. The technology is still pretty raw and a lot of people are still figuring out how to use it. The basic idea is that when you run a lot of virtual machines, each one is running a Windows Operating System (OS) inside it. So let’s say I’m running 50 virtual machines, all running Windows OS inside and each one of those Windows OS is taking up a chunk of my resources – my memory, processing power, etc. The idea is that with Containers you can share part of the OS across all those virtual machines so I only have to have the current OS loaded in memory once instead of 50 times. That’s probably the biggest new feature they added. I don’t know how many people are using it in production yet, simply because it is so new but it’s a promising avenue for development to come.
Another thing that they’re developing, and it’s kind of cutting edge stuff, would be something called Software Defined Networking (SDN). The idea is that you have all these virtual machines that aren’t physically networked but are virtually networked. So the idea is "let’s try to manage that virtual network infrastructure more easily". One of the things that gets very hard on a network is you have all this network equipment: all these routers and switches all over the place. If you want to make any kind of major change in how you’re prioritizing traffic, for example, you have a lot of routers and switches to visit to make that change. It can be very intimidating and slow to make changes. But now that all that infrastructure is virtualized, it’s a lot easier to hook it in and make changes on a more global scale. So SDN and Containers both seem to be big, new technologies that Microsoft is implementing. And some of that stuff is already in use and some of it is still in development but those are the exciting directions Microsoft is moving into.
What sets Hyper-V apart from other, similar virtualization systems?
Probably the thing that sets it the most apart is price. Microsoft is very competitive in price, compared to their competition. In terms of technology, I don’t think there’s a really any big differences anymore. There used to be a pretty big gap between what VMware can offer and what Microsoft can offer. It seems like Microsoft has closed the gap, maybe not entirely but pretty close. There are some organizations that might have very specific needs that might force them to go one way or the other but for the most part, most companies could really go either way and be very happy. Microsoft has a really big edge on price because they sell their stuff quite a bit cheaper, usually, than VMware does. Microsoft is a big huge massive company with lots of revenue sources so they can be a little competitive on price.
The other thing I think Microsoft has an edge on is their ecosystem. They make Windows, Windows server, they’re the second biggest cloud provider in the world after Amazon. It’s one of those things that if you’re already heavily invested in Microsoft technology, it probably makes sense to go with the Microsoft technology. You already have all this other Microsoft infrastructure and the products are going to integrate really well with other Microsoft products. So once you’re kind of brought into the Microsoft world, it probably makes a lot of sense to just stick with the Microsoft solutions. And I think that’s another big advantage they have, compared to competitors; they have customer loyalty. So that and the pricing gives them an edge.
How easy is it to implement Hyper-V into an existing IT environment and can it coexist alongside other virtualization platforms?
Well, that’s interesting. What Microsoft did is they really wanted to make it easy to coexist with other products earlier. They’ve dropped some of that out. I’ve been hearing about that in products like System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM), dropping out some of their VMware support. The products can definitely coexist but you’re going to have to manage them separately. As opposed to having one management console where I can manage all my Microsoft, VMware, and Citrix virtual machines from the same interface. Which is kind of what they were doing with SCVMM for a while. Now it seems that they’re scaling that back and expecting maybe instead just convert your virtual machines over to the Microsoft platform.
How does Hyper-V compare with other virtualization platforms in the industry such as Citrix's Xen or VMware's vSphere?
Economically it’s the way to go. That’s the biggest thing. I think that and just that it has so many integrations with all their other services. For example, I don’t think VMware has a strong cloud presence compared to Microsoft. In terms of capability, VMware was always the industry leader. They were kind of the ones always driving the show and the industry was following them. Microsoft has slowly but surely caught up. Some people would argue that maybe they’re not 100% caught up but they’re probably 97-98% caught up in terms of capabilities. With medium size companies, Microsoft Hyper-V is very competitive with VMware vSphere. When you get up to the really large enterprise sized companies I think vSphere’s still has a bigger market share, but Microsoft seems to be gaining. People know what Hyper-V has to offer compared to vSphere so for most organizations, you can’t go wrong either way. Either one will do everything you want it to do.
Well I don’t teach Citrix Xen so I’m not an expert on that subject. My understanding is, although it has a lot of cool features and have been working hard to try to catch up to some of the things Microsoft and VMware can do, they’re still just not there yet. For example, they don’t make an OS, they don’t have a cloud so there’s a lot of integration components that they’re missing. Citrix also doesn’t have a fully flushed out ecosystem compared to the other products. So for example, Microsoft has a lot of tools that can be used to manage and monitor your virtualization infrastructure. Microsoft has plenty of tools that coexist and feed off of one and other and it seems Citrix doesn’t have as much of that. So the integration is a little bit better with the other Microsoft systems, the price and the ecosystem are big advantages for them. Beyond that, I don’t know that I have any other big ticket items that Microsoft offers that the other vendors don’t.
As the final piece in this series, I left with a much greater understanding of what virtual machines are and the platforms that help users utilize them. Hyper-V is putting themselves up to the challenge by offering a variety of options and advantages at a competitive price. In comparison to vSphere and Xen, Hyper-V makes an effort to stand out by offering the best and helping to give seamless integration.
All of these platforms have proven themselves in their own individual way. While I know significantly more about virtualization than when I started on this endeavor, I am certainly no expert. I wish I could say which of these would be the best virtualization to use, but a better way would be for those considering to take a class and determine for themselves which one will work best. Comparing the three oneself will help you gain as much, and probably more, knowledge as I did during this series.
Warren Hammond has been a technical instructor for New Horizons since 1994. Always curious about new technology, Warren has dabbled with products made by vendors as varied as Novell, Citrix, and Computer Associates. However, his primary focus has always been Microsoft. Having taught every operating system since DOS, his resume reads like a history of the tech industry for the last two decades.
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