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Monthly Archives: September 2008

Hyper-V with Server Core — Too Dry and Crunchy for our Taste

We wouldn’t be doing our jobs at VMware if we didn’t regularly compare our products with the competition to ensure our customers get the best technology and user experience possible.  In keeping with that practice, we recently set up Microsoft’s Hyper-V to get a first hand look.  We made sure to follow Microsoft’s documentation and best practices guidance to get a fair comparison and to understand exactly what a Hyper-V user experiences as he or she attempts to deploy and configure Microsoft’s new product.

One key best practice we heard Microsoft’s Hyper-V team stress in sessions at June’s TechEd conference and again last week at VMworld was a strong recommendation to run Hyper-V using the Server Core variant of Windows Server 2008.   Using the smaller Server Core as the Hyper-V parent partition, instead of a full blown instance of Windows Server 2008, strips out Windows features and services not needed to run Hyper-V.  With Server Core, Microsoft is attempting to minimize the attack surface and patching requirements for Windows to make it a safer platform for virtual machines.  I would agree that as Hyper-V requires a general purpose operating system, you might as well make it as small as possible.  The Server Core concept seems like a good idea.  So, following Microsoft’s recommendations, we deployed Hyper-V with Server Core.

Server Core — “The Windows You Know”??

One aim in evaluating Hyper-V was to test its end-user experience, as Microsoft execs repeated over and over at their Sept. 8 virtualization event that Hyper-V would be eagerly adopted because it uses, “the Windows you know.”  The insinuation is that Hyper-V is easy — and of course that somehow VMware is not.  Microsoft is claiming that with Hyper-V there is no added learning required, no training, no classrooms, because you already know Windows, you can jump right into Hyper-V. They are also claiming that VMware ESX requires you to take the time to learn a whole new system.  But is this accurate?  Is the recommended Server Core flavor of Windows 2008 really, “the Windows you know”?  Is it easier than ESX?  We wanted to find out.


Windows Server Core = MS-DOS 2008

If you haven’t seen Server Core yet, here’s the UI in its entirety.  It doesn’t look like the Windows I know, in fact it looks like DOS!  Are we stepping back in time?  Who knows DOS anymore?  Actually, it makes you wonder why Microsoft didn’t just call it MS-DOS 2008, especially since anyone using Server Core will need to resurrect some long lost command line skills to get any work done.

Is Hyper-V with Recommended Server Core, In Fact, Easy?

So, how does the Hyper-V and DOS — err, I mean Server Core — combination stack up when compared to the user experience of VMware ESXi?  To try it out, we did side-by-side installations of Microsoft Server Core/Hyper-V and VMware ESXi 3.5 on identical servers.  To let you see the details of each setup process, we recorded the entire sequence in a pair of videos.

Hypervisorinstallation2_2This first video shows every step required to install Hyper-V and ESXi on a fresh machine.  We kept count of the elapsed time, reboots, mouse clicks and keystrokes each product needed and it clearly shows the huge advantage the truly thin and OS-free ESXi architecture has in installation speed and simplicity.  ESXi goes from bare-metal to fully installed in one-third the time, half the mouse clicks, hundreds fewer keystrokes and just one reboot vs. seven compared to Hyper-V.  The simplicity of the ESXi wizard-driven installation is striking compared to the arduous process needed to first get the Server Core OS installed and then configure Hyper-V in a command line environment.

Iscsi1_4Our second video starts where the first left off and takes Hyper-V and ESXi through the steps needed to configure two iSCSI datastores for VM use.  iSCSI setup is a standard task for any virtualization user that wants to take advantage of shared storage for VM migration and high availability.  ESXi’s Windows-based Virtual Infrastructure client makes the iSCSI setup quick and easy.  For Hyper-V, the “Windows you know” is nowhere to be seen.  Instead, working with Server Core requires you to key in a long sequence of obscure commands to configure iSCSI initiators and targets, partitions and file systems.  We generously showed the Hyper-V setup executed with no delays, although it took us hours of digging through Microsoft documents and knowledgebase articles to find the right commands to use when configuring iSCSI in Server Core.

Our Conclusion: Server Core plus Hyper-V is for Experts Only

VMware has put great effort into making ESXi the easiest and fastest hypervisor to install and configure and these videos clearly show the results.  Getting the OS out of the hypervisor plays a big part in the streamlined simplicity of ESXi as there is no general purpose OS to configure and manage and the reliability and security issues accompanying the tens of millions of lines of code an OS brings along are eliminated.  Microsoft’s OS-centric Hyper-V architecture adds many steps to the setup and puts their users in a quandary: either A) they install Hyper-V on a full Windows Server 2008 OS and deal with the frequent patching and security fixes Windows requires; or, B) they follow Microsoft’s best practice guidelines and suffer with the limitations of Server Core.  As the videos show, the tradeoffs with Server Core are daunting — Windows administrators will find their familiar GUI tools are missing and they’ll be left to spend a lot of quality time with search engines tracking down documentation on Microsoft’s obscure command line utilities.

Take a look at the side-by-side comparison videos and let us know if you agree that ESXi provides a far faster and easier (or maybe we should say, “moister and chewier“) setup experience.  Better yet, try ESXi and Hyper-V with Server Core on your own machines and tell us how it went.

Why Choose VMware: The Website

The Link:   http://www.vmware.com/technology/whyvmware/

What’s Real and What’s Noise?

I think we’d all agree that there is currently a whole lot of noise in the virtualization space.  With the recent explosion of virtualization entrants, each one claiming to offer a complete, proven, production ready enterprise virtualization solution that is “good enough/better/cheaper/easier/faster/more secure/more scalable/tastes great/less filling than VMware, it is downright deafening. In one corner we’ve got Microsoft execs claiming that their first generation hypervisor is “1/3 the cost of VMware(Note: Our response here), and even the long dormant Red Hat recently erupted to tell everyone that with Qumranet they can now run more VMs per host than VMware VI3 (Note: I didn’t see any data to support that claim, but of course someone reported on it).  With everyone shouting over everyone else, each claiming to be better than or equal to VMware , I am going deaf over here!

And I am sure it is getting very difficult for those evaluating a virtualization solution to tell the facts from the marketing.  Given all the noise, how can anyone determine who actually has a solution that can be deployed today and who is merely marketing a vision (dream?) that may or may not be realized anytime soon?  How can anyone cut through the clatter and make a confident, sound decision on a virtualization platform to support both current and future virtualization requirements?  

Here’s Our Story – One Complete Picture of Our Competitive Differentiation

To make your decision easier, we wanted to make sure that at the very least, you had a complete understanding of our side of the story. We wanted you to have a single location from which to obtain the entire picture, all the facts, on VMware’s product differentiation,  so we created the “Why Choose VMware” website.  Our goal was to clearly and succinctly articulate why we feel that that 1) VMware is the only vendor that actually does have the complete, robust, production proven virtualization solution that can meet your current virtualization requirements today and can support you in the future as your IT needs evolve and 2) All other offerings fall short of meeting even basic virtualization requirements.  How’s that for succinct? 🙂

Just for background on the site’s material, we met with customers, partners, and analysts to determine what they felt was important when considering a virtualization solution; on this site, we make our case for how we match up to those requirements.   I won’t repeat the whole argument here, but in summary, we articulate how VMware’s solutions meet the following conditions:

  1. Is built on a robust, proven foundation
  2. Delivers a platform for shared IT services
  3. Provides a complete solution for virtualization management
  4. Supports your entire IT infrastructure
  5. Is proven across tens of thousands of customer deployments.

And yes we also address cost – and show why VMware solutions offer the lowest cost per application of any virtualization solution – even when compared to those that claim to be free.

I do apologize however…

While we did try, the next releases of VMware products will NOT be “moist and chewy like cake”. I wouldn’t recommend trying to “eat them while you work”.  I extend our sincerest apologies.  Oh well, at least we have live migration.

At Virtualization Event, Microsoft Says “Get Virtual Now”… but Wait Until 2010 for Live Migration

Walking out of the keynote at Microsoft’s “Get Virtual Now” event in Bellevue, WA this week, I found myself thinking about how this was the second time that Microsoft has pre-announced that they would have live migration for Hyper-V. (Apparently, I was not the only one — see “Microsoft Backtracks on Live Migration, Again” on internetnews.com.)

For any readers new to virtualization, live migration is the ability to move a running virtual machine (VM) from one physical server to another without the VM end-user experiencing any disruptions. This capability enables IT admins to do things like:

  • Perform planned maintenance at anytime (instead of only during evenings, weekends, or maintenance windows),
  • Perform anytime dynamic load balancing to meet real-time application demands, and
  • Save power by consolidating VMs to fewer servers during non-peak hours.

VMware was the first to deliver live migration in 2003 when we released VMware VMotion. Since then, others have followed VMware’s lead and delivered live migration (such as various Xen-variants in 2007). According to our customers, live migration via VMotion has become an indispensable component of their virtualized production datacenters.


Microsoft Live Migration: Take One

The first time Microsoft pre-announced live migration for Hyper-V was in 2006 when they stated that “Viridian” (codename for Hyper-V back then) would ship with live migration and other capabilities that would surpass VMware ESX. Then in May 2007, Microsoft had to retreat and drop live migration, hot-add memory and CPU, and support for 32 logical cores from Hyper-V 1.0 in order to prevent Hyper-V from slipping further. (Remember, these dropped capabilities were the ones that Microsoft previously touted as reasons Hyper-V would surpass VMware ESX.)


Microsoft Live Migration: Take Two

So now we get the second pre-announcement on live migration which says that live migration will be available in Windows Server 2008 R2. According to what Microsoft had previously told press, R2 is slated for 2010. Onstage Bob Muglia stated something to the effect of “there’s no magic in live migration, it is just a feature…” Well if it is as easy as the statement implies, why doesn’t Microsoft have the functionality now? Why will it take until 2010?

Now you may say, “Yes, Microsoft is late, but I’m ok waiting.” But waiting costs your company real dollars. Look at this simple example: By using VMware VMotion for planned server maintenance in a 150-VM environment you can save almost $60,000 a year in operational costs. If we scaled to a 1000-VM environment, it results in almost $400,000 of cost savings a year. If you use VMotion for more than planned server maintenance, and use it for dynamic load balancing, distributed power management, etc, you’ll save even more!

live migration cost savings


Live Migration is a Core Virtualization Requirement

To pre-announce live migration – twice – shows that even Microsoft has realized the foundational role that live migration plays in a virtual datacenter. It’s not a “nice-to-have” but a “must-have” capability. Microsoft used to claim that Microsoft Quick Migration was “good enough” because it only caused seconds to minutes of downtime – but that downtime causes interruptions to the end user and that is unacceptable. Microsoft must have gotten enough grief from customers over this claim because I don’t see them saying it as much any more. Anyone who has actually used VMware VMotion knows that you can’t afford the downtime — look at this demonstration of how disruptive the downtime caused by Microsoft Quick Migration is to an end-user.

Assuming no further slips, when Microsoft delivers live migration in 2010, it will be seven years behind VMware (VMotion in 2003). Today, VMware has distinct advantages over Microsoft in our VMware Infrastructure 3 product, such as Storage VMotion, logical resource pools, DRS, and in our Application and Management Infrastructure products, like VMware Lab Manager, Stage Manager, Site Recovery Manager, Lifecycle Manager. By 2010, VMware will extend our leadership even further – keep an eye on announcements coming at VMworld 2008.


Microsoft Did Demo Live Migration, but…

As a technical aside: Microsoft’s live migration demo during Bob Muglia’s keynote felt kinda weird (see for yourself – available in .mpg or .wmv) with what seemed like a streaming video player super-imposed on top of the Cluster Administrator console. During the actual migration, the video was stretched to full screen, obscuring the Cluster Administrator console, and then shrunk back down once the migration was declared as completed. I realize the video was supposed to show that the live migration did not disrupt the playing video, but it wasn’t very convincing since streaming video can be cached. Not sure Microsoft cares what I think, but I have some suggestions to make it a more compelling demo:

  • Show an RDP session into the virtual machine being migrated so people can see what happens to someone logged into the virtual machine
  • Show a continuous “ping” to the virtual machine being migrated so people can see any downtime of that virtual machine
  • Show the management console during the entire migration so people can see what the admin will see
  • Show a more complete process of how to initiate a virtual machine live migration, ie. select target host, test for compatibility, etc.

Here’s an example of how we’ve demoed VMotion.