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.
This 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.
Our 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.