Senior Research Analyst, software, IDC Canada

Microsoft Corp. says its Hyper-V version of Windows Server 2008, which is now available for download, will help firms with multi-server data centres cut costs.

Hyper-V is a component of the Windows Server 2008 operating system that lets IT managers run different virtual machines on one physical machine. Microsoft plans to include the technology as part of Windows Update July 8 and it will be free to users who already have Server 2008, said Mike Schutz, Microsoft Corp.’s director of product management for Windows Server.

Hyper-V is a “very important lynchpin” to Microsoft’s virtualization strategy, Schutz added, and a Canadian analyst says one advantage Hyper-V has over competitors is its ease of use.

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“Not every customer needs a best of breed product or one from an early entrant,” said Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst for software at Toronto-based IDC Canada. “Where Microsoft will win in competitive situations versus VMWare – it will gain customers that are perhaps looking for easy of use and simpler management. The sacrifice there is functionality but there may be customers out there where the Hyper-V solution is good enough even if it is relatively new to the field.”

Schutz said with Hyper V, server virtualization is now available to companies that did not previously have access to the technology.

“One benefit of our virtual approach to Windows is its going to be easy for customers to deploy,” he said.

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“I think overall it will lead to increased interest, and sales for Windows Server just by virtue of the fact that it has an offering in the market,” Restivo said. “The question is, what are the customer needs and does Hyper-V satisfy those needs.”

Server virtualization lets companies distribute workloads from different servers into virtual machines, and this allows fewer servers to take on more work in data centres where most of the server capacity is not being used. Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn. attributed the technology to a four per cent drop in the x86 market in 2006.

“Virtual machine software is still a relatively new field even though it’s an often-discussed topic,” Restivo said. “There’s ample opportunity for all players right now including Microsoft. Microsoft is addressing it in a way that it addresses most markets, which is to enter after the pioneers or the creator of the market.”

This is not the most feature-rich platform out there but they have the ability to address the majority of customers at a fraction of the cost.Chris VoceText

With Hyper-V, Microsoft says companies with servers running Windows and other operating systems, including Linux, will be able to consolidate servers. The company says users can also combine 32-bit and 64-bit workloads in the same environment.

The technology allows “true partitioning of hardware,” said Jason Suo-Anttila, chief technology officer Layered Technologies Inc., a Plano, Tex.-based data centre hosting firm. Layered Technologies plans to give customers the option of having their infrastructure include Hyper-V.

“Your virtual machines look and feel as if they’re running on dedicated hardware,” Suo-Anttila said of Hyper-V.

And Hyper-V can manage both the physical and virtual environments, said Chris Voce, analyst for infrastructure and operations at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.

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“It’s wonderful to think of a fully virtualized data centre where all of my server workloads are dynamically shifted around and we’ve completely isolated these applications from the physical server, but that’s not the reality for a lot of customer or any customer,” Voce said. “This is not the most feature-rich platform out there but they have the ability to address the majority of customers at a fraction of the cost.”

Hyper-V also includes live backup and snapshot capabilities, which supports disaster recovery.

Live migration in particular is important to large enterprises that might have hundreds or thousands of virtual servers, says Laura DiDio, a Yankee Group analyst. Live migration is available from Citrix’s XenSource products, so there’s another option for enterprises that can’t tolerate any downtime, she says.

“Microsoft has quick migration, which is supposed to approximate it, but it’s not really the same thing,” she says. “Live migration does make life easier if you’re a large firm. All those seconds and minutes do save you money.”

Not every customer needs a best of breed product or one from an early entrant.Kevin RestivoText

VMware says it will offer better ROI than Hyper-V with technology that can deliver more virtual servers without a performance hit, resulting in a lower “cost per virtual machine.”

Still, VMware is “being squeezed on price,” DiDio says. “Hypervisors are becoming commoditized.”

VMware hasn’t said it will lower prices, but does offer VMware Server, a stripped-down, free version of its hypervisor. List prices range from $495 for VMware ESXi to $5,750 for VMware Infrastructure Enterprise.

“We’re the only company with a price point for every kind of use of virtualization starting with just the hypervisor,” VMware CEO Diane Greene says. “ESXi is available from our Web site for $495. We have a free VMware Server that is very actively used, if you look at the discussion groups.”

Voce says ESX has some things that Hyper-V lacks.

“The ability to move workloads with zero down time from one server to another – that’s absent from Microsoft,” he said. “But for customer who might not need to leverage those features – if their goals are focused on consolidation and they haven’t made a significant investment in VMWare, Microsoft presents a compelling alternative.”

Other features of Hyper-V include virtual machine reconfiguration and symmetric multiprocessor support. Microsoft claims Hyper V’s virtual switch capability lets users configure virtual machines with Windows Network Load Balancing.

Schutz said virtualization is a “core component” of Microsoft’s Dynamic IT initiative, which company executives discussed at the Tech Ed Conference in Orlando earlier this month. At the time, Microsoft announced virtualization certification programs for IT professionals, including desktop support, database administration and Web development.

With files from Jon Brodkin

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