Microsoft Launches Virtualization Hypervisor Beta

Microsoft on Thursday fired a shot across the bow of competitors in the virtualization market by releasing a public beta for Hyper-V, its widely awaited virtualization hypervisor that will be part of Windows Server 2008.

Originally slated for release in Q1, Hyper-V works with release candidate 1 of Windows Server 2008 Enterprise (x64 version), which is one of the three Server 2008 SKUs that will include the hypervisor, and is available for download from Microsoft's website.

The Hyper-V beta adds quick migration capability, high availability and clustering, and the ability to run Hyper-V as a role in server core role, the low footprint version of Windows Server 2008, said Mike Neil, general manager of virtualization strategy at Microsoft.

The beta will also include integration of virtual roles into the server manager function that's used to enable roles in Server 2008. In addition to standard roles like file and print, Microsoft has enabled virtual roles as well, according to Neil.

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But despite the new features, Microsoft hasn't made any changes to the overall user experience, says Neil. "Hyper-V technology is just Windows, and for customers, it works the way they would expect. It doesn't feel like an alien environment like VMware's ESX, which is more of a Linux based environment," said Neil.

Microsoft remains on track to launch Hyper-V within 180 days of the RTM of Windows Server 2008.

Rand Morimoto, president of Convergent Computing, Oakland, Calif., has been using Hyper-V for about four months and has been "extremely pleased" with what Microsoft has delivered.

"The beta has been very stable, and we've been able to take old Virtual Server 2005 and Virtual PC images and just 'boot them up' on Hyper-V. All of our previous Virtual Server 2005 images and demo images moved right across," said Morimoto. "Hyper-V now supports 64-bit guest images, so now all of the 64-bit apps are working in virtual spaces."

But some solution providers wonder how Hyper-V can offer 'true' virtualization when it sits on top of Windows Server 2008, as opposed to other hypervisor-based virtualization technologies like VMware, which have no underlying host operating system.

Next: Hyper-V Stacks Up Against VMware

"I don't understand the value yet," said Kevin Houston, virtualization practice manager and business development manager at Optimus Solutions, a Norcross, Ga.-based solution provider and partner to both Microsoft and VMware. "It still sits on top of a host OS, and it's utilizing the host OS's resources. I'm not sure of what value Hyper-V offers over Microsoft Virtual Server."

But that's a misconception, says Neil, who notes that Hyper-V sits below all of the operating systems running on the system. "It's the lowest layer of the software, and is the new foundation of the Windows environment," Neil said. In contrast, ESX has its own OS environment that's derived from Linux and runs within a partition to provide basic functionality, Neil said.

Some Microsoft analysts have speculated that the vendor plans to compete with the likes of VMware by commoditizing the virtualization layer and making its money from management and licensing.

But Bill Hilf, general manager of platform strategy and Windows Server marketing, insists that the business model around virtualization isn't disruptive to Microsoft's overall licensing business model. "If Windows is the host OS, or is being virtualized as a guest OS, nothing radically changes with our licensing," he said.

Of the three Windows Server 2008 SKUs that come with Hyper-V, Windows Server 2008 Datacenter includes unlimited virtual instances per license, Windows Server 2008 Enterprise includes four virtual instances per license, and Windows Server 2008 includes a single virtual instance per license, Hilf said.

Ultimately, since Microsoft owns the Windows Server market, they don't have to worry that much about competition in server virtualization, says Ron Herardian, president of Global System Services, a Mountain View, Calif.-based solution provider.

"They're going to introduce virtualization as a feature of Windows, and that will make the other virtualization technologies less relevant for companies that have Microsoft based infrastructure," he said.

Microsoft also plans to launch the next version of System Center Virtual Machine Manager in the second half of 2008, with a beta due in the first half of the year. This release will allow users to quickly provision and configure new virtual machines, and manage virtual machines running on Hyper-V, Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2, VMware ESX Server and Virtual Infrastructure 3 (V13).

Additional reporting by Joe Kovar