After over three years of development (the product was originally announced at WinHEC 2005 conference) Microsoft finally releases today its first bare-metal virtualization platform: Hyper-V.
During this very long process the product was delayed, changed name, and lost some planned key features.
Unlike Virtual Server and Virtual PC, Hyper-V is a type-1 virtual machine monitor (aka hypervisor) which features an architecture very similar to the one used by Xen and its commercial derivates.
This allows a direct comparison with platforms like Citrix XenServer, Virtual Iron, the upcoming Sun xVM Server and obviously with VMware ESX.
Unlike the latter, Hyper-V adopts a microkernel developed from scratch (so it's not the Windows kernel) which is less than 1MB in size and delegates most of the tasks to a so called Parent Partition.
Depending on the configuration you adopted, the parent partition automatically loads a full copy of Windows Server 2008 or the new Windows Server 2008 Core.
Being a first generation product, Hyper-V cannot really compete with the above in features, but it clearly offers a performance boost (up to +107% in case of disk I/O activity) and some much deserved improvements over Virtual Server 2005 R2:
- Support for 32bit and 64bit virtual machines
- Support for up to 4 virtual CPU per VM (the actual number depends on the guest OS)
- Support for up to 64GB RAM per VM
- Support for the Windows 2008/2003/2000, Windows XP/Vista and Novell SUSE Enterprise Linux guest operating systems
- Quick Migration (the capability to suspend, migrate and resume a VM from one host to another)
- Automatic patching through Windows Update and WSUS
Like for Virtual Server 2005, Microsoft supports most of its applications inside virtual machines, but one of the products still unsupported (on any hypervisor) is Exchange 2007.
Now Microsoft reveals that the Exchange team will release a support statement within 60 days from today, finally giving the OK for the much awaited mail servers consolidation projects.
The company also supports 3rd party applications through an optional certification program. At the launch date three companies are already qualified to run their products on Hyper-V: Diskeeper, IBM (with DB2) and Symantec.
With Hyper-V Microsoft will also compete on the embedded hypervisor front against VMware (with ESXi) and Citrix (with XenServer Express): OEMs like HP, Dell, IBM, Fujitsu, Hitachi, NEC and Unisys are already preparing to ship their hardware with the integrated hypervisor.
As already announced the price of Hyper-V in these configurations will be $28.
The new hypervisor doesn't change the licensing scheme already introduced for Virtual Server: Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition license includes one virtual machine, the Enterprise Edition includes up to four VMs, and the Datacenter Edition allows unlimited VMs.
Microsoft Hyper-V is fully integrated with Windows Server 2008 64bit so any download of the OS includes it. Download a trial here.
For those customers already using the beta or the release candidate of Hyper-V, the product will be updated through the Windows Update service beginning July 8.
To demonstrate how much the company bets on this new product, Microsoft is internally adopting Hyper-V since a while and already migrated inside its virtual machines all the web front-ends that serve TechNet and MSDN websites.
Now the customers wait for the upcoming System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008, currently in beta, to centrally manage Hyper-V (along with Virtual Server and VMware ESX), and MAP 3.1, in beta as well, to perform accurate capacity planning.