Sunday, January 11, 2009

Microsoft Hyper-V and VMWare.

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VMware has been working hard for the past ten years to develop the x86 virtualization market, and the company has done a good job of it. Today, VMware’s virtualization portfolio includes ten different virtualization tools and a plethora of management utilities that tackle anything—from resource load balancing to workflow automation for virtual machine (VM) requests. This effort has granted them a well-deserved 80% of the current marketplace for server virtualization.

Now, with the release of the Hyper-V role for Windows Server 2008, Microsoft obviously wants its own share of the market. This is the first time Microsoft has had a hardware-based virtual machine engine. Previously, the company had released two software-based virtualization products—Virtual PC and Virtual Server. Both were derived from the technology Microsoft acquired from Connectix Corp., the original makers of Virtual PC. Connectix first made its name when it began producing software that allowed Macintosh users to run Windows software on their PCs by emulating Windows on top of the Mac OS.

Software virtualization tools require an underlying operating system to run. In the cases of Virtual PC and Virtual Server, the underlying OS is Windows XP, Vista, Windows Server 2003 or 2008. In the case of VMware’s software virtualization offerings, the underlying OS can be several different versions of Windows, Linux or even the Macintosh OS.

Hardware virtualization products, commonly called hypervisors, run directly on the hardware and do not require an operating system. In the case of VMware’s ESXi hypervisor, this is pretty clear since the hypervisor is only 32 MB in size and is installed directly on the hardware or, even better, integrated to the server you purchase from the likes of Dell, HP, Fujitsu and others.

Operating system requirements are less clear with Microsoft’s Hyper-V, since Hyper-V is a role within Windows Server 2008 and therefore requires an installation of the OS before you can enable it. However, much of the Hyper-V code is similar to that of Citrix XenServer—which is also a hardware virtualization tool—only this time it’s built upon the Xen extensions to Linux. It’s important to note that XenServer also requires some Linux code to run.

Unlike VMware’s similar offerings, the two Microsoft software virtualization tools will only run x86 or 32-bit virtual machines. In the case of VMware, all of its virtualization products, both hardware and software, will run x86 and x64 virtual machines so long as you install them on a machine using an x64 processor. Microsoft’s Hyper-V, however, will only install on an x64 machine and will support select x86 and x64 VMs .

Hyper-V in the Market

The making (or unmaking) of a hypervisor has everything to do with the tools that support its operation in your data center. VMware, for example, has been in the hypervisor (or x86 virtualization) market for the past 10 years.

This has given the company the opportunity to create an abundance of tools all centered around virtual machine (VM) and host server management. These tools include not only the management of virtual machines in production environments, but also in lab and staging environments, which are essential to ensure that only stable and certified solutions are delivered into your production network.

With Microsoft releasing its very first hypervisor this year—Windows Server Hyper-V—some might think that its arsenal of management tools would be meager, but that is not the case. Microsoft has been in the management space for Windows networks for several years with its System Center line of products and has been able to easily adapt existing tools to the management of virtual machines. After all, virtual machines are easier and simpler to manage in a lot of ways, and Microsoft has been able to enter the hypervisor fray with a series of tools that directly address some of the most common needs in VM management.

When it came to management of operations not traditionally supported by common tools, Microsoft was able to deliver utilities with new functionality that address those needs. Virtual machine creation and administration is a good example of that. Microsoft delivered System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM), a tool centered around virtual machine creation, protection and manipulation. In fact, Microsoft is set to release a second version of VMM
that will include additional improvements such as management of Hyper-V or VMware host servers.

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