Mar 10 2009

Five Ways to Win With Hyper-V

If you're not deploying virtualization today, you might soon be tempted to — in part because Microsoft makes it easy and free.

Initially, few data centers thought they needed virtualization. After all, x86 servers were relatively cheap, and it was relatively easy to load an application onto a single, dedicated machine compared with buying and learning a new, complicated technology. But much has happened in the past decade to turn virtualization from an interesting idea into a must-have technology for IT managers.

Microsoft's release of Hyper-V in Windows Server 2008 this past summer illustrates well the changing conditions in the virtualization market. VMs have become so prevalent today that Microsoft opted to include the technology as a standard tool within its server OS — and when Microsoft ships something standard, you know it's gone mainstream.

No one disputes that Hyper-V lacks the complete feature set currently available in VMware, including memory capacity, management of "sleeping" machines and support for other OSes. A chief differentiator between the two virtualization tools is VMotion, which can automatically move a load from one VM host to another without operator intervention. This capability will likely appear in the next release of Hyper-V, as Live Migration.

Despite the differences between the two virtualization platforms, here's a FedTech countdown of five reasons to consider adopting Hyper-V.

5 Get It for Free

When it comes to cost savings, Hyper-V is attractive. The software is part of Windows Server 2008. (Microsoft has the second version, Release 2 — or R2, as it is known — available as a beta and plans to issue a final version later this year.) You can also download the beta at no cost, as well as a separate free version of Hyper-V.

In today's economic climate, money matters more than ever to IT leaders. "CIOs are looking to save money, and virtualization is the no-brainer way to save money," says Christopher Steffen, principal technical architect for Kroll Factual Data in Loveland, Colo. Steffen estimates a competing product would cost three times as much.

Saving money is the top reason for moving to virtual machines. Chris Wolf, a senior analyst with the Burton Group in Midvale, Utah, points out that the lower capital expenditure costs from server consolidation, coupled with reduced power and cooling savings and reduced spending for maintenance, "build a strong return on investment case for server virtualization and consequently make it easy for IT folks to secure funding for virtualization projects."

4 Rein In the Power

The second factor that makes Hyper-V attractive is power. Power is also a money issue, given that power and cooling costs have tripled in the past three years. And for some agencies, there is the issue of power availability, too. Depending on the location of a data center, access to the power grid can be an issue when it comes to expansion.

According to Microsoft's research, an agency could achieve about a one-to-one energy savings for each server it consolidates, which means that as it adds virtual guests to the host, the power consumption does not increase radically.

3 Say Hello to Less Hardware to Manage

Beyond the obvious cost benefits of consolidation, a third reason to embrace server virtualization is hardware management. Running a data center with individual servers dedicated to single applications might seem simple, but it actually creates increased administrative overhead and can lead to footprint creep.

Additionally, virtualization can extend the life of older hardware because IT can move servers from production environments to support other needs, such as disaster recovery and program development, after consolidating on VMs.

2 Stock Up on Provisions

Another driver is the ease of provisioning new guests. Setting up a new VM takes only a few minutes — so easy, in fact, that most agency IT shops now require a set provisioning process that includes appropriate approvals to avoid VM sprawl.

1 Go With What You Know

That leads to the final reason to consider using Microsoft's virtualization technology: familiarity. If the agency has servers already running Windows, then administrators will already have familiarity and competence using Microsoft's system management tools.

No one disputes VMware's superior feature set. Burton Group's Wolf concludes that VMware's product "is the most mature and will continue to win the feature war." But for some users, Hyper-V offers a good-enough feature set, with familiar management tools and a pleasing price tag.