Category Archives: Virtualization

Another tough exam…

As a subject matter expert (SME) on virtualization, I was neither excited nor intimidated when Microsoft announced their new exam, 74-409: Server Virtualization with Windows Server Hyper-V and System Center.  Unlike many previous exams I did not rush out to be the first to take it, nor was I going to wait forever.  I actually thought about sitting the exam in Japan in December, but since I had trouble registering there and then got busy, I simply decided to use my visit to Canada to schedule the exam.

This is not the first exam that I have gone into without so much as a glance at the Overview or the Skills Measured section of the exam page on the Internet.  I did not do any preparation whatsoever for the exam… as you may know I have spent much of the last five years living and breathing virtualization.  This attitude very nearly came back to bite me in the exam room at the Learning Academy in Hamilton, Ontario Wednesday morning.

Having taught every Microsoft server virtualization course ever produced (and having written or tech-reviewed many of them) I should have known better.  Virtualization is more than installing Hyper-V.  it’s more than just System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) and Operations Manager (OpsMgr).  It is the entire Private Cloud strategy… and if you plan to sit this exam you had better have more than a passing understanding of System Center Service Manager (ServMgr), Data Protection Manager (DPM), and Orchestrator.  Oh, and your knowledge should extend beyond more than one simple Hyper-V host.

I have long professed to my students that while DPM is Microsoft’s disaster recovery solution, when it comes down to it just make sure that your backup solution does everything that they need, and make sure to test it.  While I stand behind that statement for production environments, it does not hold water when it comes to Microsoft certification exams.  When two of the first few questions were on DPM I did a little silent gulp to myself… maybe I should have prepared a little better for this.

I do not use Service Manager… It’s not that I wouldn’t – I have a lot of good things to say about it.  Heck, I even installed it as recent as yesterday – but I have not used it beyond a passing glance.  The same used to be true of System Center Orchestrator, but over the last year that has changed a lot… I have integrated it into my courseware, and I have spent some time learning it and using it in production environments for repetitive tasks.  While I am certainly not an expert in it, I am at least more than just familiar with it.  That familiarity may have helped me on one exam question.  Had I taken the time to review the exam page on the Microsoft Learning Experience website I would have known that the word Orchestrator does not appear anywhere on the page.

Here’s the problem with Microsoft exams… especially the newer ones that do not simply cover a product, but an entire solution across multiple suites.  Very few of us will use and know every aspect covered on the exam.  That is why I have always professed that no matter how familiar you may be with the primary technology covered, you should always review the exam page and fill in your knowledge gaps with the proper studying.  You should even spend a few hours reviewing the material that you are pretty sure you do know.  As I told my teenaged son when discussing his exams, rarely will you have easy exams… if you feel it was easy it just means you were sufficiently prepared.  Five questions into today’s exam I regretted my blasé attitude towards it – I may be a virtualization expert, but I was not adequately prepared.

As I went through the exam I started to get into a groove… while there are some aspects of Hyper-V that I have not implemented, those are few and far between.  the questions about VHDX files, Failover Clustering, Shared VHDX, Generation 2 VMs, and so many more came around and seemed almost too easy, but like I told my son it just means I am familiar with the material.  There were one or two questions which I considered to be very poorly worded, but I reread the questions and the answers and gave my best answer based on my understanding of them.

I have often described the time between pressing ‘End Exam’ and the appearance of the Results screen to be an extended period of excruciating forced lessons in patience.  That was not the case today – I was surprised that the screen came up pretty quickly.  While I certainly did not ace the exam, I did pass, and not with the bare minimum score.   It was certainly a phew moment for a guy who considers himself pretty smart in virtualization.

Now here’s the question… is the exam a really tough one, or was I simply not prepared and thus considered it tough?  And frankly, how tough could it have been if I didn’t prepare, and passed anyways?  I suppose that makes two questions.  The answer to both is that while I did not prepare for the exam, I am considered by many (including Microsoft) a SME on Hyper-V and System Center.  I can say with authority that it was a difficult exam.  That then leads to the next question, is it too tough?  While I did give that some thought as I left the exam (my first words to the proctor was ‘Wow that was a tough exam!) I do not think it is unreasonably so.  It will require a lot of preparation – not simply watching the MVA Jump Start videos (which are by the way excellent resources, and should be considered required watching for anyone planning to sit the exam).  You will need to build your own environment, do a lot of reading and research, and possibly more.

If you do plan to sit this exam, make sure you visit the exam page first by clicking here.  Make sure you expand and review the Overview and Skills Measured sections.  If you review the Preparation Materials section it will refer you to a five day course that is releasing next week from Microsoft Learning Experience – 20409A- Server Virtualization with Windows Server Hyper-V and System Center (5 Days).  I am proud to say that I was involved with the creation of that course, and that it will help you immensely, not only with the exam but with your real-world experience.

Incidentally, passing the exam gives you the following cert: Microsoft Certified Specialist: Server Virtualization with Hyper-V and System Center.

Good luck, and go get em!

Counting Down the Classics with the US IT Evangelists

 

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…”

Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall…”

“Thirty-five articles on Virtualization…”

Pale AleAll of these are great sing-along songs, whether for holidays, camping, bus-rides, or comparing virtualization technology.  Each one is a classic.

Wait… you’ve never heard the last one? That’s okay, we are happy to teach it to you.  It has a pretty catchy tune – the tune of cost savings, lower TCO, higher ROI, and a complete end-to-end management solution.

Even if you can’t remember the lyrics, why don’t you open up the articles – each one written by a member of Microsoft’s team of IT Pro Evangelists in the United States.

You can read along at your own pace, because no matter how fast or slow you read, as long as you are heading in the right direction then you are doing it right! –MDG

The 35 Articles on Virtualization:

Date Article Author
12-Aug-13 Series Introduction Kevin Remde – @KevinRemde
13-Aug-13 What is a “Purpose-Built Hypervisor? Kevin Remde – @KevinRemde
14-Aug-13 Simplified Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2012 Host Patching = Greater Security and More Uptime Chris Avis – @ChrisAvis
15-Aug-13 Reducing VMware Storage Costs WITH Windows Server 2012 Storage Spaces Keith Mayer – @KeithMayer
16-Aug-13 Does size really matter? Brian Lewis – @BrianLewis_
19-Aug-13 Let’s talk certifications! Matt Hester – @MatthewHester
20-Aug-13 Virtual Processor Scheduling Tommy Patterson – @Tommy_Patterson
21-Aug-13 FREE Zero Downtime Patch Management Keith Mayer – @KeithMayer
22-Aug-13 Agentless Protection Chris Avis – @ChrisAvis
23-Aug-13 Site to Site Disaster Recovery with HRM Keith Mayer – @KeithMayer
25-Aug-13 Destination: VMWorld Jennelle Crothers – @jkc137
26-Aug-13 Get the “Scoop” on Hyper-V during VMworld Matt Hester – @MatthewHester
27-Aug-13 VMWorld: Key Keynote Notes Kevin Remde – @KevinRemde
28-Aug-13 VMWorld: Did you know that there is no extra charge? Kevin Remde – @KevinRemde
29-Aug-13 VMWorld: A Memo to IT Leadership Yung Chou – @YungChou
30-Aug-13 Moving Live Virtual Machines, Same But Different Matt Hester – @MatthewHester
02-Sep-13 Not All Memory Management is Equal Dan Stolts – @ITProGuru
03-Sep-13 Can I get an app with that? Matt Hester – @MatthewHester
04-Sep-13 Deploying Naked Servers Matt Hester – @MatthewHester
05-Sep-13 Automated Server Workload Balancing Keith Mayer – @KeithMayer
06-Sep-13 Thoughts on VMWorld Jennelle Crothers – @jkc137
09-Sep-13 Shopping for Private Clouds Keith Mayer – @KeithMayer
11-Sep-13 Dynamic Storage Management in Private Clouds Keith Mayer – @KeithMayer
12-Sep-13 Replaceable? or Extensible? What kind of virtual switch do you want? Chris Avis – @ChrisAvis
13-Sep-13 Offloading your Storage Matt Hester – @MatthewHester
16-Sep-13 VDI: A Look at Supportability and More! Tommy Patterson – @Tommy_Patterson
17-Sep-13 Agentless Backup for Virtual Environments Special Guest Chris Henley – @ChrisJHenley
19-Sep-13 How robust is your availability? Kevin Remde – @KevinRemde
20-Sep-13 VM Guest Operating System Support Brian Lewis – @BrianLewis_
23-Sep-13 How to license Windows Server VMs Brian Lewis – @BrianLewis_
24-Sep-13 Comparing vSphere 5.5 and Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V At-A-Glance Keith Mayer – @KeithMayer
25-Sep-13 Evaluating Hyper-V Network Virtualization as an alternative to VMware NSX Keith Mayer – @KeithMayer
26-Sep-13 Automation is the Key to Happiness Matt Hester – @MatthewHester
27-Sep-13 Comparing Microsoft’s Public Cloud to VMware’s Public Cloud Blain Barton – @BlainBar
30-Sep-13 What does AVAILABILITY mean in YOUR cloud? Keith Mayer – @KeithMayer

…and as for me? Well it’s pretty simple… just go to www.garvis.ca and type Virtualization into the search bar.  You’ll see what I have to say too!

Hyper-V CPU Compatibility Mode

it is pretty well known that for Live Migration to work in Hyper-V, the CPUs on the hosts must be of the same family (Intel to Intel, AMD to AMD).  However it is not as simple as that. 

Both companies are constantly improving their products, so a CPU that Intel makes in 2013 will have more features than one they made in 2010, and because of that they will not be compatible for Live Migration.  In theory then, the Live Migration window is really closer to eighteen months before you are out of band.

So how impractical would it be if both VMware and Microsoft told companies that in order to have Live Migration their servers had to be less than eighteen months apart?  So several years ago Intel and VMware got together and addressed the problem.  The result was what they called Enhanced vMotion Compatibility (EVC).  Essentially what they do for servers in a cluster where EVC is enabled is they simply mask the advanced features of the newer CPUs, which are usually only needed for sound and video and thus not for the majority of business servers.

Microsoft then introduced Hyper-V, and overnight (five years later) they are a real player in the virtualization realm.  In fact, there are some people who would say that they are equal to or better than VMware.  They need to implement a similar feature to prevent the same issue.  Unfortunately they can’t call it EVC because that includes VMware’s trademark vMotion.  Being better with technology than they are with marketing, they settled on calling it ‘Migrate to a physical computer with a different processor version…’ or MTAPCWADPV.  Try to say that three times fast ;)

While their feature name is nowhere near as easy as the equivalent from their competition, the technology is applied to the virtual machine rather than to the cluster.  So in your environment you could have a cluster where some VMs could migrate to some hosts but not to others.

image

Now here’s the misconception: People seem to think that by enabling MTAPCWADPV you are sacrificing performance on your VMs.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

The performance reduction of CPU compatibility mode is a myth.  What MTAPCWADPV does is it masks the newer features of the CPU – mostly multi-media signatures and such – but does not otherwise hobble the CPU.  Unless your VM requires those newer features there will be absolutely no performance decrease to the VM.  If they have VMs that DO need the newer CPU features then leave those on the newer blades.

The other myth, of course, is that it allows you to Live Migrate from Intel to AMD or vice versa.  Unfortunately that is not possible.  Will it be in the future?  Who knows… but under the hood the two families are still different enough that I don’t expect to see it anytime soon.

  1. So now that you know, go enable MTAPCWADPV!  Here’s how:
  2. Open the Settings window of your VM
  3. Expand the Processor section.
  4. Click on Compatibility.
  5. Select the check box called Migrate to a physical computer with a different processor version.

That’s it!  The only caveat is that the VM must be turned off before you do it.  Messing with the processor is not something you want to do live ;)

Live Migration can be performed between any servers with compatible CPUs… as long as they are within the same family.  Try it yourself!

Back on RunAs Radio!

Over the past few months I have recorded a number of webinars and webcasts on a plethora of topics around virtualization, but the one that seems to have gotten the most attention is the one I did for VMTraining that pitted me against Jeff Weiss – Microsoft versus VMware.

A few days later Richard Campbell, the host of RunAs Radio, reached out to ask if I would be interested in doing a similar discussion with him, but this time just ‘Why Microsoft Virtualization is better than VMware.’  I am always happy to sit down with Richard, so we did so last week.

Show #330 is not my first appearance on RunAs Radio.  In fact it is my sixth, dating back to their first year on the air – October of 2007.  I hope I have become a bit more polished since then, and hope you enjoy listening to this latest episode!

Episode 330

Actual Reality: Desktop Virtualization Solutions from Microsoft

In July I presented my first webcast with BrightTalk.  They were putting together a series on virtualization, and asked if I would be able to speak about VDI and Desktop Virtualization strategies.  It was my pleasure!

The webcast is now available on-line.  I encourage you to download it, and let me know what you think!

Download the webcast here!

Do You VDI? You should…

Over the past few months I have been doing more and more work in VDI – Virtual Desktop Infrastructure.  Recently I wrote an editorial piece for WServerNews.com titled VD Why? VD Sigh… or VD Aye!

VDI has the potential to save organizations immense amounts of money, but some of those savings would be wasted if the environment is not planned and architected with all efficiencies taken into consideration.

For several years now I have been discussing the secure, well-managed IT infrastructure and the savings realized by doing VDI right are serious.  We have to start by knowing an understanding the components available to us.

Today I will be presenting a webinar for the BrightTALK Virtualization Summit.  I am calling it Actual Reality: Desktop Virtualization Solutions from Microsoft.  I will discuss all of the components available to build a homogeneous Microsoft VDI environment.

While Microsoft’s OS and productivity applications have been components of the VDI landscape for years, but until recently any environment larger than a few score desktops required a third party provider (usually Citrix) to provide and manage the infrastructure. 

While Microsoft is a relatively newcomer to the game, they have the background and products to do it right.  I will be discussing these components during the webinar.

Got 45 minutes? I hope you will join us!  Register at https://www.brighttalk.com/webcast/286/80725 now to ensure your place.  I will be taking questions of course, but I am hoping to continue the conversation in this space over the next few months.  Let’s discuss it and get you on board!

Register now at https://www.brighttalk.com/webcast/286/80725

Two Years Later, Gartner Makes it Clear!

It was two year ago this week that I published an article calling out Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for x86 Server Virtualization Infrastructure (Gartner agrees with me… Hyper-V is for real!).  I was thrilled that Gartner (a completely independent unbiased industry observer) evaluated Microsoft’s Hyper-V 2008 R2 and determined that it was indeed an industry leader.

Last week Gartner released its newest analysis of the same category, and determined that Microsoft is once again in the Leaders box, and has indeed advanced since the release of Hyper-V on Windows Server 2012.  In fact, the piece seems to agree with me that functionally Microsoft has surpassed VMware.

Microsoft can now meet the needs of most enterprises with respect to server virtualization. Its challenge is not feature or functions, but competing in a market with an entrenched competitor, VMware.

Interesting…it is as if they read my mind!  Of course, I have been shouting it from the rooftops for nearly three years, but as I said it is great to hear from someone who is not paid to do so.

Microsoft was certainly not the first player in the virtualization space, but as I have been saying for years it is not about who is first… if it was we would all be listening to Marconi radios in our Daimler automobiles.  Just like I always say that IT should not be about religion, it should be about the best tool for the job.  Five years ago I was counseling all of my clients to virtualize their datacenters on ESX, but when Microsoft released a comparable solution at a much more reasonable price I switched.

Of course it has gotten even better with the recent release of Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012.  As Gartner says:

Enhancements include significant scalability improvements (matching or passing those of vSphere for the first time), Hyper-V Replica for effective disaster recovery, the Hyper-V Extensible Virtual Switch and Network Virtualization, a more flexible live migration and storage live migration, Hyper-V clustering and clustered live migration, and improved Dynamic Memory.

So indeed, Microsoft may have come late to the table, but they are certainly seated in a place of respect.  In fact they are actually winning a lot of customers who also came late to the virtualization game…

Microsoft is now winning a good percentage of enterprises that are not heavily virtualized yet — especially those that are mostly Windows-based

Of course, with an estimated two thirds of server workloads already virtualized, they are going to have to find their way into companies that are already entrenched.  What they need to do is get a foothold into those organizations – whether that be a proof of concept, a test environment, or a niche.  As the Gartner article writes:

A growing number of large enterprises are finding niches in which to place Microsoft — for example, in stores, branch offices or separate data centers. This strategy of "second sourcing" will enable these enterprises to evaluate Hyper-V for further deployments and perhaps leverage the competition in deals with VMware.

I have spoken with hundreds of companies and partners over the past three years, and that is a common theme – either build a POC or a test environment.  While few companies that I have spoke with have completely replaced their entire VMware infrastructure, the vast majority of them now have some Hyper-V footprint in their organization.  It will continue to grow, and those footprints will continue to swell.  Some of them will eventually replace all competitive solutions, but that is a long way off.

The one point that i do not agree with in the piece is one of the notes of caution… the lack of centralized management.  The vast majority of an admin’s time for the virtual infrastructure will be spent in VMM, while the reporting will come from OpsMgr.  This is akin to the VMware world where the majority of infrastructure time will be in vCenter Server, and the reporting will either be in vCops or a third party solution.  And as a colleague of mine wrote recently:

VMware does not have one console. Service manager, vCloud Director, vCloud App Center etc. all have different UI’s. Definitely the vCenter UI is very rich and by virtue of having just that UI for managing the infra (vs. Hyper-V manager, Cluster manager and VMM in our case) helps them.

In short Gartner agrees that it is still an uphill battle, but there is no question that Microsoft is better equipped for that fight than ever before; they are hungry, they are innovative, and they have put their minds and resources to a goal.  As I have been saying for some time, I would not bet against them winning in the long run!