Hyper-V 2008 R2: Still good enough?

I manage a vSphere environment at work, and it is a real change from the last few years when I spent all of my time talking about Hyper-V.  I want to be clear – it is not better or worse, it is just… different.  We have a number of virtualization hosts, plus a physical domain controller, and one physical server running Windows Server 2008 R2 (Enterprise), which has an app running that precludes us from changing that.  The app hardly uses any memory, so a lot of that was wasted.

While my physical server does not have a lot of RAM (8GB) it has a ridiculous amount of internal storage… I mean terabytes and terabytes of it.  I asked my boss about it, and he said it was there for something that they no longer use the server for… but it’s there… wasted as well… for now.

A few weeks ago I proposed a project that would require use of that space, and it was tentatively approved.  The problem is that the existing application and the proposed application are not supposed to co-exist on the same server.  I would have to come up with a way to segregate them.  No problem… I would install the Hyper-V role onto the physical server, and then create a new virtual machine for my purposes.

Once I explained to my boss that no extra licensing was required – because the physical server is licensed for Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Edition, we could build as many as four virtual machines on the same license on that host – he got excited, and asked the usual ‘what else can we do?’ questions.

‘Can we cluster the virtual machine?’

No.  I mean, we could, but it would require having a second Hyper-V host which we do not have.  There is nothing we can do about that without incurring extra costs… and the purpose of the exercise is to do it for zero dollars.

‘Can we use Storage Spaces?’

No.  Storage Spaces is a great technology – one that I really loved talking about when I was working with Microsoft.  However it is a feature that was only introduced in Windows Server 2012, and we are only on Server 2008 R2.

‘Can we create the VM using 64TB .vhdx drives?’

No.  Again, .VHDX files were only introduced in Windows Server 2012.  We are limited to 2TB .VHD files… which is more than enough for our actual needs anyways.

‘How about UEFI Boot on the VM’

Nope.  Generation 2 hardware was introduced in Windows Server 2012 R2, so we are stuck with Generation 1 hardware.

So after he struck out on all of these questions, he asked me the question I was expecting… ‘Then why bother?’

I became a fan of Hyper-V as soon as it was released in Windows Server 2008.  Yes, the original.  I was not under any delusions that it was as good as or better than ESX, but it was free and it didn’t require anything to install… and if you knew Windows then you didn’t need to learn much more to manage it.

Of course it got much better in Windows Server 2008 R2, and even better in the SP1 release… and then in Windows Server 2012 it broke through, and was (in my opinion) as good as or better than vSphere… in some ways it was almost as good, in some ways it was better, and in the balance it came out even. Of course Server 2012 R2 made even better improvements, but when I spent three years with Microsoft Canada – first as a Virtual Partner Technology Advisor and then as a Virtual Evangelist – criss-crossing the country (and the US and the globe) evangelizing Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012 I was confident when I said that at last Microsoft Virtualization was on a par with VMware.

I would never have said that about Hyper-V in Windows Server 2008 R2. Sorry Microsoft, it was good… but vSphere was better.

However in this case we are not comparing Microsoft versus VMware… we are not deciding which platform to implement, because VMware is not an option. We are not even comparing the features of vOld versus vNew… because vNew is still not an option.

All we are deciding is this: Does the version of Hyper-V that is available to us for this project good enough for what our needs are for the project? Let’s review:

  • We need to create a virtual machine with 4GB of RAM. YES.
  • We need that VM to support up to 4TB of storage. YES. (We cannot do it on a single volume, but that is not a requirement)
  • We need the VM to be able to join a domain with FFL and DFL of Windows Server 2008 R2. YES.
  • We need the virtual machine to be backed up on a nightly basis using the tools available to us. YES

That’s it… we have no other requirements. All of our project needs are met by Hyper-V on Windows Server 2008 R2. Yes, Microsoft would love for us to pay to upgrade the host operating system, but they got their money for this server when we bought the license in 2011, and unless they are willing to give us a free upgrade (there is no Software Assurance on the existing license) and pay to upgrade the existing application to work on Server 2012R2 then there is nothing that we can do for them… and frankly if we were in the position where we were going to have to redeploy the whole server, it would be on VMware anyways, because that is what our virtualization environment runs on.

I spent two years evangelizing the benefits of a hybrid virtualization environment, and how well it can be managed with System Center 2012 R2… and that is what we are going to have. I have purchased the System Center licenses and am thrilled that I will be able to manage both my vSphere and my Hyper-V from one console… and for those of you who were paying attention that is what I spent the last three years recommending.

I can hold my head up high because I am running my environment exactly how I recommended all of you run yours… so many of my audience complained (when I was with Microsoft) that my solutions were not real-world because the real world was not exclusively Microsoft. That was never what I was recommending… I was recommending that the world does not need to be entirely VMware either… the two can coexist very well… with a little bit of knowledge and understanding!

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