Server Core on VMware

When I was a Virtual Technical Evangelist for Microsoft Canada I spent a lot of time telling you why you should use Server Core… especially if you were on Hyper-V.  Why?  You save resources.

It is now over two years since I turned in my Purple Badge, and I still think Server Core rocks.  In fact, when Windows Server 2016 comes out I will probably spend a lot of time telling you about the new Nano Server option that they are including in that version.  More on that to come.

Of course, I still like Hyper-V, but as an independent consultant I recognize (as I did quietly when I was with the Big Blue Machine) that the vast majority of the world is still running VMware for their enterprise-level server virtualization needs.  That does not change my opinion of Server Core… it still rocks, even on VMware.

Of course, in order to get the full benefits of the virtualized environment, a VMware machine requires the installation of the VMware Tools (as Hyper-V requires the installation of Integration Services).  With a Server with a GUI that is easy to do… but since Server Core is missing many of the hooks of the GUI, it has to be done from the command line.  Here’s how:

1. As you would with any other server, click Install VMware Tools

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2. Connect to and log on to the virtual machine.  You will have to do this with Administrator credentials.

3. navigate to the mounted ISO (if you only have a single hard drive attached it will usually be D:)

4. type in the following command line: setup64.exe /S /v “/qn reboot=Y”

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Once you have done this, the VMware tools will install, and your server will reboot.  Nothing to it!

Virtual Machine Snapshots: The useful tool that will drag you down.

Note: Once again I accidentally scheduled a technical article to publish on a holiday.  In honour of Canadian Thanskgiving I am republishing this article on Tuesday. -MDG

The Story:
One of my clients called me and asked me why some of their servers were running so terribly slow.  Actually, that’s not entirely true… they told me that they were working on Server1, Server2, and Server3 and all three needed more CPUs and more RAM.  Because we live in a virtual world, this is easy enough to accomplish.  It took me all of five minutes to accomplish this for the three servers, and that included the time it took me to walk back to my desk via the coffee machine.

I did not respond so hastily when over the course of the next few weeks I was asked to increase the resources again… and again.  What are you guys doing, trying to run NASA?  No, we are developers working on our tools, and they are just too slow!

Rather than increase the resources again I decided to do some investigating.  I wanted to see why these computers (servers with 12GB of RAM and 2 quad-core virtual CPUs) were running so slow… and yes, I checked to make sure that it was not just greedy users who wanted more more more, the computers really were running – no, that is the wrong term – they were crawling slower than they should have.

SnapshotsAfter checking several possibilities over the next few days I figured out that somebody had taken VM snapshots of these servers – rogue VM snapshots, because there actually is a written company policy about the proper and acceptable use of VM snapshots – months earlier, and they had just continued to grow… like mold.

The Methodology
The way VM snapshots work – and I should mention at this point that they work about the same in VMware as in Hyper-V – is that the virtual memory and hard drive files are paused, made read-only, and delta files are made for both.  You will not see any difference from within the virtual machine – the memory will continue to work as it had, as will the hard drive – but the files that comprise the virtual machine will change.

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The snapshot file will continue to grow… and grow… and grow.  As you can see from this image, the file is at about 12.5GB in size.  Not too bad, right?  Well look at this:

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Did I forget to mention that while the Virtual Memory snapshot file is shown in Datastore Browser, the actual delta files are not (just like the Flat files are hidden).  This is what we see when we connect to the host and look at what is going on under the hood.

This VM Snapshot is less than an hour old.  Over time the file will grow… to ridiculous sizes.  And yes, eventually your virtual machine will slow down… and then crawl… and then, eventually, it might stop.  However if you were to look at your performance monitors, both from within and from outside the virtual machine, the performance baselines will look perfectly normal.  The performance of course will not, and that is where things get dicey.

So Why Use Them?
Virtual Machine Snapshots (or Checkpoints, as Microsoft has taken to calling them) are a great tool when used responsibly.  They should never be considered a long-term solution to anything.  What they are is a great way to step forward into the unknown… you have a change to make, a patch to apply, a program (or even an operating system) to upgrade, and you are worried that something will corrupt.  Before going ahead with the change you can take a VM Snapshot, make the change, and once you have confirmed that it worked you can delete the snapshot.  If the change did indeed hork something, you can revert to the moment in time before you started, and all is good.

…But don’t keep them longer than you need to!
I mentioned that the client in question has a written company policy about the proper and acceptable use of VM snapshots.  That is for a couple of reasons:

  1. If you follow the policy, you don’t just take a snapshot – you name it and make notes.
  2. When only one person takes the snapshots, that person can keep a diary of what snapshots there are; they can know who requested them, and they can then follow up with the requesting party to make sure they can be deleted.

When rogue administrators (Have I mentioned before how I loathe letting anyone who doesn’t need administrative rights have administrative rights?) take snapshots without following the proper procedures – which includes deleting the snapshots when they are no longer needed, then you will run into problems.  However when the proper policy is followed, this will never become an issue.

VM Snapshots: Good or Bad?
Just like any potentially dangerous tool, the answer is both good and bad.  When used properly they are great, but with time they become rotten to the core.

How do I know if I have them?
If you spend any amount of time in vCenter, you know that there is no simple way to determine what VM snapshots are in your environment… short of going into the Snapshot Manager for each VM and checking.  However if you are an avid reader of this blog you may have caught an article I wrote a little over a year ago called How do YOU Manage?.  IN it I mentioned a tool I love called RVTools.   Among the myriad reports it will generate for you is one called vSnapshot, and when you use it while connected to your vCenter environment it will list all of the snapshots you have.

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You can download it from http://robware.net/.  While it is free (Rob calls it ‘Nice to haveware’) there is a Donate button, and although it is in Dutch, it will allow you to donate through PayPal.  I just did by the way… as a way of saying Thanks! to Rob for the hard work he puts into it that I was then able to benefit from!

If you use PowerCLI (also discussed in the article) there is a way to get the same information in PowerShell, which is:

get-vm | get-snapshot | format-list

…And for those of you running System Center Virtual Machine Manager and not vCenter Server, there is a PowerShell script for you too.  It is available here, and is a free download from the TechNety Script Library.

Conclusion
I have been telling people for years that Snapshots/Checkpoints are good but dangerous.  As I always say: If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.  Using these tools will allow you to measure, manage, and then eliminate VM Snapshots in a timely manner… before they become a problem.

A VMware Gripe

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Okay, I can’t delete a file.  Any Level 1 systems administrator would look at this message and say: ‘Okay, VMware is not allowing me to delete an ISO file.  Very likely the ISO file is connected to a virtual machine.’

Ummm… but WHICH virtual machine is it?  Gee thanks, vCenter, I have scores of VMs… would it have been that tough to put into the DETAILS section (see the empty space next to the STATUS section) exactly which virtual machine or virtual machines this ISO is connected to?  Would that really have been a difficult thing to program into your system?

I didn’t think so.

Fortunately, I have my RV Tools that lets me know what’s what… it made my life slightly easier this week as I prepare to redeploy my SAN Smile

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!

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.

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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

vSphere vs. Hyper-V: The Head to Head Battle!

On Thursday August 8th I participated in a webinar debate.  Shawn MacArthur (CEO of VMTraining) and I had a friendly debate over which hypervisor and virtualization ecosystem was better.  This was the third part in the series – The first had Shawn discussing vSphere, the second had me discussing Hyper-V and System Center.

Who won?  The listener of course!  The one-hour discussion of the two systems was very informative and was not meant to dismiss the fact that both products are excellent, and that both products are (according to Gartner.com) leaders in the field of x86 virtualization technology.

I invite you to watch all three videos and comment (either there or here).  I still believe that Microsoft’s virtualization is superior and hope that comes through, but in the end it is important to know what is out there, and that includes the competition!

You can watch all three videos by visiting the Webinars page of VMTraining’s website at http://www.vmtraining.net/technical-webinars/.

It’s On! VMware Versus Microsoft!

It is going down this week! August 8th (Thursday) at 2:00pm Eastern Time (11:00am Pacific)!  In the Blue corner we have Shawn MacArthur, and in the Red corner we have Mitch Garvis!  Two champions, both undefeated, and the winner will be… YOU!

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VERSUS

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As many of you know I used to (and occasionally still do) teach for a company called VMTraining.  They are a training and consulting firm out of the US, and they have a great courseware series called the Ultimate Bootcamps.  They are a knowledgeable and passionate group, and over the years I have had more than a few debates with some of the other trainers in the group over the competing technologies.

With that being said, none of the guys I debate with are anti-Microsoft, they are just heavily invested in VMware.  In fact when the owners started to see a lot of Hyper-V adoption they approached me to design and eventually write a Microsoft Virtualization Ultimate Bootcamp (which will be coming soon!).  It is great to be able to separate the religion from the technology.

Of course, they are still passionate about what they do (as am I).  Earlier this year Shawn MacArthur recorded a webinar entitled ‘Is vSphere the best Hypervisor out there?’ which can be seen here.  I immediately responded and did a webinar in May entitled ‘Is Hyper-V the best  Hypervisor out there?’ which can be seen here.

Shawn has been at this a very long time, and he is very good at what he does.  So when we were both invited back by Duane Anderson (Executive Vice President International Operations, as well as the facilitator of these webinars) invited us both back for a head to head debate I jumped at the opportunity.

Before you get excited, I want you to know that Shawn and I are very friendly, and have great respect for one another.  We also both respect both platforms, even though we feel what we do.  Do not expect this to be a no holds barred smack-down event.  It will be passionate, but it will be professional and respectful.

Nonetheless, we look forward to taking each other on, and hope you will listen in!  You can register now on-line by clicking here and bring your questions… we hope to answer them all!

Date: August 8, 2013
Time:
2:00pm (Eastern Time)
Where: Get your front row seat right here!

Calgary Here I Come!

Even before joining Microsoft Canada’s DPE team as a Virtual Evangelist (the Virtual part means I am a contractor in case you were curious, but I also specialize in Virtualization so it works in my favour!) I have had the opportunity to crisscross our great nation talking to audiences of all sorts and sizes – communities and user groups, enterprise customers, internal and external audiences, and more.  I have the greatest position I could imagine!

It continues today… I am heading to Calgary Alberta – a city that I have now visited a half dozen times in as many months, and one that I consider to be an important city for many reasons.  In October I had the opportunity to host a Windows 8 Launch Party for Calgary at Bottlescrew Bill’s, and have been back since for Windows 8, Office 365, Windows Server 2012, System Center 2012, and of course Hyper-V.  Every time I am there I am greeted by some of the greatest and most engaged and enthusiastic audiences.  Ever since I first spoke to the Calgary IT Community (CIC) in January of 2007, I have always been glad to go back to them.

While the CIC is going strong even today, a number of other user groups have popped up in that time.  The Calgary Systems Management User Group was founded in 2009 by Microsoft MVP Kevin Kaminski, and focuses on System Center, Desktop Deployment, and other topics of interest. 

The latest group to come about in Calgary is the Calgary Virtualization User Group (CVUG).  Founded by Marcos Noguiera, the group is one of the new breed of user groups that is technology agnostic and instead focuses on all topics related to virtualization.  The CVUG held their first meeting in February of this year, and they are building and growing, and from what I can tell all in the right direction.

Tonight (Monday April 15th) I will be speaking at CVUG for the first time.  For the first part of the meeting I will be comparing and contrasting VMware’s vSphere and Microsoft’s Virtualization & Private Cloud, and for the second part I will be discussing how to manage a heterogeneous virtualization environment using Microsoft’s System Center 2012.  Needless to say it should be an interesting meeting, hopefully evoking a lot of great conversation and debate between the members.

The event is free for all; all you have to do is register on their website.  I hope to see you there tonight and remember… make sure you say hi! –MDG

System Center VMM Supported Hosts

When I was asked in class recently what type of virtualization hosts are supported by System Center 2012 though Virtual Machine Manager I readily answered off the top of my head.  Unfortunately one of my students went on-line to search for confirmation of this, and came up with a TechNet article that gave a conflicting answer (http://technet.microsoft.com/library/gg697603.aspx).

While it does conflict with my answer, I have tried all of the environments that I listed and they all work just fine.  So here is my list of supported hosts in System Center 2012 SP1.

Hyper-V:

  • Windows Server 2012 (full installation, Server Core, or MinShell)
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 (full installation or Server Core)

vSphere:

  • ESXi 5.1
  • ESXi 5.0
  • ESX 4.1
  • ESXi 4.1
  • ESX 4.0
  • ESXi 4.0

Citrix:

  • XenServer 6.1
  • XenServer 6.0
  • Citrix XenServer – Microsoft System Center Integration Pack
    I hope this clears the air…

In interesting survey from VMworld…

I have a lot of conversations with people about virtualization… it’s what I do (well, among other things).  While most people agree that I am technically knowledgeable on both Microsoft and vSphere virtualization, sometimes my analysis and commentary strike people as skewed and unrealistic based on my relationship with Microsoft. 

For the past couple of years I have been talking about the advancements that Microsoft has made with regard to virtualization with Hyper-V and the associated technologies, not only from a technological standpoint, but also with regard to market share.  A lot of people have told me that I am dead wrong,and that I am living a fantasy if I think that Microsoft could ever make a dent in VMware’s market share. 

That is one of the reasons I am so happy to read an article posted yesterday in NetworkWorld (www.networkworld.com) called VMware, the bell tolls for thee, and Microsoft is ringing itThe writer (Zeus Kerravala) writes about a survey conducted recently at VMworld, which for those of you unfamiliar is VMware’s large yearly event, equivalent to Microsoft’s TechEd events.

NetworkWorld surveyed attendees about their Hyper-V usage, and got some very encouraging (for Microsoft) answers.  Read what he has to say here, and feel free to start a local discussion here… I would love to know (especially from traditionally VMware shops) if you are running Hyper-V – in test? production?  Are you discussing it?  Let me know! -M

http://www.networkworld.com/community/node/81559

It’s Coming… Can we now compare Hyper-V with vSphere as both new products prepare for launch?

On July 5th I published an article titled A Response to VMware’s ‘Get the Facts’ page comparing vSphere to Hyper-V & System Center. In the seven weeks since it went live it has become the 4th most read article I have ever published (in seven years as a blogger), as well as being by far the most commented on, discussed, and shared article I have ever written.

André Andriolli, a former VMware field engineer and now a Systems Engineer Manager with VMware in Brazil, responded very well.  One of the first points he made was:

we should start by comparing what’s in the market TODAY with what’s in the market today: I mean vSphere 5 versus Hyper-V 2, or vSphere 5.1 with Hyper-V 3. Since vSphere 5.1 news are not in the street yet, we should go with the first. Comparing a future MSFT release with what VMware customers are running for over 1 year now is simply not fair, to me at least.

While I did not entirely agree with this at the time, I accept that it is a valid point.  I am looking forward to hearing comments in the next few weeks though… as Windows Server 2012 (with Hyper-V 3.0) becomes generally available on September 4th, and vSphere 5.1 becomes available on September 11th.

My opinion is simple… VMware still makes a great product, but so does Microsoft; the benefits of the former, in my opinion (and that of many VMware customers I have spoken with), simply are not worth the the difference in cost over the latter.  While it will be a relief that VMware is abandoning their Virtual Memory Entitlements (commonly referred to as the Memory Tax), I think the last year will have left a sour note with a lot of their customers, and given them an opportunity to see for themselves just how good Hyper-V really is.

I do like the fact that both platforms are being released at the same time though; I once made a comment that I regretted right away that of course one would always be ahead of the other because one would come out with a new feature, and the other would take that feature and include it in their next release, along with whatever else they were planning, and that would continue on.  For the next year the two will be compared as equals.

Now, this is one place where VMware has a slight advantage… insofar as they have a one-year product cycle, and Windows Server has a 3-year product cycle.  This was adjusted last year when they took the rare step of adding new (and major) functionality into Service Pack 1 of Windows Server 2008 R2.  For now, frankly I am not sure that pound for pound Hyper-V (with System Center) is not already the better product.  I guess we will find out what the market says though…

If you are in Toronto, we would love for you to join us for the Windows Server 2012 Launch Event on September 5th, or if you are in another city across Canada, later in the month.  Check out Ruth Morton’s blog to see the dates, and to click to register.  We hope to see you there!

Is it true? The Memory Tax is gone!

CRN is reporting that next week at VMworld VMware will be announcing that they are doing away with Virtual Memory Entitlements, which you have probably heard me refer to as the Memory Tax.

According to the article (http://www.crn.com/news/cloud/240005840/vmware-kills-vram-licensing-will-focus-on-vsphere-cloud-bundles.htm?cid=nl_alert) VMware is trying to regain its competitive edge over Microsoft’s Hyper-V, which has over the past couple of years soared to nearly 30% market share, making it the fastest growing virtualization platform in the industry.

This is the first time I can remember that VMware is showing any signs that they are trying to compete against the scrappy and powerful competitor.  I heard from a source at VMware that they have heard from a great many clients that they are either testing Hyper-V out on a few servers or, in some cases, switching completely.  This comes as no surprise in a year when VMware introduced the hated Virtual Memory Requirements, and when Microsoft has made such incredible strides to make Hyper-V 3 as good or better than its larger competitor.

It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I was shocked by the Memory Tax, and predicted a year ago it would badly hurt VMware’s market share.  In a day and age when competition is getting better, giving their hypervisor away with the operating system, and bundling the management tools with the System Center suite (which the vast majority of companies already own) it simply made no sense for VMware to make virtualization more expensive than they already had.

VMware will be launching vSphere 5.1 at VMworld next week, and the worst of times will be over for their fans.  I wonder however if they can turn the ship around… you cannot unring a bell, and the companies who have tried Hyper-V for the first time in the past year have seen what their alternatives are.  IT managers have to consider costs, and if the less expensive product is just as good (and is supported by the largest software company in the world) then it will be interesting to see how many of them make the switch over the first twelve months of Hyper-V 3.0 with Server 2012, which RTMed August first and is set to become publically available in early September.

In other News:

Several VMware customers have told me they have received an e-mail that looks like this one:

“… I am your renewals representative from VMware.  I wanted to reach out to you regarding a Renewals promotion that we are running through September 30, 2012.

VMware is making an extended effort this year to bring current any expired customers to allow for reinstated SnS and the ability to upgrade to the newest version of vSphere (VS5). Throughout this one-time promotion, we will be offering two separate options with 100% waiver of reinstatement on your expired licenses and up to 100% waiver of your back-dated maintenance; saving you at least 20% on your renewal cost.

By reinstating your support via this promotion, you could save thousands of dollars and regain access to technical support and the most current releases.  While supported, you will be eligible for upgrades and updates as well as technical support, both online and via our Customer Support Technicians.

I would be happy to discuss the promotion and answer any questions you may have.  Again, this offer is only valid through September 30, 2012; therefore, please let me know if you would like to see pricing options and I will have those generated.  If you have further questions about this promotion, please feel free to contact me directly at the information below, or contact RenewalsHotlineAMER@vmware.com

If you are interested in quotes to see how much getting your products back on support would be please let me know and I am happy to get these for you.”

I am not surprised.  For the first time in its history VMware will have seen decreased sales in the past year, especially when it comes to renewing SnS contracts.  When they launched vSphere 5 (and the hated Memory Tax) they gave existing clients a ridiculously short window to make the commitment to upgrading their licenses… something like 30 days.  A great many companies decided to either stick with vSphere 4.1, which meant that they would avoid the Memory Tax, or better yet, begin the process of migrating their existing vSphere servers onto Hyper-V.

It does not surprise me at all that the company is now looking for ways to get that lost business back, even taking the unprecedented steps of lowering the costs AND waiving the penalties.  Unfortunately for them, as I wrote earlier in this article, you cannot unring a bell.  For the die-hard fans who stayed with vSphere 4.1 this might be enticing, but for companies that dipped their toes into the waters of Hyper-V, and were anxiously awaiting the public release of Hyper-V 3.0, there is no going back.

I have been and will continue to teach those professionals and companies how to best leverage their Microsoft virtualization platform… Welcome aboard!

A Response to VMware’s ‘Get the Facts’ page comparing vSphere to Hyper-V & System Center

For the sake of full disclosure, in case you did not know, I am not only a Microsoft MVP, I am also a Virtual Partner Technology Advisor for Microsoft Canada, and work very closely with that company’s Evangelism Team.  I hold most major IT-Pro focused certifications from Microsoft Learning that come close to pertaining to virtualization.  I am also a VMware Guru, am a VMware Certified Professional (4 and 5), and have been teaching a third-party vSphere course for a company called VMTraining since 2009.

Recently a colleague of mine – an IT Manager for the Toronto office of a Fortune 100 company – had a sales call from VMware recently.  His company is a Microsoft shop and as such runs Hyper-V, but he was in the mood to pick an argument, so he said ‘I’ll be glad to switch to VMware… as soon as you can prove to me that it is a better value for my company that Windows Server 2012 and Hyper-V 3.0.’

I would imagine that this poor salesman’s life was a hell of a lot easier five or even two years ago, when VMware was the clear leader in its market, the only player in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant.  In the days when companies paid the high cost for VMware because there simply wasn’t another enterprise-ready solution in the server virtualization space, questions like this one would have been easy to answer.

Today it is not so simple for them, but of course they have an answer prepared.  VMware’s Get the Facts page hopes to clear the air… claiming ‘Not the Microsoft Hyper-Bole’  Catchy, huh?  It lists five reasons with links:

Fact #1: VMware is the proven, undisputed leader. This is absolutely true: VMware is the leader in the virtualization space.  Remember ‘Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.’  IBM nearly disappeared because first they did not see the competition such as Digital as a threat in the mainframe market, and then again by thinking that nobody else could make an Intel x86-based PC that would run Microsoft DOS and applications, and that people would continue to pay a 40% premium for the privilege of those three coveted letters.  If VMware continues to ignore Hyper-V as a threat, their future at the top of the heap is far from guaranteed.

The link makes a number of points:

  • [‘VMware vSphere’s architecture is purpose-built with the industry’s smallest disk footprint; Microsoft Hyper-V R3 will still have a large disk footprint, burdened with general-purpose Windows code that has nothing to do with virtualization.’] This may be true… but who is that disk footprint (still under 10GB) hurting?
  • [‘Analysts estimate that over 80% of all virtual machines in the world run on VMware.’’] Again, who cares? Budweiser is one of the top selling beers in the world, but that doesn’t make it better than Labatt.  Nobody is denying that VMware makes an excellent product.  They just make it expensive.
  • [‘VMware VMotion performs 5 times faster than today’s Microsoft Live Migration.’] So what? The end user doesn’t notice or care that the VM is migrating!
  • [‘VMware HA (High Availability) works even when half or more hosts in a cluster go down; Microsoft "HA" doesn’t.’]  Sure, the more hosts you buy, the fewer hosts your VMs can run on…  The bottom line is that vSphere 5 supports up to 512 VMs running on a host, and when ‘half or more hosts’ in a cluster go down you had better be sure that you aren’t over capacity.  Conversely, Windows Server 2012 supports up to 64 nodes in a failover cluster (as compared to 32 nodes in a vSphere 5 cluster) and 1024 running virtual machines per host (as compared to 512 running VMs in ESXi 5), so not only can you have more running virtual machines, you can have a higher host failure tolerance before a cluster goes down.
  • [‘Hyper-V R3 will still fall short of vSphere 5 in critical areas like virtual security, storage management and business continuity.’]  All of these are questionable claims at best, but there is no question that VMware makes a good product… I just question if the product is worth the price.  I think Rolls Royce makes an incredible car that is absolutely better than my Toyota… but I drive a Toyota because it does everything I need… and is affordable.

Fact #2: VMware delivers greater value and lower TCO.  This may have been true once, but no longer, and certainly not in Hyper-V 3.  Let’s look at their points:

  • [‘VMware offers lower capital and operational costs than Microsoft due to VMware’s higher scalability and greater levels of administrative automation.’]  This is a complete falsehood if comparing apples to apples – ESXi 5.1 and vCenter Server versus Hyper-V 3.0 and System Center 2012.  With Hyper-V 3 you can put double the number of running virtual machines per host, and double the number of  hosts per cluster.  With these numbers I would ask who really offers greater scalability?
  • [‘VMware uniquely solves customers’ business issues leading to greater business value, especially when moving to a private cloud, built on top of a proven foundation.’] I do not question that VMware offers business value, but whether that value holds up when compared to Server 2012 and System Center 2012? I doubt it.

Fact #3: VMware is proven to support business critical apps.  This is absolutely true, and if you read the points in the link you will notice that at the very beginning they sate that over 80% of virtual machines run on VMware… then talk about the rate of virtualization of application servers such as SQL, Exchange, and SharePoint.  It does not say a word to the effect that these can all be virtualized just as well on Hyper-V as on ESX (See my article and Netanel Ben-Shushan’s whitepaper on P2V Migration for Microsoft Exchange Servers).

Again, nobody is denying that VMware is an excellent virtualization platform.  As the link clearly states, ‘…VMware is part of Microsoft’s Server Virtualization Validation Program (SVVP), which clearly defines and provides support for Microsoft applications on non-Microsoft virtualization platforms.’  Microsoft would not certify VMware in the SVVP if it wasn’t… but that does not mean that it is better or worse than Hyper-V, which is also SVVP certified.

Fact #4: System Center falls short for managing vSphere.  I do not know if System Center actually falls short, but it is true – there are a number of tasks in ESXi that cannot be managed by System Center Virtual Machine Manager.  The current claim is that System Center 2012 now supports all of the functionality of ESXi 3.5, 4.0, and 4.1, as well as vCenter Server 2.5, 4.0, and 4.1.  That is still short of what I am expecting of them – and I hope that in Service Pack 1 they will extend support and functionality to include ESXi 5.  And yes, it is true that in order for System Center to manage ESX/ESXi it still requires vCenter Server in place.

With all of that being said, the heterogeneous hypervisor scenario in which VMM would be managing ESX/ESXi is part of a greater migration plan, where a company has decided to migrate off VMware and onto Microsoft virtualization.  This process would be a lot more painful if VMM could not do both, and a rip-and-replace was required.  Being able to manage VMware from VMM allows companies the luxury of migrating at a leisurely pace… a lot less painful than the alternative, while also answering the argument of ‘Yes, VMware is more expensive, but we’ve already invested and don’t want to spend the money to migrate onto Hyper-V.’

It is also worth mentioning that while System Center does not do absolutely everything that you might occasionally need to do in ESX/ESXi, it is leaps and bounds ahead of the alternative, since vCenter Server will not even recognize the existence of Hyper-V, let alone manage it.  The only exception to this is that VMware does provide a utility to perform V2V migrations of Hyper-V virtual machines to ESX/ESXi… in case a company decides that the free product that does 99% of what the really expensive alternative does, and wants to go the other way.

Fact #5: VMware delivers application-aware solutions.  Again, Nobody is denying the capabilities of VMware… Unfortunately they continue to spread misleading information about Hyper-V and the Private Cloud.  Their points:

  • [‘VMware delivers and enables solutions that provide extensive application insight, to enable IT to deliver on business-level SLAs.’]  This is true.  So does System Center 2012 (and previous versions, for that matter)
  • [‘Supporting both Microsoft and non-Microsoft applications, VMware vFabric Hyperic provides out-of-the-box support for more than 75 different application technologies, with a breadth of application-specific metrics.’] Again, no question.  On the flip side, System Center 2012 provides Management Packs (MPs) for every Microsoft product available for the enterprise.  For non-Microsoft products the majority of them have third-party MPs available, and if the application that you are interested in does not, no problem!  You can create one (or more likely hire a consultant to do that… there are companies that do it for a living).
  • [‘VMware vCenter Operations has access to any application data that Microsoft System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) has access to by leveraging adapters to collect performance, topology, and events data.’]  It is nice to see the page conceding that System Center Operations Manager is the gold standard that they should be comparing themselves to.
  • [‘VMware vSphere provides APIs that enable VMware technology partners to deliver application-aware solutions, such as Symantec’s ApplicationHA, which provides high availability for business-critical applications like Microsoft Exchange and SQL, Oracle, SAP, and WebLogic’] So does Microsoft!

Conclusion:

I asked my colleague to read the points, and if he was convinced.  He said he was.  I then had him read this article, and asked if he was still convinced.  He was not.  He told me that his was a Microsoft shop, and would remain so until someone proved to him that another solution was better.  Proof does not mean marketing fud, it means real numbers, side by side, from independent consultants.  Unfortunately this is still not possible, due to VMware’s end-user license agreement (EULA) which strictly forbids anyone from publishing comparative benchmarks.

I have been saying for two years that if I was VMware, and I was so convinced that ESXi and vCenter Server were so much better than Hyper-V, I would be asking people to compare them side by side and then make the decision.  I would be asking technology bloggers and journalists to publish comparisons, and would even be enabling them to do so… rather than forbidding it under penalty of legal action.

The feud between Microsoft and VMware will continue to heat up, and each technology giant will continue to make improvements to its respective product offerings.  However it is time that VMware starts respecting Hyper-V and the System Center 2012 offerings, and if they do not they are destined to find themselves in a very precarious state somewhere in the next couple of years.  Companies simply do not want to pay out huge sums of money annually if they don’t have to.  ESXi is free… until you want to do anything with it, at which point you need the vCenter Server.  System Center 2012 is certainly not free, but most companies have System Center and will be upgrading to the newer platform in the near future.  The same holds true with Windows Server 2012, although the reality is that Hyper-V 2008 R2 SP1 still holds up pretty nicely.

Is Microsoft better than VMware? No, at least not when it comes to server virtualization.  Is Microsoft close enough to VMware that the huge price difference is not worth the money? Yes.  Does VMware offer features that Microsoft does not? Yes.  Does Microsoft offer features that VMware does not?  Yes.  Do both solutions in their latest versions (Server 2012 RC is currently being tested by companies around the world, as is vSphere 5.1) offer customer the same base features that the vast majority of companies want and need?  Yes.

Should you take my word for it?  No.  Nor should you take VMware’s word for it.  Install both in a test environment and run your own comparative tests, and then decide!