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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!

Cloning with Customization Specifications

Being back in a VMware environment, there are a few differences I need to remember from Hyper-V and System Center.  It is not that one is better or worse than the other, but they are certainly different.

Customization Specifications are a great addition in vCenter to Cloning virtual machines.  They allow you to name the VM, join domains, in short set the OOBE (Out of Box Experience) of Windows.  They just make life easier.

The problem is, they do a lot of the same things as Microsoft’s deployment tools… but they do them differently.  We have to remember that Microsoft owns the OS, so when you use the deployment tools from Microsoft, they inject a lot of the information into the OS for first boot.  Customization Specifications work just like answer files… they require a boot-up (or two) to perform the scripts… and while those boots are interactive sessions, you should be careful about what you do in them.  They will allow you to do all sorts of things, but then when they are ready they will perform the next step – a reboot.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t use Customization Specifications… I love the way they work, and will continue to use them.  Just watch out for those little hiccoughs before you go 🙂

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!

Free ebook: Introducing Microsoft System Center 2012 R2

Folks you will not want to miss this!  Microsoft Press is giving away the ebook Introducing Microsoft System Center 2012 R2: Technical Overview.  It is written by Mitch Tulloch, Symon Perriman, and the System Center team… and is a great way to get up to speed on Microsoft’s private cloud!

Check it out at http://blogs.msdn.com/b/microsoft_press/archive/2013/12/16/free-ebook-introducing-microsoft-system-center-2012-r2.aspx.

Become a Virtualization Expert!

For those who missed the virtualization jump start, the entire course is now available on demand, as is the link to grab a free voucher for exam 409. This is a single exam virt specialist cert. I would encourage you to take the exam soon before all the free spots are booked.   Full info at http://borntolearn.mslearn.net/btl/b/weblog/archive/2013/12/17/earn-your-microsoft-certified-specialist-server-virtualization-title-with-a-free-exam.aspx

What’s New in Windows Server 2012 R2 Lessons Learned Week 1

Dan Stoltz asked me to republish this article, and it is well worth it!  Check out all of the links – a lot of great material! -MDG

It has been an incredible start to the Windows Server 2012 R2 Launch Series.  Here is brief summary of what we covered so far…

  1. Windows Server 2012 R2 Launch Blog Series Index #WhyWin2012R2 the series, opening and index page we learned that from Oct 18th and every day until Thanksgiving we should visit http://aka.ms/2012r2-01 to learn all about Windows Server 2012 R2. You can also follow the excitement on twitter at #WhyWin2012R2. Download the calendar .ICS to populate your calendar here.  This post started the new launch series where Microsoft platform experts would cover  why Windows Server 2012 R2 is important, how to deploy, manage, configure any number of components in Windows Server 2012 R2, how the new OS capabilities stack up against competitors, how R2 integrates with and leverages cloud services like Windows Azure and many, many more categories. This series is deep technical content with lots of How To’s and Step-By-Step instructions. You will learn about storage, cloud integration, RDS, VDI, Hyper-V, virtualization, deduplication, replica, DNS, AD, DHCP, high availability, SMB, backup, PowerShell and much, much more!
  2. Why Windows Server 2012 R2 Rocks! #WhyWin2012R2 – You are probably like most people and realize that Windows Server 2012 was a very substantial upgrade over Windows Server 2008 R2. What would you say to Microsoft doing it again, and even better? WOW! That is exactly what Windows Server 2012 R2 has done. In this post we will look at some of the coolest additions and improvements to Windows Server 2012 R2. Regardless of which of the four pillars of focus (Enterprise-Class, Simple and Cost-Effective, Application Focused, User Centric) you are most interested in, you will find plenty in this post to appreciate! @ITProGuru will show you as he counts the top 10 biggest, most relevant and/or most differentiated new features in Windows Server 2012 R2.
  3. Where Are All The Resources For Windows Server 2012 R2? – We learned where to do go get free resources for Windows Server 2012 R2 including downloading a Free Trial of Windows Server 2012 R2, Free online cloud serversFree EBook on Windows Server 2012 R2, Free Posters, Free Online Training from Microsoft Virtual Academy, and much more.
  4. Implementing Windows Server 2012 R2 Active Directory Certificate Services Part 1 &
  5. Implementing Windows Server 2012 R2 Active Directory Certificate Services Part 2PKI is heavily employed in cloud computing for encrypting data and securing transactions. While Windows Server 2012 R2 is developed as a building block for cloud solutions, there is an increasing demand for IT professionals to acquire proficiency on implementing PKI with Windows Server 2012 R2. This two-part blog post series is to help those who, like me, perhaps do not work on Active Directory Certificate Services (AD CS) everyday while every so often do need to implement a simple PKI for assessing or piloting solutions better understand and become familiar with the process.
  6. Step-by-Step: Automated Tiered Storage with Storage Spaces in R2 – Windows Server 2012 R2 includes a number of exciting storage virtualization enhancements, including automated storage tiering, scale-out file server re-balancing and performance tuning for high-speed 10Gbps, 40Gbps and 56Gbps storage connectivity.  IT Pros with which I’ve spoken are leveraging these new enhancements to build cost-effective SAN-like storage solutions using commodity hardware.In this article, we’ll begin part 1 of a two-part mini-series on storage.  I’ll provide a technical comparison of Windows Server 2012 R2 storage architecture to traditional SAN architecture, and then deep-dive into the new Storage Spaces enhancements for storage virtualization.  At the end of this article, I’ll also include Step-by-Step resources that you can use to build your own Storage Spaces lab.  In part 2 of this mini-series, we’ll finish our storage conversation with the new improvements around Scale-Out File Servers in Windows Server 2012.
  7. iSCSI Target Server – Super Fast Mass Server Deployment! – #WhyWin2012R2 – There have been some significant updates to Windows Server 2012 with the R2 release. One of these updates helps IT Pros deal with a growing problem – How do I deploy a large number of servers quickly, at scale without adding massive amounts of storage?The updates to the iSCSI target server technologies allow admins to share a single operating system image stored in a centralized location and use it to boot large numbers of servers from a single image. This improves efficiency, manageability, availability, and security. iSCSI Target Server can boot hundreds of computers by using a single operating system image!
  8. Why Windows Server 2012 R2: Reducing the Storage Cost for your VDI Deployments with VHD De-duplication for VDI – Windows Server 2012 introduced a data deduplication for your storage workloads customers saw phenomenal storage reduction.  Windows Server 2012 R2 deduplucation now supports live VHDs for VDI, which means that data de-duplication can now be performed on open VHD/VHDX files on remote VDI storage with CSV volume support. Remote VHD/VHDX storage de-duplication allows for increased VDI storage density significantly reducing
    VDI storage costs, and enabling faster read/write of optimized files and advanced caching of duplicated data.
  9. Importing & Exporting Hyper-V VMs in Windows Server 2012 R2 One of the biggest benefits of server virtualization is the ability to backup or restore entire systems easily and quickly.  Though they are infrequently used features, Hyper-V import and export are very fast, versatile, and easy to use.  In Windows Server 2012 R2 these features get even better.  I will take a look at how this functionality works and why it is useful.  I’ll also discuss how they are very different from the commonly used checkpoints in Hyper-V, and how you can automate this process.

Keep plugged in to the series to continue learning about Windows Server 2012 R2

– See more at: http://itproguru.com/expert/2013/10/whats-new-in-windows-server-2012-r2-lessons-learned-week-1/#sthash.JWWX9vKZ.dpuf

A response to a VMware article… written by someone I respect.

English: VMware vSphere in the Enterprise

While he may not be very well know to the Microsoft community, Mike Laverick is a legend in VMware circles.  Mike owns a blog called RTFM Education, a source of white papers for VMware technology, although he did start out as a Microsoft Certified Trainer.  He now works for VMware as a Senior Cloud Infrastructure Evangelist.  I was very happy to read on his blog that he has decided to try learning Hyper-V and Microsoft’s Private Cloud.  Unfortunately from what I can tell he was still trying to think way too VMware, rather that trying to learn the Microsoft way of doing things.

(To read the article follow this link:

http://www.mikelaverick.com/2013/10/i-cant-get-no-validation-windows-hyper-v-r2eality-fail-over-clustering/)

This is a problem that I see all the time, and going both ways.  When I was teaching vSphere Infrastructure classes my Microsoft-focused students had a hard time getting out of the Microsoft mindset.  When I teach Microsoft courses, my VMware students have the same problem going the other direction.  It would be much easier if people would open their minds and just let the technology flow… but then I have been a Star Wars fan for too long so I believe in that sort of thing.

I found several points of the article quite amusing.  Mike opens the article with a picture and quote from the book Windows NT Microsoft Cluster Server.  The first words that he actually types are ‘Mmm, so much has changed since then or has it?’  I am sorry Mike, but to even insinuate that Microsoft Clustering in Windows Server 2012 R2 is anywhere near the disaster that was clustering in Windows NT (or Server 2000, or Server 2003) is a joke.  Yes, you have to have the proper pieces in place, and yes, you have to configure it properly.  You even have to spend a little time learning Microsoft Clustering and how it works.  If you were to spend thirty minutes with someone like me I’d say you’d be good.

Also, I know you don’t like that you have to install the Failover Clustering Feature to all of the servers before you can create your cluster.  However please remember that unlike a pure hypervisor, Windows Server is an operating system that does many things for many people.  To install all of the possible features out of the box is a ridiculous notion – for one thing, it would triple the footprint and multiply exponentially the attack surface of Windows Server… to say nothing of having code running that you don’t need which takes resources.

To save time, I recommend the following PowerShell cmdlets:

Install-WindowsFeature –Name Failover-Clustering –IncludeManangementTools –ComputerName MyServer1
Install-WindowsFeature –Name Failover-Clustering –IncludeManangementTools –ComputerName MyServer2
Install-WindowsFeature –Name Failover-Clustering –IncludeManangementTools –ComputerName MyServer3
New-Cluster –Name MyCluster –Node MyServer1, MyServer2, MyServer3 –StaticAddress 172.17.10.5

(There are probably ways to wildcard that – -ComputerName * or something, but that is not the point of the article).

The point of this article is not to Mike’s article apart – for one thing, he is probably doing better on Microsoft technology than I would have when I was new to VMware, for another I have great respect for him, both as a person and as an IT Pro.  I just find it amusing that a VMware evangelist is struggling to learn Hyper-V and System Center, just as so many of the Microsoft evangelists have been struggling to learn VMware.  There is a huge learning curve to be sure… no matter which way you go.

While I am reasonably fluent and certified in both technologies, there is no question that I favour Microsoft… just as Mike favours VMware.  I am glad to see that he is trying to learn Microsoft though… even though some of the ways he is going about it may be questionable.

The one thing that I will point out though is that Mike is right… there are two ways of building a Microsoft Cluster – you can use the Failover Cluster Manager, or you can use System Center VMM.  Michael points out that these technologies would do well to communicate better.  I agree, and recommend that users pick one or the other.  I would also like to point out that in vCenter Server you can create a cluster, but if you are only using ESXi (Vmware’s hypervisor) without vCenter Server there is no way to create a cluster… the technology is simply not supported unless you pay for it.  Score one for Microsoft.

Mike, on a personal note, I would love to sit with you and show you the vastness of System Center and Microsoft’s Private Cloud one day.  Geography seems to work against us, as you are (I believe) in Scotland, and I am in Japan.  There is a catch though… I will gladly teach you Microsoft’s virtualization stack from top to bottom… but I want you to do the same for me with the vSphere stack.  I know the technology and am certified, but I would cherish the opportunity to relearn it from you, as I have followed your articles with reverence for many years.

If you ever do care to take me up on the offer Mike, my email address is mitch@garvis.ca.  Drop me a line, we’ll figure it out.  I suspect that we would both be able to write some great articles following those sessions, and we would both have newfound respect for the other’s technology of choice.

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