Hyper-V Is Right Up There In Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for x86 Server Virtualization Infrastructure

So how do you like THEM apples?

Well take a look at this people, Gartner published the following on June 30th Magic Quadrant for x86 Server Virtualization Infrastructure

Figure 1: Magic Quadrant for x86 Server Virtualization Infrastructure (Source: Gartner 2011)

That’s not a bad spot if you ask me. And before the “they paid there way up there” remarks flow in, Gartner works how Gartner works and it works like that for everyone (read” the other vendors” on there) so that remark could fly right back into your face if you’re not careful. To get there in 3 years time is not a bad track record. And if you believe some of the people out there this can’t be true. Now knowing that they only had Virtual Server to offer before Hyper-V was available and I was not using that anywhere. No, not even for non-critical production or testing as the lack of X64 bit VM support made it a “no go” product for me. So the success if Hyper-V is quite an achievement. But back in 2008, I did go with Hyper-V as a high available virtualization solution, after having tested and evaluated it during the Beta & Release Candidate time frame. Some people thought I was making a mistake.

But the features in Hyper-V were  “good enough” for most needs I needed to deal with and yes I knew VMware had a richer offering and was proven technology, something people never forget to mention that to me for some reason. I guess they wanted to make sure I hadn’t been living under a rock the last couple of years. They never mentioned the cost and some trends however or looked at the customer’s real needs. Hyper-V was a lot better than what most environments I had to serve had running at the time. In 2008 those people I needed to help were using VMware Server or Virtual Server. Both were/are free but for anything more than lightweight applications on the “not that important” list they are not suitable. If you’re going to do virtualization structurally you need high availability to avoid the risks associated with putting all your eggs in one basket. However, as you might have guessed these people did not use ESX. Why? In all honesty, the cost associated.

In the 2005-2007 time frame servers were not yet at the cost/performance ratio spent they reached in 2008 and far cry from where they are now. Those organizations didn’t do server virtualization because from the cost perspective in both licensing fees for functionality and hardware procurement. It just didn’t fit in yet.  The hardware cost barrier had come down and now with Hyper-V 1.0 we got a hypervisor that we knew could deliver something that was good enough to get the job done at a cost they could cover. We also knew that Live Migration and Dynamic Memory were in the pipelines and the product would only become better. Having tested Hyper-V I knew I had a technology to work with at a very reasonable price (or even for free) and that included high availability.  Combine this with the notion at the time that hypervisors are becoming commodities and that people are announcing the era of the cloud. Where do you think the money needs to go? Management & Applications. Where did Microsoft help with that? The System Center suite. System Center Virtual Machine Manager and Operations Manager. Are those perfect at their current incarnations? Nope. But have you looked at SCVMM 2012 Beta? Do you follow the buzz around Hyper-V 3.0 or vNext? Take a peek and you know where this is going. Think private & hybrid cloud. The beef with the MS stack lies in the hypervisor & management combination. Management tools and integration capability to help with application delivery and hence with the delivery of services to the business. Even if you have no desire or need for the public cloud, do take a look. Having a private cloud capability enhances your internal service delivery. Think of it as “Dynamic IT on Steroids”. Having a private cloud is a prerequisite for having a Hybrid cloud, which aids in the use of the public cloud when that time comes for your organization. And if never, no problem, you have gotten the best internal environment possible, no money or time lost. See my blog for more Private Clouds, Hybrid Clouds & Public Clouds musings on this.

Is Hyper-V and System Center the perfect solution for everyone in every case? No sir.  No single product or product stack can be everything to everyone. The entire VMware versus Hyper-V mud-slinging contests are at best amusing when you have the time and are in the mood for it. Most of the time I’m not playing that game. The consultant’s answer is correct: “It depends”. And very few people know all virtualization products very well and have equal experience with them. But when you’re looking to use virtualization to carry your business into the future you should have a look at the Microsoft stack and see if can help you. True objectivity is very hard. We all have our preferences and monetary incentives and there are always those who’ll take it to extreme levels. There are still people out there claiming you need to reboot a Windows server daily and have BSODs all over the place. If that is really the case they should not be blaming technology. If the technology was that bad they would not need to try and convince people not to use it, they would run away from it by themselves and I would be asking you if you want fries with your burger. Things go “boink” sometimes with any technology, really, you’d think it was created by humans, go figure. At BriForum 2011 in London this year it was confirmed that more and more we’re seeing multi hypervisors in use with large to medium organizations. That means there is a need for different solutions in different areas and that Hyper-V was doing particularly well in greenfield scenarios.

Am I happy with the choices I made? Yes. We’re getting ready  to do some more Hyper-V projects and those plans even include SCVMM 2012 & SCOM 2012 together with and upgrade path to Hyper-V vNext. I mailed the Gartner link to my manager, pointing out my obstinate choice back then turned out rather well Winking smile.

A VDI Reality Check @ BriForum 2011 For Resource Hungry Desktops In A Demanding Environment

So what did we notice? VDI generates enough interest from various angles that is for sure. Both on the demand side as on the (re)seller & integrator side. Most storage vendors are bullish enough to claim that they can handle whatever IOPS required to get the most bang for the buck but only the smaller or newest players were present and engaged in interaction with the attendees. One thing is for sure VDI has some serious potential but it has to be prepared well and implemented thoroughly. Don’t do it over the weekend and see if it works out for all your users.

The amount of tools & tactics for VDI on both the storage side and the configuration/management side is both more complex and diverse than with server virtualization.  The possible variations on how to tackle a VDI project are almost automatically more numerous as well. This is due to the fact that desktops are often a lot more complex and heterogenic in nature than server-side apps. On top of that, the IO on a desktop can be quite high. Some of it can be blamed on the client OS but lots of that has to do with the applications and utilities used on desktops.  I think that developers had so many resources at their disposal that there wasn’t to much pressure on optimization there. The age of multi-cores and x64 bit will help in thinking more about how and application uses CPY cycles but virtualization might very well help in abstracting that away. When a PC has one vCPU and the host has 4*8 cores, how good is that hypervisor at using all that pCPU power to address the needs of that one vCPU?  But I digress. All in all, it takes more effort and complexity to do VDI than server virtualization. So there is a higher cost or at least the APEX isn’t such a convincing clear cut story as it is with server virtualization. If you’re not doing the latter today when and where you can you are missing out of a major number of benefits that are just to good to ignore. I wouldn’t dare say that for VDI. Treating VDI just like server virtualization is said to be one of the main reasons for VDI failing or being put on hold or being limited to a smaller segment of the desktop population.

My experience with server virtualization is also with rather heterogenic environments where we have VMs with anything between 1 and 4 virtual CPUs, 2 to 12 GB of RAM. And yet I have to admit it has been a great success. Never the less I can’t say that helped me much in my confidence that a large part of our desktop environment can be virtualized successfully and cost-effectively as I think that our desktops are such vicious resource hogs they need another step forward in raw power and functionality versus cost. Let briefly describe the environment. 85% of the workforce at my current gig has dual 24” wide screens, with anything between 4GB to 8 GB of RAM, Quad-Core CPUs and SCSI / SATA 10.000 RPM disks with anything between 250 GB to 1TB local storage in combination with very decent GPUs. Now the employees run Visual Studio, SQL Server, multiple CAD & GIS packages, and various specialized image processing software that gauges image and other files that can be 2GB or even higher. If they aren’t that large than they are still very numerous. On top of that 1Gbps network to the desktop is the only thing we offer anymore. So this is not a common office suite plus a couple of LOB applications order, this is a large and rich menu for a very hard to please audiences. That means that if you ask them what they want, they only answer more, more, more … And I won’t even mention 3D screens & goggles.

Now I know that X amount of time the machines are idle or doing a lot less but in the end that’s just a very nice statistic. When a couple of dozen users start playing around with those tools and throw that data around you still need them and their colleagues to be happy customers. Frankly even with the physical hardware that they have now that can be a challenge. And please don’t start about better, less resource wasting applications and such. You can’t just f* the business and tell them to get or wait for better apps. That flies in the face of reality. You have to be able to deliver the power where and when needed with the software they use. You just can’t control the entire universe.

I heard about integrators achieving 40-60 VMs per host in a VDI project. Some customers can make due with Windows 7 and 1GB of RAM. I’m not one of those. I think the guys & gals of the service desk would need armed escorts if we rolled that out to the employees they care for. One of the things I notice is that a lot of people choose to implement storage just for VDI. I’m not surprised. But until now I’ve not needed to do it. Not even for databases and other resource hogs. Separate clusters, yes, as the pCPU/vCPU ratio and Memory requirements differ a lot from the other servers. The fact that the separate cluster uses other HBA’s en LUNS also helps.

Next to SANs local storage for VDI is another option for both performance and cost. But for recovery, this isn’t quite that good a solution. The idea of having non-persistent disks (in a pool) or a combination of that with persistent disks is not something I can see fly with our users. And frankly, a show of hands at BriForum seems to indicate that this isn’t very widespread. VDI takes really high-performance storage, isolated from your server virtualization to make it a success. On top of that if you need control, rapid provisioning, user virtualization &  workspace management in a layered/abstracted way. Lost of interest there but again, yet more tools to get it done. Then there is also application virtualization, terminal service-based solutions etc. So we get a more involved, divers, and expensive solution compared to server virtualization. Now to offset these costs we need to look at what we can gain. So where do the benefits to be found?

With non-persistent disk you have rapid provisioning of know good machines in a pool but your environment must accept this and I don’ see this flying well in face of the reality of consumerization of ICT. De-duplication and thin provisioning help to get the storage needs under control but the bigger the client-side storage needs and the more diverse these are the fewer gains can be found there. Better control, provisioning, resource sharing, manageability, disaster recovery, it is all possible but it is all so very specific to the environment compared to server virtualization and some solutions contradict gains that might have been secured with other approaches (disaster recovery, business continuity with SAN versus local storage). One of the most interesting possibilities for the environment I described was perhaps doing virtualization on the client. I look at it as booting from VHD in the Windows 7 era but on steroids. If you can save guard the images/disks on a SAN  with de-duplication & thin provisioning you can have high availability & business continuity as losing the desktops is a matter of pushing to VM to other hardware which due to abstraction by virtualization should be a problem. It also deals with the network issues of VDI, a hidden bottleneck as most people focus on the storage. Truth be told, the bandwidth we consume is that big, it could be that VDI might have it best improvements for us on that front.

Somewhat surprising was that Microsoft, whilst being really present at PubForum in Dublin, was nowhere to be seen at BriForum. Citrix was saving it’s best for its own conference (Synergy) I think. Too bad, I mean when talking about VDI in 2011 we’re talking about Windows 7 for the absolute majority of implementations and Citrix has a strong position in VDI really giving VMware a run for their money. Why miss the opportunity? And yesterday at TechEd USA we heard about the HSBC story of a 100.000 seat VDI solution on Hyper-V http://www.microsoft.com/Presspass/press/2011/may11/05-16TechEd11PR.mspx.

On a side note, I wish I would/could have gone to PubForum as well. Should have done that. Now, these musings are based upon what I see at my current place of endeavor. VDI has a time and place where it can provide significant operational and usage advantages to make the business case for VDI. Today, I’m not convinced this is the case for our needs at this moment in time. looking at our refresh schedule we’ll probably pass on a VDI solution for the coming one. But booting from VHD as a standard in the future… I’m going to look into that, it will be a step towards the future I think.

To conclude BriForum 2011 was a good experience and the smaller scale of it makes for good and plenty of opportunities for interaction and discussion. A very positive note is that most vendors & companies present were discussing real issues we all face. So it was more than just sales demos. Brian, nice job.

Hyper-V 3 & Windows 8, Musings on Hypervisors & Crystal Ball Time

I think Microsoft sales might be getting a head ache by the ever increasing speed by which people are looking and long for features in the “vNext” version of their products whilst they are still just getting people to adopt the current releases but I like the insights and bits of information. It helps me plan better in the long term.

A lot of you, just like me, have been playing around with Hyper-V since the betas of Windows 2008. As I run Windows Server tweaked to act en look like a workstation I wanted to move my virtualization solution on the desktop to hyper-V as well. I use Windows server as a desktop because it allows me to install the server roles and features for quick testing, screen shot taking, managing the lab, etc. during writing and documenting.

Now a lot of you will have run into some performance issues on the host related to the video card, the GPU. Ben Armstrong mentioned it on his blog and wrote Knowledge Base article on it (http://support.microsoft.com/kb/961661). He later provided more insight into the cause of this behavior in the following blog post http://blogs.msdn.com/b/virtual_pc_guy/archive/2009/11/16/understanding-high-end-video-performance-issues-with-hyper-v.aspx it’s a good write up explaining why things are the way they are and why this cannot be “fixed” easily.

For me this was a bummer as I had a decent GPU on my workstation and I sometimes do need the advanced graphic capabilities of the card.

So when the first rumors of about “Windows 8” & “Hyper-V version 3” hit the internet I was very happy to see the mention of Hyper-V being used in Windows 8 as a client hyper-visor virtualization solution. See http://virtualization.info/en/news/2010/07/first-details-about-hyper-v-3-0-appear-online.html, this link was brought to my attention by Friea Berg from Netapp on twitter (@friea). Now there is more to it than just my tiny needs and wishes. Integration with App-V and other functionality that integration of Hyper-V in “MiniWin” can offer, but have a look at the link and follow the source links if you can read French.

The thing is that Hyper-V in the client would mean that they will have fixed this GPU performance issue by then. They have to; otherwise those plans can’t work. As the code bases of Windows client and server run parallel it should also be fixed on the server side. We’re used to more rich functionality in desktop virtualization by VMware Workstation en Virtual PC. Fixing this also makes sense in another way. Microsoft could be moving forward on one virtualization solution both on server and the desktop and gradually phasing out Virtual PC. They can opt to provide richer functionality with extra features that might be unnecessary or even undesirable on a server but is very handy on a workstation or on a lab server. This is all pure speculation (crystal ball time) by me but I’m pretty convinced this where things are heading.

Combine this that by the time “Windows 8” arrives most hardware in use will be much more capable of providing advanced virtualization features and enhancements and in all aspects, things are looking bright. So no I can dream of affordable 32 GB laptops with dual 8 core CPUs with a wicked high end GPU running Hyper-V.

By the way VMware is also working on similar ideas to provide a true hypervisor on the desktop I guess as they seem to be abandoning VMware Server (no enhancements, not fixes, etc.) and I can also imagine them making VMware Workstation as true hyper-Visor to reduce the product line development and support costs. Pure speculation, I know, especially since the confusing message around off line VDI but never underestimate the ability of a company tho change its mind when practical for them. 😉

Someone at SUN Oracle must be smiling at all of this, especially as Virtual Box is getting richer and richer with memory ballooning, hot add CPU capability (I like this and I want this in Hyper-V), etc. unless Microsoft and VMware totally succeed in making hosted virtualization a thing of the past. In the type 1 hypervisor space they are consolidating what they bought. Virtual Iron (Xen) was killed almost immediately and the SUN xVM Hypervisor is also dead. Both have been replaced by Oracle VM (Xen).

So as everyone seems to have good type 1 hypervisors that are ever improving it might become less and less a differentiator and more of a commodity that one day will be totally embedded in the hardware by Intel and AMD. The OS and software vendors then provide the management, high availability features and integration with their products. And if that is the evolution of things where does that leave KVM (Linux) in the long run? Probably the world is big enough for both types. For the moment both types seem to be doing fine.

As I said, all of this is musings and crystal ball time. Dreaming is allowed on sunny lazy Sunday afternoons. Open-mouthed