Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hyper-V in SMB

OK, I've been asked more than once by a few people about hypervisor-based virtualization (in general) and Hyper-V (specifically) in the SMB world.  The options that are viable for SMB are really Microsoft's Hyper-V R2, VMWare's ESXi, Red Hat's Enterprise Virtualization, Novell/SUSE's Linux Enterprise Server and Citrix' Xen Server.  By viable I mean both affordable and supported by Microsoft as per their Windows Server Virtualization Validation Program.  These systems must all be on supported hardware that is Certified for Windows Server 2008 R2 - with the caveat that one of the possible problem isolation steps a Microsoft Support Engineer may need to do is to determine if the problem also exists when the Windows Server operating system is executing directly on the hardware platform, which requires certified systems.  That caveat can be a killer!  :(

With that caveat looming on the horizon, in the SMB world where there's not so much money thrown at solutions and there's little room for error (because there are generally no clustered server farms with off-site redundancy), we need to really look at a solution that's going to be easy to manage, easy to deploy, easy to maintain and easy to support.  That - at this stage - really leaves us with Hyper-V R2 (and, to a slightly lesser degree, Hyper-V).  If you have Linux skills in house, then we can add Red Hat's, Novell/SUSE's, Citrix' and VMWare's solutions back into the mix.  In this post I'll be talking about Hyper-V R2 and Hyper-V.

So, you want to get your virtualization skills up to date with Hyper-V?  First, have a read of the Microsoft Hyper-V R2 home page where you'll find their glossy brochures and glowing propaganda on why it is so much better than any of the competition.  Take what you read in that vein with a grain of salt, however as a hypervisor-based virtualization platform for SMB, it's not that bad - even the first release of Hyper-V was pretty decent - and that's gotta be a first for Microsoft!  :)

Before we get too far into this, let's cover the main differences between Hyper-V and Hyper-V R2 as far as we're concerned in the SMB world.

  1. Hyper-V R2 has the ability to hot-add/remove virtual hard drives (.vhd files)
  2. Hyper-V R2 has the ability to hot-add/remove pass-through SCSI disks
  3. General performance improvements including networking enhancements
That's about it. Really. But these improvements are definitely worth considering when you're looking at your own or your clients' requirements.  Hyper-V R2 is an easier to use platform especially because of the ability to hot-add/remove .vhd files from a virtual guest - it is something that we do here occasionally and it saves us having to shut down a virtual guest just to add/remove a virtual hard disk.

Now, having gotten that out of the way, there are a few more things that you can have a look at that will help you learn more about Hyper-V and how to use it to your advantage in the SMB world.  There are a number of Microsoft White Papers available.  There are quite a number of Microsoft TechNet Webcasts on Hyper-V available here - the Level 100 webcasts are the introductory webcasts.  Using Hyper-V with Windows Small Business Server is a worthwhile read.  As is the Microsoft Best Practices for Using Hyper-V with Windows Small Business Server 2008.

Dave Sobel (MVP for Virtualization) has a Virtualization Primer book and also a CD Audio/DVD set available on his site.  I've not seen these yet, but knowing what I know of Dave Sobel, I'd say they are well worth the money.

There's also the SMB Virtualization Yahoo Group.

OK, so after reading all of that (and watching Dave's DVD presentation), if you need more, then read on...  :)

I published a post about Hyper-V Guest Licensing (including Hyper-V R2) back in December, 2009.  That post should clear up a large number of the Licensing questions involving Hyper-V.

Remember in SBS 2008 Standard, you *do not* have the right to install the Hyper-V Role on the SBS 2008 primary server instance - this has been explicitly disallowed in the EULA - however you can install SBS 2008 Standard under Hyper-V (or R2) or under a separately licensed Windows Server 2008 Standard (or R2) if you wish to buy this.  Windows SBS 2008 Premium comes with a second Windows Server 2008 License that can be used as the Hyper-V host, allowing both the SBS 2008 primary server instance and also the secondary server instance to run as virtual guests.  This is explained in the blog post referred to in the previous paragraph.

So, what would I do?  That depends.  If I have a client who needs to run SBS 2008 Standard and no SQL LOB application nor Terminal Server, I may run SBS 2008 Standard on hardware or under Hyper-V R2 Server.

If the client needed only a Terminal Server and definitely would not be using SQL 2008, then I'd buy SBS 2008 Standard and Windows Server 2008 Standard R2 and I'd virtualize both operating systems.

If they need SQL 2008 as well, then I'd either run just SBS 2008 Premium virtualized on the second server instance, with the second server virtual instance for SQL and Terminal Server (if money was tight) or I'd sell an additional Windows Server 2008 Standard R2 License and run this as the host and the virtual Terminal Server and then SBS 2008 primary and secondary server instances both virtualized with SQL 2008 in the second server instance.

Now, should you run Hyper-V Server R2 - the free product - or the full thing?  If you're new to virtualization, then run the full thing until you get up to speed.  Why?  The free version (Hyper-V Server R2) has no GUI.  Plain and simple.  Without a GUI you will need to configure it for remote access and remote management and you'll also need to make some firewall changes to your Windows 7 desktop PC to be able to access it.  If you RDP to it you only get a command prompt and the Hyper-V shell - to manage Hyper-V Guests you need to run Hyper-V Manager on your desktop PC (available as part of the Remote Server Administration Tools for Windows 7).  When you're learning Hyper-V, this added complication is simply not going to help.

*After* you're used to Hyper-V, then, well, sure - I can't see any issue running Hyper-V Server R2.  We have 3 Hyper-V servers here in our office - two (including that running our production servers) run on Windows Server 2008 R2 and one runs on Hyper-V Server R2.

Of course, being the arse-about-face person I am (some may say arsehole, and I'll cop to that, too) I first ran Hyper-V Server here - the text-based free version.  It wasn't that hard to get running (after John Howard slapped me upside the head for not reading his article properly), especially with his HVRemote tool (now at version 0.7).  I've also been using various virtualization products since way back at VMWare Workstation 1.0 in late 1999 or early 2000 - I *think* it was late 1999 that I started using it.  I was using chroot jails on various *nix systems well before then - not really virtualization per se, but kinda sorta in a way.

Now, even though we don't really do a lot of server consolidation down here in the SMB world (we usually have only one, or maybe two servers), virtualization can still be quite useful for various reasons, least of all being disaster recovery.  If you have a virtualized server that is backed up regularly (of course) and the hardware decides to go tits up on you one day, you can restore the latest backup to a grunty desktop PC (preferably one you thought about adding more RAM to earlier), load your trusty Hyper-V Server R2 USB Boot Key, and have the server back up and running in a jiffy.

Although this post may be a bit of a dog's breakfast (wow, it looks and feels like my brain!), I hope that this collection of thoughts and links about Hyper-V is somewhat helpful - if there's anything that needs clarifying, holler and I'll clarify it (by editing the post, posting a comment or maybe redoing it as an article on our website).


The Outspoken Wookie


Lachlan McIntosh said...

>you *do not* have the
>right to install the
>Hyper-V Role on
>the SBS 2008
>primary server instance

and remember it kills various things (like the DHCP server) if you try to....

Storagecraft said...

I'm sorry dude but I didn't get your post. I think it would be useful to the people who understand it.

James Feldman said...

Hi Hilton.
Nice article :)
A caveat about Fax services not running on a Hyper-V guest out of the box wouldn't go amiss! Got caught out there once myself!

Anonymous said...

You can try vtCommander (http://vtcommander.com) for Hyper-V Server R2 local management...