Review: Much to like in Windows Server 2008

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And, finally, Hyper-V

I'll close with a look at Hyper-V, Microsoft's answer to the game-changing hardware-assisted virtualization strategy that is sweeping IT. Hyper-V, in Microsoft's words, "is a next-generation Hypervisor-based virtualization platform integrated with the operating system that allows you to dynamically add physical and virtual resources."

What does that mean? Hyper-V has three main components: the hypervisor, the virtualization stack and the new virtualized I/O model. The Windows hypervisor basically acts to create the different "partitions" that each virtualized instance of code will run within. The virtualization stack and the input/output (I/O) components provide interactivity with Windows itself and with the various partitions that are created.

All three of these components work in tandem. Using servers with processors equipped with Intel VT or AMD-V enabled technology, Hyper-V interacts with Hypervisor, which is a very small layer of software that is present directly on the processor. This software offers hooks into the management of processes and threads on the processor that the host operating system can use to efficiently manage multiple virtual machines, and multiple virtual operating systems, running on a single physical processor. Since there are no third-party software products or drivers to install, you get nearly guaranteed compatibility without the difficult problems that software bugs can introduce into your system.

Along with efficient process management, you can hot-add resources to the machine hosting your virtualized services. From processors to memory to network cards to additional storage media, you can add these devices to the machine without needing to bring down any services and interrupt user sessions. You can also host 64-bit guest sessions, which is a big boon to organizations moving toward adoption of 64-bit software. You can virtualize your migration, save money on deployment costs and then assess how many physical machines you'll need when you finish your migration.

Part of the idea behind virtualization is not only to eliminate machine duplication and save on costs, but to also ensure that services are available more so than they otherwise would be on unvirtualized servers. In that context, Hyper-V includes support for clustering across multiple guests. Additionally, you can cluster multiple physical machines running the Hyper-V component, so that virtualized instances can fail over to another host should something occur with the primary host.

Finally, you can migrate virtualized guests from one physical host to another with no downtime, easing servicing, planning and reorganization while significantly limiting detrimental effects on production services. You can also take advantage of the new disk quorum features in Windows Server 2008, which allow you to have clusters in multiple locations -- say, on both coasts of the U.S., or on different continents across the world. This can happen without necessarily having to have a single shared disk between them, something that's required for clustering using Windows Server 2003.

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Figure 9 - Hyper-V Management Console

Click to view larger image

Additionally, you can install Hyper-V on a Server Core installation of Windows Server 2008 and take advantage of the stability and reduced overhead benefits (which are, of course, tangential with high availability objectives) of that style of deployment as well.

Hyper-V management is made simple with the new Hyper-V Management Console, shown in Figure 9.

To get started with Hyper-V, you'll need some hardware -- specifically, a machine capable of supporting a 64-bit operating system. You will need to have a clean installation of Windows Server 2008 Enterprise Edition, in the 64-bit version, and it will not run within a virtual machine because of the need for hardware-assisted virtualization.

Hyper-V is in beta right now, even though the overarching Windows Server 2008 product has been released. Microsoft is still promising to have an RTM version of Hyper-V out within six months.

Closing thoughts

Windows Server 2008, overall, is a robust and credible successor to Windows Server 2003. Manageability, security, performance, reliability and efficiency were all paramount concerns to the development team, and the result of their efforts is an operating system that feels cohesive, unified, and ready to perform. The OS builds upon a reasonably solid past, with an eye toward new technology, implemented securely, ready for your business.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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