SAN FRANCISCO – IT professionals attending VMware's annual confab here last week are comfortable using ESX and ESXi in their enterprises. But as they start to virtualize popular Windows applications, such as SharePoint, Exchange Server and Active Directory, they are choosing to run them on Microsoft's own Hyper-V.
One anecdotal sign that IT pros are ready to take the next step in virtualizing mission critical applications came during a standing-room-only VMworld 2010 session on "Best Practices for Virtualizing Active Directory." Hyper-V is a natural choice for Microsoft shops because it comes free in Windows Server, and the latest version, Hyper-V R2 SP1, includes a memory management feature called Dynamic Memory and other capabilities that make it comparable to VMware's virtualization offering.
Mahmoud Magdy, a senior consultant with Egypt-based Ingazat Information Technology, said Hyper-V has evolved to the point where the comparison between it and VMware's virtualization counterpart is akin to Mitsubishi versus Toyota, where it used to be more of a Hyundai versus Mercedes contrast, he said.
"Both are fast, economical and effective," Magdy said. "Hyper-V [in] Windows 2008 R2 became very mature, and its offering with Citrix enabled it to be very scalable. I see no business justification to drop Hyper-V and go with VMware."
Eric Olson, a senior systems engineer for a New York-based defense contractor said he virtualizes SharePoint 2007 and SharePoint 2010, Dynamics CRM, Active Directory, Exchange Server 2007, System Center and other critical apps using Hyper-V.
He said the company used VMware ESX, but dropped the product because of the high price of maintenance, support and the software compared to Hyper-V. Hyper-V was also an easy choice for L-3 because of its heavy reliance on Microsoft technology, so it already had Windows Server and an enterprise support agreement.
Olson said IT pros can virtualize large applications on Hyper-V without sacrificing performance as long as they build their virtualization environment with the same care they give it in physical environments.
Virtualizing Microsoft enterprise apps with Hyper-V
IT pros have long resisted running enterprise applications in virtual environments, but Hyper-V has matured and administrators are comfortable enough with the technology to trust it with their most important applications.
Rob McShinsky, a senior systems engineer with Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., uses Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V to virtualize SharePoint, Exchange and SQL Servers.
Hyper-V [in] Windows 2008 R2 became very mature, and its offering with Citrix enabled it to be very scalable. I see no business justification to drop Hyper-V and go with VMware.
senior consultantIngazat Information Technology
To maximize virtual machines-to-host ratios and to keep cost savings up, he doesn't virtualize resource-heavy applications – which he classifies as requiring more than two CPUs, 6 GB of RAM or 100 GB of disk space -- because over 70% of his servers fall below those thresholds.
SharePoint was one of the first servers he moved to a virtual machine, and most of his Exchange Server 2007 environment, which supports more than 8,000 users, is virtualized.
Because of performance and their data size, the Exchange mailbox servers weren't virtualized, but everything else – including redundant ISA, Client Access servers, Hub Transport servers and an entire duplicated testing environment -- was put on Hyper-V. All production servers were placed on multiple Hyper-V clusters, McShinsky said.
He also runs some small SQL Servers on Hyper-V, but most SQL instances are consolidated on clustered physical servers. "This allows us to better utilize server resources and SQL licensing costs, just as we do for our Hyper-V hosts," said McShinsky. "Many times, for Microsoft and other applications, we will place the front-end application in the Hyper-V environment and the SQL database in the enterprise SQL environment, which gives us the best price and performance."
By virtualizing those mission critical apps and others, McShinsky estimates the organization avoided more than $47,000 in hardware and software costs.
While virtualizing critical apps is a good way to lower IT costs, VMware executives and some virtualization users at the show also claimed virtualizing applications can increase performance.
Expectations of performance gains should be taken with a grain of salt, though, since performance will only be as good as the architecture, said Olson.