Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V gives Linux VMs a boost

Microsoft wants Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V to be the best platform to run Linux in the cloud, so it has added more support for Linux VMs.

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While Microsoft primarily designs Windows Server and Hyper-V for use with Windows clients, Windows Server 2012 R2 will offer a greater degree of support for Linux clients. This is especially true for Hyper-V virtual machines running Linux.

It's always been possible to run Linux inside a Hyper-V virtual machine, but Linux VMs were treated as second-class citizens. There were a number of Hyper-V features supported for use only with Windows VMs, the best example being Hyper-V Dynamic Memory.

Despite Hyper-V's history, Microsoft's focus is changing.

Windows Server 2012 R2 is being marketed as a cloud operating system, and Microsoft wants Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V to be the best platform for running Linux in the cloud. With this goal in mind, Microsoft is enabling the hypervisor to better support heterogeneous OSes, allowing Linux VMs to be treated as first-class citizens.

Linux Integration Services changes the game

Some Hyper-V features are used to support Windows VMs exclusively because of Integration Services, Microsoft's equivalent to VMware tools. Integration Services allows a guest OS to better interact with the hypervisor. Previous Hyper-V releases only included Integration Services for Windows VMs.

Deep support for Linux VMs has been added via Linux Integration Services, which were added to Linux kernel source code. A number of Linux builds will be supported, including Red Hat, Ubuntu and SUSE.

Live backup support for Linux VMs

Linux Integration Services now enables Linux VMs to access a number of Hyper-V features. Linux VMs will finally be able to take advantage of Hyper-V Dynamic Memory, which gives organizations the ability to achieve a higher density of Linux VMs on their Hyper-V hosts.

Another significant improvement is that Linux VMs will be supported for live backup, allowing companies to back up a running Linux VM without interruption. This process is based on using a snapshot of the underlying virtual hard disk that's consistent with the file system. This functionality is in the hypervisor, but Microsoft will also support Linux backups with its own products. Windows Server Backup will include the ability to back up running VMs; System Center 2012 R2 Data Protection Manager will include Linux backup capabilities.

Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V will also support the expansion of virtual hard disks on running VMs. Even though this feature is new, even to Windows VMs, it will also support Linux.

While most Hyper-V features are available to Linux guests, not every feature is Linux-compatible. The new Generation 2 VMs, for example, aren't compatible with Linux. Generation 2 VMs work only with VMs on Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2012 R2.

Even though Hyper-V offers improved support for Linux VMs, Linux support isn't limited to Hyper-V. Microsoft wants Hyper-V to become the best platform to run Linux in the cloud. To achieve that goal, they're adding Linux support to their System Center 2012 R2 products as well. This means it will be possible to create, manage and back up Linux and Windows VMs through a single interface. More importantly, this change means System Center and Hyper-V will both be fully supported for use with Linux.

About the author:
Brien Posey is an eight-time Microsoft MVP for his work with Windows Server, IIS, Exchange Server and file system storage technologies. Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and health care facilities, and was once responsible for IT operations at Fort Knox. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the nation's largest insurance companies.

This was first published in September 2013

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