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On standalone Hyper-V, a fuzzy picture emerges

Microsoft's standalone virtualization server, now called Hyper-V, won't be ready until late 2008. It's already stirring up questions.

With its aggressive $28 price tag, the standalone hypervisor from Microsoft is bound to impress IT managers even if the technology doesn't include the extras that come in competitive hypervisors from VMware Inc. and Citrix Systems Inc.

Microsoft said at TechEd IT Forum in Barcelona last week that it will offer the server, called Hyper-V in the second half of 2008. Hyper-V is also the new name of Windows Server 2008 virtualization technology -- formerly code-named Viridian.

Microsoft amended its previous position of insisting that virtualization be part of the operating system and will now release virtualization technology with and without Windows Server 2008.

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The company scheduled Windows Server 2008 to ship in the first quarter of 2008, and the Hyper-V option is due out about 180 days after its release.

The standalone Hyper-V has stoked the curiosity of some experts who want to know more about what it will look like running on the hardware. Microsoft has spent years developing its Server Core and it's hard to imagine that the company wouldn't use the technology for the standalone hypervisor, said Nelson Ruest, a Microsoft MVP and principal at Resolutions Enterprise, a consulting firm in Victoria, B.C.

"Is there a way to trim down Server Core more and use it for the hypervisor? Maybe," Ruest said. "There is also Windows [Preinstalled Environment]. It is 500 megabytes of code that runs Windows in memory. Maybe Microsoft will use something like that [between the hypervisor and bare metal]?"

The reason for all the guessing is that Microsoft has offered an architectural picture of Hyper-V that runs on Windows certified hardware and drivers. Since that's the case, "something like Server Core or PE must be inside," Ruest said.

Fuzzily focused on a Hyper-V remedy

Microsoft said Hyper-V will run on bare metal, but details about just how it will rest on the bare metal are still fuzzy because the product has yet to be built, said Julius Sinkevicius, a group product manager at Microsoft. Hyper-V will be installed directly on the hardware, but it's not clear how large the installation will be.

There is currently no time frame for the first beta of the standalone Hyper-V, but the finished product is due for release in the second half of 2008, Sinkevicius said.

[Hyper-V technology]
will have a low attack surface and, in theory, a lower overhead.

--Dominic Foster, MaximumASP,
Unlike the Hyper-V technology that is part of the OS, and which will therefore include components to support the OS, standalone Hyper-V has no functions other than the ones that are required to host virtual machines.

Sinkevicius said he has no information about the characteristics of the administrative interface in the standalone Hyper-V.

One senior systems administrator counted some of the pros and cons of having a standalone hypervisor from Microsoft. On the plus side, "you can't squabble about the $28 price tag," said Dominic Foster, who manages new technologies, plus research and development for new products at MaximumASP LLC, a Louisville, Ky., hosting company. "Also, the technology will have a low attack surface and, in theory, a lower overhead," he said.

The downside is that from a management perspective, it won't have a full-blown OS. "It won't have the nice GUI that everyone is used to," Foster said.

Currently, Foster uses virtualization tools from VMware, Microsoft and SWSoft, in Herndon, Va. The VMware tools are used in high-availability situations where the servers can never go down. But VMware virtualization technology is costly at about $5,000 per processor, Foster said. He also uses Microsoft's Virtual Server 2005 and has examined early code bits of Hyper-V.

In his company, Microsoft's virtualization technology will be used to consolidate servers, such as Web servers, application servers and analytical servers. It will not be used for high-availability applications. "I wouldn't trust the Microsoft technology in high-availability situations because the tool set is not as mature as VMware's," he said.

MaximumASP uses SWsoft's Virtuozzo to virtualize Web servers used as part of a product it sells.

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