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Adopt the right Hyper-V tools for your Windows environment

As more IT shops virtualize their Windows servers, the variety of Hyper-V management tools for all enterprises also continues to grow.

Microsoft Hyper-V may be popular because it comes for free as part of the Windows Server license, but that doesn’t mean IT managers should ignore best practices when managing a virtual environment. This is especially true as the hypervisor market becomes more commoditized.

Vendors today offer the actual virtualization layer for free and make their profit on management. Therefore it’s essential to examine each vendor’s suite of management tools and to choose what’s best for your enterprise’s infrastructure.

There are Hyper-V tools for small, midsized and large organizations and they can benefit each environment.

Managing Hyper-V installations
Virtualization isn’t just for large IT shops anymore. In fact, it has led to major savings for smaller businesses with just a few servers. Using Hyper-V’s integrated tools makes sense in these scenarios. For instance, the built-in Hyper-V Manager is the obvious no-cost choice when managing only one or two servers since IT managers can create and manage them on a single system easily.

This seems to be the best option for small installations, especially if there is no need for clustering. In addition, small companies can manage any server with the free Remote Server Administration Tools and create a remote connection with a tried and true Remote Desktop session.

IT shops that need to add virtualization features such as high-availability or physical-to-virtual (P2V) moves, should consider investing in System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM). You might spit out your coffee when you see the cost for a modest IT setup, but Microsoft offers a Workgroup Edition that allows IT shops to purchase these features at a lower cost. SCVMM Workgroup Edition can manage up to five Hyper-V host servers so you can perform Live Migration between clustered servers, while enjoying P2V goodness. It’s especially useful for old and creaky servers on their last legs, which might include software that isn’t worth reinstalling.

Midsized enterprises need more management
IT shops that must keep tabs on dozens or even hundreds of virtual machines can’t get away with relying on Hyper-V Manager to manage that new virtual layer. Organizations that seek new capabilities without making significant additions to the staff should consider tools that introduce good monitoring and automation features without worrying about building something from scratch.

For IT shops with the Microsoft System Center suite, Virtual Machine Manager will be of interest. The “single pane of glass” approach to System Center is only going to continue as the next version -- currently slated as System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 -- is likely to have a coupled released with other portions of the suite, including Configuration Manager (SCCM) and Operations Manager (SCOM). With its out-of-the-box management packs for monitoring Hyper-V, SCOM is a sensible option for businesses that need to reach a stable operating level quickly and without much fuss. In fact, SCVMM really needs SCOM in place in order to fully monitor your virtual and host machines.

Enterprise flexibility with Microsoft Hyper-V
Large IT shops have the challenge of integrating virtual machines with existing IT management systems that are often ingrained into an enterprise. In this case, flexibility is key. To formulate a proper solution, IT managers need to find a good combination of management tools.

The big vendors provide vendor-neutral options for virtual environments that not only manage and monitor Hyper-V, but other hypervisors as well, including VMware ESX and ESXi. For instance, Quest’s vFoglight provides an integrated option for monitoring hypervisors, as well as distributing workloads properly over available computing resources. Therefore, in situations that deal with thousands of virtual machines, it’s important to look for tools that support and maintain varied workloads and quality of service requirements.

Large enterprises are also more likely to look for features that a smaller shop wouldn’t necessarily care about, such as automatic deployment of Hyper-V hosts, faster virtual backups and compatibility when provisioning shared storage. For example, HP’s IO Designer supports automated Hyper-V host deployment and validates that all the requested resources are available to the target blade machine. It also supports a self-service portal so that administrators can install new clustered Hyper-V hosts more easily.

Beyond a single tool
There is a variety of toolsets for sale that support Hyper-V, which is a nice change from only a couple of years ago when support was meager. From hardware integration to monitoring and management, these add-ons are useful once there are more than a few servers in the mix and the enterprise requires features such as Live Migration.

But don’t forget about single-function tools that are typical in a system administrator toolbox. These include virtual hard disk format converters, processor detection and monitoring gadgets. These will always be needed in a virtual server environment.

You can follow SearchWindowsServer.com on Twitter @WindowsTT.

Eric Beehler has been working in the IT industry since the mid-90's, and has been playing with computer technology well before that. He currently provides consulting and training through his co-ownership in Consortio Services, LLC.

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