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Building out private clouds with Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V

The latest iterations of Windows Server and Hyper-V have capabilities and features especially for building private clouds.

As the cloud moves from the sky to your data center, you might wonder what Windows Server 2012 R2 and its Hyper-V hypervisor bring in terms of features and capabilities for building private clouds. There are four key advantages for using Windows 2012 R2 Hyper-V.

Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V has better live migration performance. One of the key tenets of a private cloud is your ability to easily move workloads around hosts. When something goes wrong, the workload is important. The ability to quickly get that task onto a healthy, ready system without the client noticing downtime is paramount. Otherwise, you're no more than a host.

In Windows Server 2012 R2, Microsoft improved the Hyper-V live migration feature, which takes pressure off systems during migrations and eases the entire process. The virtual machine's contents of virtual memory are compressed and then sent over the wire, reducing the amount of data that has to travel over the network by half or even more, depending on what the VM runs. Over the wire, migration from R2 to R2 uses SMB 3.0, which is already faster than its predecessor.

SMB Direct -- a feature on SANs and network-attached storage that generally requires specialized hardware -- can juice transmission speeds even further, taking advantage of Remote Direct Memory Access to write directly to storage, bypassing the CPU of hosts.

A shared virtual hard disk enables clustering with Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V. Clouds involve fault tolerance -- and fault tolerance in a Windows world means clusters. In Windows Server 2012 R2, you can use a single VHDX file as the required shared storage to build failover clusters. Clusters need a shared disk for communication between all the nodes. But instead of having to create multiple virtual hard disks for VMs that are members of a cluster, you can now share a single VHDX file. This VHDX file can even be hosted on shared storage, a cluster shared volume or shared out over SMB.

Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V automatically activates VMs. Licensing and activation are essentially a tax Microsoft imposes on administrators' time. Microsoft removes the messy product key requirements for VMs running on a host with Windows Server 2012 R2 that's properly activated. These machines will self-activate through communication with the host about their licensing, and no keys or activation are required for these VMs to come up fully licensed and ready for workloads. You don't have to track spreadsheets of product keys and virtual machines. It presents usage and licensing reports in case you need them. But you do have to be running Windows Server 2012 R2 on your hosts and your guests for this to work.

Windows Azure Pack is available on Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V. The Windows Azure Pack is a free download that touches the hypervisor and integrates higher in the stack with the System Center suite that manages your data centers and applications. Specifically, the Azure Pack lets you create service offerings for infrastructure on demand, like Windows and Linux VMs. It does this by working with Hyper-V and the Windows networking stack to carve up new VMs on demand based on policies you control.

You can define particular types of VMs to offer, what their virtual memory and disk space sizes are and how many of them can run at one time. You can even define what network -- physical or virtual -- to connect them to. This is all done through a GUI that's essentially the same interface Microsoft uses on Windows Azure, but it's localized to work on your on-premises machines.

About the author:
Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker on a variety of IT topics. His published works include RADIUSHardening WindowsUsing Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003 and Learning Windows Server 2003. Jonathan also speaks worldwide on topics ranging from networking and security to Windows administration. He is president of 82 Ventures LLC, based in North Carolina, and is currently an editor for Apress Media LLC, a publishing company that specializes in books for programmers and IT professionals.

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