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Kevin Remde's IT Pro WebLog

VMware or Microsoft?–Did you know that there’s no extra charge?

This week at VMWorld the VMware faithful are learning all about the latest news and updates from their virtualization vendor.  And hopefully at the same time Microsoft is able to reach them with some free custard and some good information to help them understand:

So today, for the latest article in our “VMware or Microsoft?” series, I thought I’d address an area that perhaps a lot of VMware customers don’t know much about.  One of the important things that we really want VMware customers to understand is that they may be paying for features or technology or high availability or virtualized storage or virtualized networking that they wouldn’t have to if they went with Microsoft’s version of the “Software Defined Data Center”.  And add to this the fact that many enterprises using VMware already also own System Center; well, that means that they already own all that they need do to everything that otherwise requires the vCloud Suite and VMware’s Enterprise Plus licensing.

While I don’t have the time to write (and you won’t have patience to read through) an exhaustive list of examples, let me just pick a few key scenarios that you’re either already paying too much for, or perhaps haven’t purchased because you thought the capability was just too expensive.  In each example, while I won’t list any retail prices (which are always subject to change), I’ll try and point out what versions or SKUs you would have to obtain (purchase or simply download) to gain the described benefits.

Disclaimer: VMWorld isn’t over yet, and there may be announcements around licensing changes that may make some of these points obsolete.  And for your sake, I hope so.  Smile with tongue out

The Hypervisor: FREE

While VMware has also has a free hypervisor, theirs is limited in what it can do.  And while this week VMware announced that more capabilities will be made available to more of the purchased vSphere levels, Microsoft will never ever have to make any such announcement.


Because the free Hyper-V Server already does everything that Hyper-V installed under Windows Server 2012 does.  It’s full-featured.  No limits.  No compromise.  All of the scale is there, for no additional cost.  And even though higher versions of vSphere 5.5 now finally support similar scale to Hyper-V, they don’t exceed what Hyper-v already does, and does for free.


Do you see anything on that list that VMware does bigger or better?  At the time of this writing (the day after VMWorld’s keynote), in vSphere 5.5 they did increase the LPs to 320, memory to 4TB, and vCPUs to 64, which matches Hyper-V – but not in their free version.

Live Migration (It’s like VMotion): INCLUDED

You don’t need to buy anything just to get ultimate live portability of virtual machines.  You can do live moves of running virtual machines (Live Migration), live moves of a machines storage (Storage Live Migration), and even a move of the running machine and its storage, all in one operation (“Shared-Nothing” Live Migration); even without the need for a cluster. 

I know that’s not something unique to Hyper-VVMotions have been around for a while.  But unless something new is announced this week, you still have to pay something for that capability.  And, there are some capabilities which, when implemented, actually override and disallow the ability to do a vMotion.  (SR-IOV being just one example.  Check out this vSphere 5.1 document for their entire list.) 
NOTE: I’m guessing that the story here gets better with vSphere 5.5, but I don’t know the details at the time of this writing.  Please enlighten me in the comments if there is something new here.

With Hyper-V, we have no such limitations.

Also with Hyper-V, you can do as many simultaneous migrations of machines and storage as your hardware will allow, with no artificially imposed limits based on network capacity.


HIgh-Availability: INCLUDED

Windows Server (and the free Hyper-V Server) includes the Windows Failover Clustering role, which allows you to create a big cluster of virtualization nodes.

“How big?”

Currently the limit is up to 64 nodes supporting up to 8,000 virtual machines.  And you don’t even need System Center to manage or maintain it.  You can even do rolling updates of the nodes of your cluster, and the VMs will live-migrate back and forth during the process.  That’s just built-in. 

“But what about DRS (Distributed Resource Scheduler) and Distributed Power Management?”

Yep.  But in Hyper-V and using System Center 2012 Virtual Machine Manager, we call it DO and PO – for Dynamic Optimization and Power Optimization.


Replication: INCLUDED

Do you want to create and regularly synchronize to an offline copy of a virtual machine that you can failover to in case of an unexpected outtage or disaster?  Hyper-V provides that in the box with Hyper-V Replica.  And coming in Windows Server 2012 R2 and Hyper-V Server 2012 R2, you’ll have a couple of new capabilities:

  • Tertiary Replication – You can make a replica of the replica to yet another location (Great for hosting service providers who also want to make a replica of the replica they’re hosting for you.)
  • More flexible RPO (Recovery Point Objective) – Rather than just sending replica snaphots every 5 minutes, you can also choose to replicate every 15 minutes.  Or every 30 seconds.

“But Kevin, VMware includes replication in all editions of vSphere, and in 5.5 they’ve made improvements in RPO and in doing point-in-time recovery with multiple recover points saved.”

Yep.  Just like Hyper-V has had since 2012.  They’re doing more here, definitely, which is good.  But do they support Test Failovers? Do they support automation through PowerShell without some other purchased tool like SRM?  Can they automatically re-IP a server that has failed over to a different IP subnet?  Is it easy to “failback”?  These are all things that you get for no additional cost with Hyper-V Replica.


Network Virtualization: INCLUDED

VMware announced NSX at the VMWorld Keynote.  This is their solution for network virtualization / Software Defined Networking.   The flexibility of defining, isolating, and applying policy to networks of machines that can be programmatically created, and giving the portability to move virtual machines around to different physical networks while the virtual networking and IP addressing of those machines never has to change – that’s all very compelling, yes?

“Yes.  And isn’t that what you can already do with Hyper-V Network Virtualization and the Hyper-V Extensible Switch?”

Yes.  Microsoft started enabling network virtualization in Windows Server 2012, and managed by System Center 2012 SP1 Virtual Machine Manager.  And these capabilities are only getting better and more flexible in the R2 versions of both of those products, and supported by many hardware vendors.

I’d actually like to learn a little more about how NSX is implemented.  Is it just a new version of their switch?  If so, Microsoft also has the benefit of a virtual switch that is Extensible, not just replaceable.  Other products such as firewalls, traffic control, packet filtering – these can easily be added to the switch; configured at a logical level and the applied uniformly to all switches participating in a logical network

Can you use NSX and the Cisco Nexus 1000v at the same time?  No.  But with Microsoft’s extensible switch, you just add the Nexus 1000v extension, and you still have Network Virtualization. 


Storage Virtualization: INCLUDED

At the VMWorld keynote, VMware announced the availability of the public beta for vSAN –the VMware Virtual SAN

This is “a new software-defined storage tier, pools compute and direct-attached storage resources and clusters server disks and flash to create resilient shared storage.”

Have you heard of Storage Spaces?   Windows Server 2012 (and improved in R2) supports the ability to treat cheap disks as pools of storage.  Virtualized.  From the pool, you create virtual disks, which can then contain volumes.

If that volume contains a file share, you can use SMB 3 (and even better with RDMA support) to have fast, live-data support (even virtual hard disks of running machines) on that storage.

Single failover cluster with CSV and file shares

Supporting that storage, you could have a cluster of file servers who actively share access to that same share, which makes the supported files and filesystem “Continuously Available”; meaning, if a file server goes down – even if it’s the one serving access to a particular file (or running VM’s hard disk or SQL Server’s database files), you’ll never lose connectivity.  (See “Scale-Out File Server for Application Data Overview” for more information.

And I should probably remind you: This is included in Windows Server 2012.

But it gets even better.  In Windows Server 2012 R2 we add the ability to automatically support tiered storage in storage pools.  If you have local SSDs alongside of HDDs, go ahead and put them in the same pool.  And Windows Server will automagically move the more active files to the SSDs and the less active files to the HDDs.  (Yes, you can also designate that certain files must always have faster performance and should therefore be put on the SSD tier; like your VM’s hard disks.)


Automation: INCLUDED

VMware agreed with Microsoft during their VMWorld keynote when they said that automation “is the control plane for the datacenter of the future”, and that what is missing (?) is a common set of management and, importantly, automation tools for working with virtualized machines and applications – even in a hybrid cloud environment.  And their solution for this is their vCloud Automation Center.

Microsoft’s answer to this is a combination of PowerShell (which, for no additional cost, is available to fully manage all of Hyper-V, all of Windows Server, and even configure and manage Infrastructure-as-a-Service resources in Windows Azure or other hosting providers), and System Center 2012 SP1, which, through automations in Virtual Machine Manager, App Controller, and extremely rich (and cross-vendor) automations driven by Orchestrator.

Oh.. and did you know that, with these same tools, you can also automate your configuration, deployment, management, monitoring, and reporting against vCenter-based virtualization resources too?  Yes, System Center 2012 SP1 can do that, even if you want to stick with vSphere, or use Hyper-V in addition to vSphere for virtualization. 


I could go on, but I think this is a good start.

What do you think?  Are you paying too much for capabilities that should just be “included”?  Have I opened your eyes at least a little bit to the idea that Microsoft has a full-featured, enterprise-ready solution? 
If you haven’t lately, it’s definitely time to take another look.