Q & A – Featured Guest Aidan Finn

As a follow up to his first conversation with guest Rand Morimoto of Convergent Computing, Joel Sider, Senior Marketing Manager, Server and Tools Business at Microsoft, continues his discussion of best practices when implementing virtualization and private/hybrid cloud solutions with MVP and long-time industry consultant, Aidan Finn. 

Aidan Finn


Aidan FinnAidan Finn, MVP, has been working in IT since 1996.  He has worked as a consultant and administrator for the likes of Amdahl DMR, Fujitsu, Barclays and Hypo Real Estate Bank International where he dealt with large and complex IT infrastructures.  Aidan has worked in the server hosting and outsourcing industry in Ireland where he focused on server management, including VMware VI3, Hyper-V and Microsoft System Center. 

When Aidan isn’t at work he’s out and about with camera in hand trying to be a photographer.  Aidan is the lead author of Mastering Hyper-V Deployment (Sybex, 2010).  He is one of the contributing authors of Microsoft Private Cloud ComputingMastering Windows Server 2008 R2 (Sybex, 2009) and of Mastering Windows 7 Deployment (Sybex, 2011) .  Currently he is part of a team that is writing a new book called Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V Installation And Configuration Guide.

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Q: In what ways do you see Windows Server 2012 and the Microsoft stack most helping enterprises adopt cloud computing?

A: *** Windows Server 2012 and System Center are the first and only designed-for-purpose and truly integrated cloud solution. 

It might be a marketing tagline, but it’s true; Windows Server 2012 was designed from the cloud up.  Microsoft went to the heart of networking and gave us a platform for building private, public, and hybrid clouds. The extensible virtual switch is powerful by itself, with QoS, tracing, port mirroring and port ACLs. We have built-into-the-product software defined networking in Network Virtualization and PVLANs for the larger enterprises and hosted service providers.  As a person who spent some time working in the hosting industry, I know what the challenges of storage are, and how they can restrict strategy, operations, and drive up costs.  Microsoft has improved performance, with offloaded data transfer (especially for self-service virtual machine deployment from a library) and 4K support with VHDX, while protecting existing investments.  SMB 3.0 (SMB Direct and SMB Multichannel) gives us a whole new tier of storage that is scalable, economic, and performs up to the high levels that we require.  I was a PowerShell doubter, but I pretty much depend on PowerShell now.  I’ve figuratively bought the t-shirt, using PowerShell to automate those time consuming tasks, be they simple or complex.  The time I invest in writing each script pays back huge dividends over time.

Each System Center component by itself is a superior solution to the competition.  This is because Microsoft understands that the business cares about service not servers.  System Center as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. You don’t just get a virtualization management solution, a monitoring solution, an automation solution, a self-service desk, and so on. You get deep integration and the ability to create automation that is limited only by your imagination.  Instead of an application manager opening a service ticket, waiting while an overloaded IT department gets around to it, and the business suffering, a business can enable measured (using Hyper-V Resource Metering) self-service deployment of services from IT-managed templates, in a predictable, quality controlled, and secure manner.  Other management functions can be revealed that empower the customer, reduce repetitive workload from IT, allows IT to focus on engineering and quality control, and enables the business to be more flexible and responsive to opportunities and challenges.

Q: What guidance would you have for a company evaluating or implementing Windows Server 2012?

A: *** My first piece of advice: You need to think big and think small. Identify a strategy that will guide the design and goals of your data center.  Using this strategy you need to focus on tacking achievable milestones.  My biggest concern with such amazingly big technologies such as Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012 is that people attempt a “big bang” implementation and get lost in all of the possibilities.  Focus on the bigger problems and opportunities, set milestones, and focus efforts, while staying within the overall strategy.

My second piece of advice is: You need to achieve buy-in.  Directors and management must support this project.  Staff that will engage in the project need to be educated about the technology.  Those who are new to Hyper-V or System Center may not understand the true scale of the products’ capabilities.  They may be scared that their jobs are at risk when the concept of self-service is introduced; that concern can be allayed by stressing that you want to change what they are doing so they get to work on more interesting projects instead of checking boxes on lists.  Uncertainty leads to fear, fear leads to anger.  Education is a powerful weapon to create alliances and input from the people that are needed to make this kind of project work.

Q: What are the benefits of Microsoft’s products and technologies vs. VMware for virtualization and cloud computing?

A: *** I could talk about this topic all day!  Like most people working in virtualization, I started working with VMware; they do make a great virtualization product.  But that’s where the great ends in my opinion.  Microsoft has recognized that the needs of enterprises have changed, and they’ve taken Hyper-V beyond virtualization by designing it for the cloud. 

Businesses get Hyper-V at predictable costs (free if you license correctly), without capping growth or limiting features.  Large enterprises get unprecedented scalability that allows them to virtualize workloads knowing that Hyper-V won’t limit their performance. Small and medium businesses get new functionality too; I’m a huge fan of Hyper-V Replica, how it can protect those enterprises, and how service providers can offer their skills to sell DR-as-a-Service.

But most of all, the big thing is that Microsoft didn’t take the 1990’s approach of acquiring dozens of products, relabeling them, and throwing them into a framework where integration means that they have similar looking shortcuts. Instead, there is designed deep integration that has been grown over years of work and consulting with customers. System Center lights up the cloud features of Hyper-V. Orchestrator glues together everything. And Service Manager reveals the services of the IT group to the customer (internal or external).

Q: In your experience, what is the level of difficulty in migrating from VMware’s vSphere to Microsoft’s Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V?

A: *** The good news is that migrating from vSphere is easier than ever thanks to a 4.3 MB free download called the Microsoft Virtual Machine Converter.  If you like the idea of a tool that uninstalls the VMware tools, converts the VMDKs to virtual hard disks, and creates a new virtual machine with the Hyper-V Integration components then this is the tool for you. By the way, you can run this tool from PowerShell scripts.

You have options with Microsoft. You can use this free tool, you can use System Center 2012 - Virtual Machine Manager (with Service Pack 1), you can create runbooks using Orchestrator, and don’t forget PowerShell!

Q: What types of organizations have you seen already begun to migrate or fully migrate off VMware?

A: *** All sorts of business have either started the process or are investigating the possibilities. Decision makers started looking at Hyper-V’s potential when the impact of vTax started to impact the business. By doing this they learned what Hyper-V really could do, and then they learned about Windows Server 2012 and how it is now a leading technology. In the Great Big Hyper-V Survey (http://greatbighypervsurvey.com/), myself and fellow MVPs Hans Vredevoort and Damian Flynn learned how people were greatly anticipating this new version of Hyper-V.  In the latest version of the survey, we’re already seeing data where there are very high levels of adoption of Windows Server 2012.  I got to present at the UK launch of Windows Server 2012 and I had a great time talking to people who wanted to learn about Hyper-V Replica, SMB 3.0 storage, the improvements in backup, and Failover Clustering - and these were VMware customers who were keen to migrate as soon as possible because they liked where Microsoft had gone with Hyper-V. The people came from all sizes of business, from the small to the Fortune 500.  As a person who has supported Hyper-V from the early days because I saw the potential, this was great to be involved with.

I work with the partner community in Ireland, a community that had embraced VMware and were slow to consider Hyper-V.  I’ve spent most of the past 3 months delivering training to those companies that realize that Hyper-V has arrived.  They see the potential for large enterprises. They understand how Hyper-V solves business problems for the small/medium enterprise.  It’s been great to hear from smaller consulting companies that have migrated key clients to Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V because of features like Hyper-V Replica and SMB Storage.  I’m also hearing from larger international consulting companies who are going to their clients leading with Hyper-V and System Center private cloud solutions because those customers know that quality service delivery is more important than living in the past.

Businesses want IT flexibility. We know (from The Great Big Hyper-V Survey) that this is the primary reason to implement server virtualization (ahead of cost reduction). Live Migration is flexibility.  VMware may once have lead with vMotion, but Windows Server 2012 has kicked down traditional boundaries such as clusters, storage, and even networks. Hyper-V is now the most flexible foundation for a cloud, allowing services to move (and at great scale with no arbitrary limitations on simultaneous Live Migration numbers) with no downtime to availability, and enabling IT to do their maintenance and System Center to load balance workloads (PRO and Dynamic Optimization).  This means that the business always has the most available and best performing services, so they can compete and seize opportunities when they arise.



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