Dell and Hyper-V for the smaller business

Over the last month I have been on tour with Dell showing what Hyper-V can do for small/medium businesses,  and later this week I’ll be with them in Falmouth.  The argument they put forward for Hyper-V is really simple:

  1. You want use a new server for virtualisation, and now that moderns servers can run ten plus virtual machines you’ll probably want to buy an OEM license of Windows DataCenter edition as you are then licensed to run as many virtual machines on a server as it can take, each of which will be running the DataCenter edition. 
  2. In the past you would then have then bought some virtualisation software to run those virtual machines at additional cost.  However that DataCenter license also covers you to run Hyper-V as that virtualisation software for no additional cost. 

You might argue that Hyper-v isn’t as good as the other stuff you can buy, and that’s OK with me as long as you can prove that for the scenario you have in mind you are getting what you are paying for be that performance, security, manageability etc. 

As far as performance goes I think that getting an application like SQL Server or Exchange to run in a virtual machine at about 90% of the speed of the physical server the virtual machine runs on is an acceptable loss and is competitive with other  hypervisors.  You’ll want to test this yourself, but remember to compare like with like for example your compute, network and storage setting should be the same. 

You might wonder if Hyper-V is secure? anecdotal evidence suggests that it is as secure as anything else because if it wasn’t you’d be able to reply to this post with the evidence from a competitors website or blog. For best practice on securing Hyper-V please refer to this earlier post of mine

However in the manageability space Hyper-V by itself  runs out of road once you end up with more than X virtual machines – where X will depend on your infrastructure the size of the IT team etc. but if you have more than a hundred virtual machines, you’ll need to be very well organised or use additional software. Microsoft have a suite of tools called System Center (currently System Center 2012) and this is also has a DataCenter edition, licensed per physical server allowing you to manage however many virtual machines you have on there, but more importantly it’s designed to manage your applications. By this I mean deploying them, monitoring them, etc. rather than just looking at the health of the virtual machine they are running in. 

I don’t see this lack of manageability as a problem for smaller businesses as many of them don’t have that many virtual machines and your organisation might well be OK just using Hyper-V and the tools that Dell provide with their servers and EqualLogic SANs.

Many things change with Windows Server 2012 and while the big headlines have been about massive improvements in scale for the next version of Hyper-V, that’s not really relevant for the smaller business. Rather it is things like multi server management with specific tools in the new Server Manager to monitor, and even update servers in a group. Powershell 3 has extensive support for managing all aspects of your servers from one place.

That’s not to say there’s nothing in Hyper-V,  for smaller business and my top 3 would be:

  • Running replica virtual machines at different sites over slow networks and being able to failover to the replica as required.
  • The ability to live migrate virtual machines with out shared storage (aka “Shared Nothing”).    
  • NIC teaming is now ther in the operating system allowing you to manage all your network adapters form inside Windows and the capacity they provide as needed

So before you pay out for tools for virtualisation or management, see what you get included in Windows Server, and whether the return you get from additional software be that a different hypervisor or management tools is justified in your business with your IT team.

Finally the release Windows Server 2012 is end of August, so if you are planning a server procurement now you may well find it is shipped with it. To be ready for that rather than just downgrading to an earlier version, have a look at the Windows Server 2012 content on the Microsoft Virtual Academy and/or have download the Release Candidate

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