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Matt McSpirit on Virtualisation, Management and Core Infrastructure


Hypervisor? Say what?

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Now, with Windows Server Virtualisation just around the corner, (Beta 1 is scheduled for the end of this year) a few of you may be wondering what the main differences are going to be between this, next generation virtualisation , and what is currently available in say, Virtual Server 2005 R2.  Well, Windows Server Virtualisation, previously codenamed Viridian, is a hypervisor-based technology that is a part of Windows Server “Longhorn”.  It provides a scalable, secure and highly available virtualisation platform and is part of Microsoft’s ongoing effort to provide our customers and partners with the best operating system platform for virtualisation.  But what is this Hypervisor?  It sounds like something someone from Star Trek would wear, but no, the Hypervisor is the key element in the future of Server Virtualisation.  Essentially, the Hypervisor is a thin layer of software, between the actual physical hardware, and the operating system installed on that hardware.  Now the Hypervisor provides some of the following features:

  • Allows multiple operating systems to run, unmodified, on a host computer at the same time.
  • Provides simple partitioning functionality, for creating new Virtual Machines for example, and is responsible for maintaining strong isolation between partitions.
  • In addition, Windows runs as a foundation role in the parent partition thereby providing increased reliability and security with removal of non-value add legacy and client components.
  • It has an inherently secure architecture with minimal attack surface, as it does not contain any third party device drivers.

Now, before I said the Hypervisor is a thin layer of software, but how thin is thin?  Well, my Toshiba Tecra M4 has a trackpad for moving the mouse point around, right?  The driver for this trackpad is around 250Kb.  The Windows Hypervisor will weigh in at, we believe, less than 100Kb.

But what benefits does Windows Server Virtualisation bring you?  Well, apart from the usual 4 suspects; Production server consolidation, business continuity management, software test and development, and development of Dynamic Data Center, Windows Server Virtualisation provides key functionality which an ideal virtualisation platform should provide - scalability, high performance, reliability, security, flexibility and manageability.  It provides scalability and high performance by supporting features like guest multi-processing support and 64-bit guest and host support; reliability and security through its hypervisor architecture; flexibility and manageability by supporting features like live migration of virtual machines from one physical host to another, dynamic addition of virtual resources and integration with System Center Virtual Machine Manager.

You want this right now, right?  Well, like I said, the Beta 1 is due before the end of the year, and the final release will be within 180 days of Longhorn Server’s RTM, so, unfortunately is won’t ship with Lonhorn Server, and as of yet, it has been undecided how it will be shipped, i.e. will it be a download for example.

Now, one great thing about our current offering, Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 (Currently in Beta 2 – download here!) and our future offering, Windows Server Virtualisation, is centred around the use of our VHD (.vhd) file format, or Virtual Hard Disk, if we remove the acronym.  Now, Customers who invest the .vhd file format – the format used by Virtual Server, as well as a multitude of vendor licensees - will have a clear path forward to Windows Server virtualisation.  Customers can also work with Microsoft’s partners who provide solutions to conveniently migrate from VMware to Windows Server Virtualisation.  No problems hey!

You may be thinking, well, what benefits will Windows Server Virtualization offer customers that they can’t already get now from VMware or Xen?  Virtualisation is a key stepping stone for customers toward dynamic systems that are independent of physical resources.   Customers need virtualisation solutions that are secure, interoperable, manageable, supported, as well as appropriate licensing policies.  Microsoft’s strategy is to address all of these needs and Windows Server virtualisation is a key element of that strategy. Windows Server virtualisation is designed to provide integrated virtualisation capabilities to Windows customers. Windows Server virtualisation and the System Center product family will provide the most integrated, comprehensive and cost-effective virtualisation solution for customers. The result will be a highly efficient and secure virtualisation capability that will act as a building block for managing the next-generation datacenter. We believe the combination of virtualisation platform and management capabilities can deliver business agility, dynamic resource usage and higher levels of efficiency.

Do you want to learn more about the Hypervisor?  What about the Virtualisation roadmap?  Or, are you just curious about Virtual Server?  Well, you can find a wealth of information over at the Events webpage.

If you want to see Windows Server Virtualisation in action, stream the WinHEC demo.  Jump to the 15 minute mark to see the Hypervisor, and Windows Server Virtualisation in action.

  • Now we all know one of the key benefits of virtualisation is the consolidation of hardware, or, put another

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