Hyper-V hyped

Microsoft recently held a press event in London to bring us up to speed with various virtualisation-related technologies, and I have to confess they do seem to have just about every angle covered. I’ve made my view very clear that 2008 is the year virtualisation moves from niche to mainstream, and if you have plans over the next 12 months to deploy servers that don’t include a hypervisor you might want to stop and reconsider. Hypervisor-less servers will still have a role to play, but a niche one from now on (for example, super-high-speed database engines may still benefit from running on the bare metal).

Hyper-V hyped

One of the Softie attendees was my old chum James O’Neill, whose blog you can read at http://blogs.technet.com/jamesone. He works in the same general area of Microsoft UK as the delightful Eileen Brown and I love spending time with these chaps (Eileen is an honorary chap, having spent years on the high seas working container ships).

During the presentation on the Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisor (stupid name: we should call it SuperDuper just to embarrass the marketing droids), the licensing issue was raised, and it was correctly pointed out that if you have the Server Enterprise edition you can run the base OS plus four virtual machines on the same licence, giving you five Server Enterprise instances and a significant money saving. If you buy the Datacenter version, you can run unlimited virtual machines.

“Ah ha,” I interjected, “but this is just Microsoft buying market share, isn’t it?” James looked confused and asked what I meant. I said that the virtualisation licence was only valid fora base OS of the appropriate Windows Server version.

“No, no, no,” he replied, all agitated, then he zoomed off into the obscure depths of the Mothership website at microsoft.com and pointed me at this, which I hadn’t seen before: http://download.microsoft.com/download/7/a/a/7aa89a8b-bf4d-446b-a50c-c9b00024df33/Windows_Server_2003_R2.docx

Of course, we don’t expect you to type in all that. Just go to www.pcpro.co.uk/links/163sr to download it. I suggest you do so, though, because it makes it perfectly clear that Microsoft doesn’t care what base OS you use for hypervisor: your four VM licences for Enterprise Server are valid whether you’re hosting on VMware, Zen or anything else.

Same goes for Datacenter. For all the attention Microsoft has drawn to this document, it may as well have been locked in a filing cabinet, inside a disused lavatory, with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the leopard”. Knowing this considerably softens my view of Microsoft’s VM licensing. So thanks, James.

Then I asked about the Hyper-V Server edition, which turns out not to be just Windows Server 2008 plus Hyper-V but something completely different. Details are still sketchy, but the best guess is that it’s Server Core cut down further still to expose almost no interfaces except those needed to load the hypervisor. Whispers have reached my ear that this could even be the fabled new Windows 7 microkernel, the first public showing of which will be in the Hyper-V Server product later this year. I’m not even sure we’ll see Hyper-V Server when the Hyper-V additions for Windows Server 2008 are completed in a few months.

What else was shown? Well, the SoftGrid product is emerging from the shadows, and it’s a technology I definitely must get running on my server farm. SoftGrid delivers applications on the fly, so their code runs on the desktop machine but the app is never actually installed there – after it closes, the application is removed entirely, leaving the desktop’s configuration untouched. There’s no need to install any apps on the desktop, just publish them from the SoftGrid server.

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