Hyper-V: plotting a new path to virtualisation

Article Aidan Finn Nov 16th 2012

The latest version of Hyper-V bundled with WIndows Server, offers a compelling choice to firms looking for a new approach to virtualisation

The newest version of Microsoft machine virtualisation product, Hyper-V, is included with Windows Sever 2012 (WS2012). Hyper-V first made its appearance with Windows Server 2008, made a leap forward with Windows Server 2008 R2, and evolved with Service Pack 1 for Windows Server 2008 R2. The focus was on machine virtualisation and getting more from less. Hyper-V in WS2012 has leaped forward. The amount of new functionality is staggering. Microsoft refers to this release of Server as a cloud operating system, and Hyper-V is the basis of this “built from the cloud up” platform.

Introducing Hyper-V
Hyper-V is a virtualisation hypervisor used to create software-based virtual machines that will share hardware, referred to as a host.  Machine virtualisation reduces the cost of purchase and ownership of running a computer room or data centre.  A trait of virtualisation is that the virtual machines are abstracted from the hardware; virtual machines are usually just a collection of files using simulated hardware.  Unlike a traditional server installation, there is no dependency on a single piece of hardware.  Files are easy to move, backup, and replicate, and this is also true of virtual machines.

Hyper-V received a lot of criticism as a virtualisation platform when it was first released. It fared poorly as a virtualisation product when compared with competitors on a feature-by-feature basis.  Windows Server 2008 R2 resolved much of that and Hyper-V was seen as a product that offered great value, enabling organisations to do most of what was needed.  Microsoft aimed to create something that was game-changing with WS2012 and offer the market a genuine leading alternative to the legacy incumbent. 

The emergence of cloud computing in the data centre (private cloud), the service provider, (public cloud), and even both together (hybrid cloud), has changed how IT must design infrastructures to deliver services to their clients.  Traditional machine virtualisation restricts what can be done because it was never intended to be used in a cloud.  Microsoft used its experience as a cloud service provider (Windows Azure, Office 365, Bing, and so on), the feedback from customers, and created a new cloud optimized operating system in WS2012.

The emergence of cloud computing in the data centre, the service provider, and even both together has changed how IT must design infrastructures to deliver services to their clients

Small and medium businesses were not forgotten;  new functionality was included in the new version of Hyper-V that will make adoption of virtualization, seamless and more affordable.

The changes in WS2012 Hyper-V can be summarised into several categories:

  • Networking: improvements to Hyper-V and WS2012 networking that enable new scenarios
  • Storage: WS2012 has pushed the limits of storage and created a new storage platform that we can use for Hyper-V
  • Clustering: High availability (HA) has never been more scalable, secure and accessible to all business types and sizes
  • Microsoft has looked beyond virtualisation: improvements to Hyper-V that take virtualisation as it existed, to the next level, addressing virtualization across compute, storage and networking.
  • Embracing the cloud: WS2012 Hyper-V has been engineered to be the compute platform of a cloud

Windows Server 2012 includes a lot of new features to enable you to create more powerful, flexible, and manageable virtual networking and cloud fabrics.

The most significant change in Hyper-V networking is the new Extensible Virtual Switch. This is a layer 2 virtual device that connects virtual network cards to networks. The device offers functionality such as port mirroring and trace logging for diagnostics, Port ACLs for network isolation, and VLAN support for virtual machines.

While the virtual switch is quite powerful by itself, Microsoft made it possible for certified partner extensions to be added to the switch to inject additional functionality.

  There are three kinds of extension that can be added:

  • A capture extension, such as InMonSFlow, gives you advanced monitoring of network traffic from within the virtual switch.
  • Using a filter extension, such as 5nine Agentless Security Manager, it’s possible to do everything that a capture extension can do including network security (advanced firewalling) in the virtual switch.
  • A forwarding extension is the most powerful of the 3 filter types. This type of filter, such as Cisco Nexus 1000v or NEC OpenFlow for Hyper-V, can make the virtual switch appear as another kind of switch to a management application. For example, the Cisco Nexus 1000v makes the Hyper-V virtual switch manageable by Cisco management software and adds Cisco functionality to Microsoft virtual networking.

Instead of creating a “disposable switch”, Microsoft made the Hyper-V virtual switch extensible. This means that it’s possible to accumulate extensions on a switch to use features from different vendors while retaining the Microsoft provided functionality. Only one forwarding extension can be used at a time.