Tag Archives: hyper-v

No more infrastructure roles for Windows Nano Server, and why I still like Server Core

Microsoft’s General Manager for Windows Server Erin Chapple posted last week about Nano Server (under a meaningless PR-speak headline) to explain that Nano Server, the most stripped-down edition of Windows Server, is being repositioned. When it was introduced, it was presented not only as a lightweight operating system for running within containers, but also for infrastructure roles such as hosting Hyper-V virtual machines, hosting containers, file server, web server and DNS Server (but without AD integration).

In future, Nano Server will be solely for the container role, enabling it to shrink in size (for the base image) by over 50%, according to Chapple. It will no longer be possible to install Nano Server as a standalone operating system on a server or VM. 

This change prompted Microsoft MVP and Hyper-V enthusiast Aidan Finn to declare Nano Server all but dead (which I suppose it is from a Hyper-V perspective) and to repeat his belief that GUI installs of Windows Server are best, even on a server used only for Hyper-V hosting.

Prepare for a return to an old message from Microsoft, “We recommend Server Core for physical infrastructure roles.” See my counter to Nano Server. PowerShell gurus will repeat their cry that the GUI prevents scripting. Would you like some baloney for your sandwich? I will continue to recommend a full GUI installation. Hopefully, the efforts by Microsoft to diminish the full installation will end with this rollback on Nano Server.

Finn’s main argument is that the full GUI makes troubleshooting easier. Server Core also introduces a certain amount of friction as most documentation relating to Windows Server (especially from third parties) presumes you have a GUI and you have to do some work to figure out how to do the same thing on Core.

Nevertheless I like Server Core and use it where possible. The performance overhead of the GUI is small, but running Core does significantly reduce the number of security patches and therefore required reboots. Note that you can run GUI applications on Server Core, if they are written to a subset of the Windows API, so vendors that have taken the trouble to fix their GUI setup applications can support it nicely.

Another advantage of Server Core, in the SMB world where IT policies can be harder to enforce, is that users are not tempted to install other stuff on their Server Core Domain Controllers or Hyper-V hosts. I guess this is also an advantage of VMWare. Users log in once, see the command-line UI, and do not try installing file shares, print managers, accounting software, web browsers (I often see Google Chrome on servers because users cannot cope with IE Enhanced Security Configuration), remote access software and so on.

Only developers now need to pay attention to Nano Server, but that is no reason to give up on Server Core.

Microsoft Hyper-V vs VMWare: is System Center the weak point?

The Register reports that Google now runs all its cloud apps in Docker-like containers; this is in line with what I heard at the QCon developer event earlier this year, where Docker was the hot topic. What caught my eye though was Trevor Pott’s comment comparing, not Hyper-V to VMWare, but System Center Virtual Machine Manager to VMWare’s management tools:

With VMware, I can go from "nothing at all" to "fully managed cluster with everything needed for a five nines private cloud setup" in well under an hour. With SCVMM it will take me over a week to get all the bugs knocked out, because even after you get the basics set up, there are an infinite number of stupid little nerd knobs and settings that need to be twiddled to make the goddamned thing actually usable.

VMWare guy struggling to learn a different way of doing things? There might be a little of that; but Pott makes a fair point (in another comment) about the difficulty, with Hyper-V, of isolating the hypervisor platform from the virtual machines it is hosting. For example, if your Hyper-V hosts are domain-joined, and your Active Directory (AD) servers are virtualised, and something goes wrong with AD, then you could have difficulty logging in to fix it. Pott is talking about a 15,000 node datacenter, but I have dealt with this problem at a micro level; setting up Windows to manage a non-domain joined host from a domain-joined client is challenging, even with the help of the scripts written by an enterprising Program Manager at Microsoft. Of course your enterprise AD setup should be so resilient that this cannot happen, but it is an awkward dependency.

Writing about enterprise computing is a challenge for journalists because of the difficulty of getting hands-on experience or objective insight from practitioners; vendors of course are only too willing to show off their stuff but inevitably they paint with a broad brush and with obvious self-interest. Much of IT is about the nitty-gritty. I do a little work with small businesses partly to get some kind of real-world perspective. Even the little I do is educational.

For example, recently I renewed the certificate used by a Microsoft Dynamics CRM installation. Renewing and installing the certificate was easy; but I neglected to set permissions on the private key so that the CRM service could access it, so it did not work. There was a similar step needed on the ADFS server (because this is an internet-facing deployment); it is not an intuitive process because the errors which surface in the event viewer often do not pinpoint the actual problem, but rather are a symptom of the problem. It does not help that the CRM Email Router, when things go wrong, logs an identical error event every few seconds, drowning out any other events.

In other words, I have shared some of the pain of sysadmins and know what Pott means by “stupid little nerd knobs”.

Getting back to the point, I have actually installed System Center including Virtual Machine Manager in my own lab, and it was challenging. System Center is actually a suite of products developed at different times and sometimes originating from different companies (Orchestrator, for example), and this shows in lack of consistency in the user interface, and in occasional confusing overlap in functionality.

I have a high regard for Hyper-V itself, having found it a solid and fast performer in my own use and an enormous advance over working with physical servers. The free management tool that you can install on Windows 7 or 8 is also rather good. The free Hyper-V server you can download from Microsoft is one of the best bargains in IT. Feature-wise, Hyper-V has improved rapidly with each new release and it seems to me a strong offering.

We have also seen from Microsoft’s own Azure cloud platform, which uses Hyper-V for virtualisation, that it is possible to automate provisioning and running Hyper-V at huge scale, controlled by easy to use management tools, either browser-based or using PowerShell scripts.

Talk private cloud though, and you are back with System Center with all its challenges and complexity.

Well, now you have the option of Azure Pack, which brings some of Azure’s technology (including its user-friendly portal) to enterprise or hosting provider datacenters. Microsoft needed to harmonise System Center with Azure; and the fact that it is replacing parts of System Center with what has been developed for Azure suggests recognition that it is much better; though no doubt installing and configuring Azure Pack also has challenges.

My last reflection on the above is that ease of use matters in enterprise IT just as it does in the consumer world. Yes, the users are specialists and willing to accept a certain amount of complexity; but if you have reliable tools with clearly documented steps and which help you to do things right, then there are fewer errors and greater productivity. 

My last server? HP ML310e G8 quick review

Do small businesses still need a server? In my case, I do still run a couple, mainly for trying out new releases of server products like Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012, Exchange and SharePoint. The ability to quickly run up VMs for testing software is of huge value; you can do this with just a desktop but running a dedicated hypervisor is convenient.

My servers run Hyper-V Server 2012 R2, the free version, which is essentially Server Core with just the Hyper-V role installed. I have licenses for full Windows server but have stuck with the free one partly because I like the idea of running a hypervisor that is stripped down as far as possible, and partly because dealing with Server Core has been educational; it forces you into the command line and PowerShell, which is no bad thing.

Over the years I have bought several of HP’s budget servers and have been impressed; they are inexpensive, especially if you look out for “top value” deals, and work reliably. In the past I’ve picked the ML110 range but this is now discontinued (though the G7 is still around if you need it); the main choice is either the small Proliant Gen8 MicroServer which packs in space for 4 SATA drives and up to 16GB RAM via 2 PC3 DDR3 DIMM slots and support for the dual-core Intel Celeron G1610T or Pentium G2020T; or the larger ML310 Gen8 series with space for 4 3.5" or 8 small format SATA drives and 4 PC3 DDR3 DIMM slots for up to 32GB RAM, with support for the Core i3 or Xeon E3 processors with up to 4 cores. Both use the Intel C204 chipset.

I picked the ML310e because a 4-core processor with 32GB RAM is gold for use with a hypervisor. There is not a huge difference in cost. While in a production environment it probably makes sense to use the official HP parts, I used non-HP RAM and paid around £600 plus VAT for a system with a Xeon  E3-1220v2 4-core CPU, 32GB RAM, and 500GB drive. I stuck in two budget 2Tb SATA drives to make up a decent server for less than £800 all-in; it will probably last three years or more.

There is now an HP ML310e Gen 8 v2 which might partly explain why the first version is on offer for a low price; the differences do not seem substantial except that version 2 has two USB 3.0 ports on the rear in place of four USB 2.0 ports and supports Xeon E3 v3.

Will I replace this server? The shift to the cloud means that I may not bother. I was not even sure about this one. You can run up VMs in the cloud easily, on Amazon ECC or Microsoft Azure, and for test and development that may be all you need. That said, I like the freedom to try things out without worrying about subscription costs. I have also learned a lot by setting up systems that would normally be run by larger businesses; it has given me better understanding of the problems IT administrators encounter.

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So how is the server? It is just another box of course, but feels well made. There is an annoying lock on the front cover; you can’t remove the side panel unless this is unlocked, and you can’t remove the key unless it is locked, so the solution if you do not need this little bit of physical security is to leave the key in the lock. It does not seem worth much to me since a miscreant could easily steal the entire server and rip off the panel at leisure.

On the front you get 4 USB 2.0 ports, UID LED button, NIC activity LED, system health LED and power button.

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The main purpose of the UID (Unit Identifier) button is to help identify your server from the rear if it is in a rack. You press the button on the front and an LED lights at the rear. Not that much use in a micro tower server.

Remove the front panel and you can see the drive cage:

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Hard drives are in caddies which are easily pulled out for replacement. However note the “Non hot plug” on these units; you must turn the server off first.

You might think that you have to buy HP drives which come packaged in caddies. This is not so; if you remove one of the caddies you find it is not just a blank, but allows any standard 3.5" drive to be installed. The metal brackets in the image below are removed and you just stick the drive in their place and screw the side panels on.

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Take the side panel off and you will see a tidy construction with the 350w power supply, 4 DIMM slots, 4 PCI Express slots (one x16, two x8, one x4), and a transparent plastic baffle that ensures correct air flow.

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The baffle is easily removed.

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What you see is pretty much as it is out of the box, but with RAM fitted, two additional drives, and a PCIX USB 3.0 card fitted since (annoyingly) the server comes with USB 2.0 only – fixed in the version 2 edition.

On the rear are four more USB 2.0 ports, two 1GB NIC ports, a blank where a dedicated ILO (Integrated Lights Out) port would be, video and serial connector.

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Although there is no ILO port on my server, ILO is installed. The luggage label shows the DNS name you need to access it. If you can’t get at the label, you can look at your DHCP server and see what address has been allocated to ILOxxxxxxxxx and use that. Once you log in with a web browser you can change this to a fixed IP address; probably a good idea in case, in a crisis, the DHCP server is not working right.

ILO is one of the best things about HP servers. It is a little embedded system, isolated from whatever is installed on the server, which gets you access to status and troubleshooting information.

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Its best feature is the remote console which gives you access to a virtual screen, keyboard and mouse so you can get into your OS from a remote session even when the usual remote access techniques are not working. There are now .NET and mobile options as well as Java.

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Unfortunately there is a catch. Try to use this an a license will be demanded.

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However, you can sign up for an evaluation that works for a few weeks. In other words, your first disaster is free; after that you have to pay. The license covers several servers and is not good value for an individual one.

Everything is fine on the hardware side, but what about the OS install? This is where things went a bit wrong. HP has a system called Intelligent Provisioning built in. You pop your OS install media in the DVD drive (or there are options for network install), run a wizard, and Intelligent Provisioning will update its firmware, set up RAID, and install your OS with the necessary drivers and HP management utilities included.

I don’t normally bother with all this but I thought I should give it a try. Unfortunately Server 2012 R2 is not supported, but I tried it for Server 2012 x64, hoping this would also work with Hyper-V Server, but no go; failed with unattend script error.

Next I set up RAID manually using the nice HP management utility in the BIOS and tried to install using the storage drivers saved to a USB pen drive. It seemed to work but was not stable; it would sometimes fail to boot, and sometimes you could log on and do a few things but Windows would crash with a Kernel_Security_Check_Failure.

Memory problems? Drive problems? It was not clear; but I decided to disable embedded RAID in the BIOS and use standard AHCI SATA. Install proceeded perfectly with no need for additional drivers, and the OS is 100% stable.

I did not want to give up RAID though, so wondered if I could use Storage Spaces on Hyper-V Server. Apparently you can. I joined the Hyper-V Server to my domain and then used Server Manager remotely to create a Storage Pool from my pair of 2TB drives, and then a mirrored virtual disk.

My OS drive is not on resilient storage but I am not too concerned about that. I can backup the OS (wbadmin works), and since it does nothing more than run Hyper-V, recovery should be straightforward if necessary.

After that I moved across some VMs using a combination of Move and Export with no real issues, other than finding Move too slow on my system when you have a large VHD to copy.

The server overall seems a good bargain; HP may have problems overall, but the department that turns out budget servers seems to do an excellent job. My only complaint so far is the failure of the storage drivers on Server 2012 R2, which HP will I hope fix with an update.

Hyper-V 2012 R2 Live Migration Hands On

I have two servers running Hyper-V, which I have just upgraded to Hyper-V Server 2012 R2.

I thought it was time to test live migration. I have a VM which runs ISA server 2004. It is connected to two virtual switches, one for the internal network, and one for the external network. Both servers have two identically named virtual switches.

I ran into all the errors. First, I just checked the box for Enable incoming and outgoing live migrations for Hyper-V on each box.

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Then I tried to move the VM. I got the error described here: The credentials supplied to the package were not recognized.

I am not using System Center VMM (Virtual Machine Manager) but just the Hyper-V manager. However it put me on the right track. To have any hope of success with this when working remotely (and who isn’t?) you need to go into the Advanced Features of Hyper-V Live Migration settings and check the box for Use Kerberos:

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Next, you have to go into Active Directory and set up Delegation using Kerberos for several services: cifs, and Microsoft Virtual System Migration Service. There is a screengrab in the comments here. Do this for both (or all) the servers you want to participate in Live Migration.

I retried the move. Still no go; I got a General Access Denied error 0×80070005 when the source server tried to create a temp folder on the destination server.

The fix, it turned out, was to add the domain administrator to the local Hyper-V group Hyper-V Administrators. You can do this with PowerShell as explained (in generic terms) here.

Then reboot the source server.

I retried the move operation. It worked.

The funny thing: all my internet traffic goes through this VM. I use the internet constantly, but did not notice any downtime as the VM moved from one host to the other.

When I remembered I checked and found that the VM had indeed moved.

Very cool.

My question though: why is it that getting this stuff working always seems to involve several steps (in this case Active Directory, Advanced Feature settings, and of course reboot) that are barely documented?

Why can’t some wizard check the settings for you when you enable Live Migration and offer to fix them or at least tell you what to do?

Nevertheless, once you get it working this is impressive, especially considering that I have no shared storage nor System Center VMM.

Upgrading Hyper-V Server 2012 to 2012 R2: minor hassles

I have a couple of servers running Hyper-V Server, the free version of Microsoft’s hypervisor.

Hyper-V Server R2 is now available with some nice improvements. I tried an in-place upgrade. You do this by running setup from within a running instance of the server. This did not work when going from 2008 to 2012, but I am glad to report that it does work for 2012 to 2012 R2:

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You will need to make sure that all the VMs are shut down before you run the upgrade. Otherwise you get a message and the upgrade fails:

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In my case the upgrade was smooth and not too lengthy. However I was warned that because I use a pass-through drive in one VM, that this might cause a problem. It did, and the VM failed to start after the upgrade:

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The fix was trivial: remove the pass-through drive and then add it back. After that the VM started.

Then I hit another problem. Although my VMs had started, they had no network connectivity, even after I upgraded the integration components. These VMs run Server 2008 R2, in case that makes a difference (I doubt it). The virtual switch still showed in Hyper-V settings but no traffic passed through to the VMs.

I tried two solutions. Removing the NIC from the VM and re-adding it made no difference (and this is also a poor solution since you then have to reconfigure the NIC in the VM). However deleting the virtual switch and replacing it with a new one of the same name and configuration was successful. The virtual NICs then have to be reconnected to the new virtual switch, but this is painless.

The UI for the new version looks exactly the same as before. However the Windows version number has changed from 6.2.9200 to 6.3.9600, so you can verify that the OS really was upgraded:

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Is it better to avoid in-place upgrades? A clean upgrade is safer, if you do not mind exporting and re-importing the VMs, or moving them all to another host, before the upgrade. On the other hand, with the upgrade cycle now faster than before, in-place upgrade makes sense as a way of keeping pace with little pain.

Fixing slow network or wi-fi in Windows 8 with Hyper-V

I had an annoying problem with my Samsung Slate running Windows 8. I use it while traveling, and every time I connected to a different wi-fi network, or even woke it from sleep while on the same network, I would get several minutes pause while Windows tried access the network. During this time, applications like Internet Explorer and Outlook might freeze and show “not responding” messages. Patience was rewarded though, and eventually the network kicked into life and everything worked normally. Until next time.

This is annoying so what is the reason and the fix? The high level view is this:

  1. When you enable Hyper-V in Windows 8 it makes changes to your networking, including creating virtual Ethernet adapters, and unbinding TCP/IP from the physical adapter. If you install the Windows Phone emulator you also get a virtual Ethernet adapter. If you have wi-fi you also get a Network Bridge.
  2. The consequence of (1) is that networking might not work so reliably after Hyper-V is enabled.

The high-level answer then is to remove Hyper-V. That works, but you might want to use Hyper-V, so better still is to fix the problem.

The answer seems to be in a hidden dialog. To get to it, open Control Panel and search for Network , click View network connections. This will show all the stuff Hyper-V has created. Now press the Alt key on the keyboard to show the Advanced menu, and select Advanced settings.

NOTE: if you have a slate without a physical keyboard, this menu is doubly difficult to find. The Windows 8 touch keyboard has no Alt key. Microsoft decided it was more important to have a Smiley key, and could not fit in both. The fix is to go into Change PC Settings – General and enable “Make the standard keyboard available”. It is still not that easy to display the Advanced menu in Network Connections, but it can be done.

Here is the dialog:

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Now, if you have the problem with slow networking, you will probably find (as I did) that there is an Internal virtual Ethernet adapter, bound to TCP/IP, listed above the external virtual Ethernet adapter. The internal network cannot connect to the internet:

The Internal type is not bound to a physical network adapter. It is typically used to build a test environment where you want to connect to the virtual machines from the host operating system, but do not want to allow virtual machines on the host to communicate with external networks.

It is plausible that if the internal network has priority over the external network, Windows will struggle to connect to the Internet.

I changed this so that the external virtual Ethernet adapter, bound to TCP/IP, comes at the top.

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This has helped with my problem, though there is still a bit of uncertainty about how to optimise the settings in this dialog. What about the Provider Order, what is the correct setting? Should the Microsoft Remote Desktop Session Host Server Network Protocol really come first in the list, as per the default?

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Someone asked on the official forum and did not get an answer. I suggest you leave well alone unless you know better, but would be interested in someone has informed guidance.

Finally, note that if you create a new virtual adapter in Hyper-V settings, you may need to revisit the binding order.

I have never come across this issue on Windows Server, though in principle it might be the same. Odd.

Updated with instructions for enabling the standard keyboard layout.

Microsoft takes aim at VMware, talks cloud and mobile device management at MMS 2013

I am attending the Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas (between 5 and 6,000 attendees I was told), where Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of Windows Server & System Center, gave the opening keynote this morning.

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There was not a lot of news as such, but a few things struck me as notable.

Virtualisation rival VMware was never mentioned by name, but frequently referenced by Anderson as “the other guys”. Several case studies from companies that had switched from “the other guys” were mentioned, with improved density and lower costs claimed as you would expect. The most colourful story concerned Dominos (pizza delivery) which apparently manages 15,000 servers across 5,000 stores using System Center and has switched to Hyper-V in 750 of them. The results:

  • 28% faster hard drive writes
  • 36% faster memory speeds
  • 99% reduction in virtualisation helpdesk calls

That last figure is astonishing but needs more context before you can take it seriously. Nevertheless, there is momentum behind Hyper-V. Microsoft says it is now optimising products like Exchange and SQL Server specifically for running on virtual machines (that is, Hyper-V) and it now looks like a safe choice, as well as being conveniently built into Windows Server 2012.

I also noticed how Microsoft is now letting drop some statistics about use of its cloud offerings, Azure and Office 365. The first few years of Azure were notable in that the company never talked about the numbers, which is reason to suppose that they were poor. Today we were told that Azure storage is doubling in capacity every six to nine months, that 420,000 domains are now managed in Azure Active Directory (also used by Office 365), and that Office 365 is now used in some measure by over 20% of enterprises worldwide. Nothing dramatic, but this is evidence of growth.

Back in October 2012 Microsoft acquired a company called StorSimple which specialises in integrating cloud and on-premise storage. There are backup and archiving services as you would expect, but the most innovative piece is called Cloud Integrated Storage (CiS) and lets you access storage via the standard iSCSI protocol that is partly on-premise and partly in the cloud. There was a short StorSimple demo this morning which showed how how you could use CiS for a standard Windows disk volume. Despite the inherent latency of cloud storage performance can be good thanks to data tiering, which puts the most active data on the fastest storage, and the least active data in the cloud. From the white paper (find it here):

CiS systems use three different types of storage: performance-oriented flash SSDs, capacity- oriented SAS disk drives and cloud storage. Data is moved from one type of storage to another according to its relative activity level and customer-chosen policies. Data that becomes more active is moved to a faster type of storage and data that becomes less active is moved to a higher capacity type of storage. 

CiS also uses compression and de-duplication for maximum efficiency.

This is a powerful concept and could be just the thing for admins coping with increased demands for storage. I can also foresee this technology becoming part of Windows server, integrated into Storage Spaces for example.

A third topic in the keynote was mobile device management. When Microsoft released service pack 1 of Configuration Manager (part of System Center) it added the ability to integrate with InTune for cloud management of mobile devices, provided that the devices are iOS, Android, Windows RT, or Windows Phone 8. A later conversation with product manager Andrew Conway confirmed that InTune rather than EAS (Exchange ActiveSync) policies is Microsoft’s strategic direction for mobile device management, though EAS is still used for Android. “Modern devices should be managed from the cloud” was the line from the keynote. InTune includes policy management as well as a company portal where users can install corporate apps.

What if you have a BlackBerry 10 device? Back to EAS. A Windows Mobile 6.x device? System Center Configuration Manager can manage those. There is still some inconsistency then, but with iOS and Android covered InTune does support a large part of what is needed.

Microsoft’s growth areas: Azure, Server with Hyper-V, Office 365, Windows Phone

Microsoft has left slip a few figures in posts from PR VP Frank Shaw and platform evangelist Steve Guggenheimer.

Observers have tended to focus on Windows “Blue” and what is happening with Microsoft’s core client operating system, but what caught my eye was a few figures on progress in other areas.

  • Windows Azure compute usage doubled in six months
  • Windows Azure revenue growing 3X
  • Office 365 paid seats tripled year on year last quarter
  • Server 2012 Datacenter edition licenses grown 80%

A notable feature of these figures is that they are relative, not absolute. Office 365 is a relatively new product, and Windows Azure (from what I can tell, since Microsoft did not release numbers) performed rather badly until its renaissance in early 2011 under Satya Nadella, Scott Guthrie and others – see here for more about this). It is easy to post big multiples if you are starting from a small base.

This is real progress though and my guess is that growth will continue to be strong. I base this not on Microsoft’s PR statements, but on my opinion of Office 365 and Windows Azure, both of which make a lot of sense for Microsoft-platforms organisations migrating to the cloud.

Why the growth in Server 2012 Datacenter? This one is easy. Datacenter comes with unlimited licenses for Windows Server running in Hyper-V virtual machines on that server, so it is the best value if you want to the freedom to run a lot of VMs, especially if some of those VMs are lightly used and you can afford to overcommit the processors (you need a new license for every two physical processors you install).

Here’s another figure that Shaw puts out:

Windows Phone has reached 10 percent market share in a number of countries, and according to IDC’s latest report, has shipped more than Blackberry in 26 markets and more than iPhone in seven.

Spin, of course. This February report from IDC gives Windows Phone just a 2.6% market share in the 4th quarter of 2012. Still, it did grow by 150% year on year, thanks no doubt to Nokia’s entry into the market.

My personal view is that Windows Phone will also continue to grow. I base this on several things:

  • I see more Windows Phones on the high street and in people’s hands, than was the case a year ago.
  • Windows Phone 8 is decent and the user interface is more logical and coherent than Android, which mitigates a lack of apps.
  • Nokia is bringing down the price for Windows Phone devices so they compare well with Android in the mid-market below Apple and the premium Android devices.
  • There is some momentum in Windows Phone apps, more so than for Windows 8. Guggenheimer notes that downloads from the Phone Store now exceed 1 billion.

The context of the above is not so good for Microsoft. It is coming from behind in both cloud and mobile and the interesting question would what kind of market share it is likely to have in a few years time: bigger than today, perhaps, but still small relative to Amazon in cloud and Apple and Android in mobile.

There is also the Windows 8 problem. Many prefer Windows 7, and those who use Windows 8, use it like Windows 7, mostly ignoring the tablet features and new Windows Runtime personality.

How will Microsoft fix that? Along with leaked builds of Windows Blue, Microsoft has announced the next Build conference, which will be in San Francisco June 26-28, 2013 (I am glad this will not be on the Microsoft campus again, since this venue has not worked well). There is a lot to do.

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Microsoft’s Hyper-V Server 2012: too painful to use?

A user over on the technet forums says that the free standalone Hyper-V is too painful to use:

I was excited about the free stand-alone version and decided to try it out.  I downloaded the Hyper-V 2012 RC standalone version and installed it.  This thing is a trainwreck!  There is not a chance in hell that anyone will ever use this thing in scenarios like mine.  It obviously intended to be used by IT Geniuses in a domain only.  I would really like a version that I can up and running in less than half an hour like esxi.  How the heck is anyone going to evaluate it this in a reasonable manner? 

To be clear, this is about the free Hyper-V Server, which is essentially Server Core with only the Hyper-V role available. It is not about Hyper-V in general as a feature of Windows Server and Windows 8.

Personally I think the standalone Hyper-V Server is a fantastic offering; but at the same time I see this user’s point. If you join the Hyper-V server to a Windows domain and use the administration tools in Windows 8 everything is fine; but if you are, say, a Mac user and download Hyper-V Server to have a look, it is not obvious what to do next. As it turns out you can get started just by typing powershell at a command prompt and then New-VM, but how would you know that? Further, if Hyper-V is not joined to a domain you will have permission issues trying to manage it remotely.

Install Hyper-V Server, and the screen you see after logging on does not even mention virtualization.

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By contrast, with VMWare’s free ESXi has a web UI that works from any machine on the network and lets you get started creating and managing VMs. It is less capable than Hyper-V Server; but for getting up and running quickly in a non-domain environment it wins easily.

I have been working with Hyper-V Server 2012 myself recently, upgrading two servers on my own network which run a bunch of servers for development and test. From my perspective the free Hyper-V Server, which is essentially Server Core with only the Hyper-V role available, is a great offer from Microsoft, though I am still scratching my head over how to interpret the information (or lack of it) on the new product page, which refers to the download as a trial. I am pretty sure it is still offered on similar terms to those outlined for Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 by Program Manager Jeff Woolsey, who is clear that it is a free offering:

  • Up to 8 processors
  • Up to 64 logical processors
  • Up to 1TB RAM
  • Up to 64GB RAM per VM

These specifications may have been improved for Hyper-V Server 2012; or perhaps reduced; or perhaps Microsoft really is making it a trial. It is all rather unclear, though I would guess we will get more details soon.

It is worth noting that if you do have a Windows domain and a Windows 8 client, Hyper-V Server is delightfully easy to use, especially with the newly released Remote Server Administration Tools that now work fine with Windows 8 RTM, even though at the time of writing the download page still says Release Preview. You can use Server Manager as well as Hyper-V Manager, giving immediate access to events, services and performance data, plus a bunch of useful features on a right-click menu:

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In addition, File and Storage services are installed by default, which I presume means you can use Storage Spaces with Hyper-V Server, which could be handy for hosting VMs with dynamically expanding virtual hard drives. Technically you could also use it as a file server, but I presume that would breach the license.

For working with VMs themselves of course you have the Hyper-V Manager which is a great tool and not difficult to use.

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The question then: with all the work that has gone into these nice GUI tools, why does Microsoft throw out Hyper-V Server with so little help that a potential customer calls it “too painful to use”?

Normally the idea of free editions is to entice customers into upgrading to a paid-for version. That is certainly VMWare’s strategy, but Hyper-V seems to be different. It is actually good enough on its own that for many users it will be a long time before there is any need to upgrade. Microsoft’s hope, presumably, is that you will run Windows Server instances in those Hyper-V VMs, and these of course do need licenses. If you buy Windows 8 to run the GUI tools, that is another sale for Microsoft. In fact, the paid-for Windows Server 2012 can easily work out cheaper than the free editions, if you need a lot of server licenses, since they come with an allowance of licenses for virtual instances of Windows Server. Hyper-V Server is only really free if you run free software, such as Linux, in the VMs.

Personally I like Hyper-V Server for another reason. Its restricted features mean that there is no temptation to run other stuff on the host, and that in itself is an advantage.

Upgrading to Hyper-V Server 2012

After discovering that in-place upgrade of Windows Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 to the 2012 version is not possible, I set about the tedious task of exporting all the VMs from a Hyper-V Server box, installing Hyper-V Server 2012, and re-importing.

There are many reasons to upgrade, not least the irritation of being unable to manage the VMs from Windows 8. Hyper-V Manager in Windows 8 only works with Windows 8/Server 2012 VMs. It does seem to work the other way round: Hyper-V Manager in Windows 7 recognises the Server 2012 VMs successfully, though of course new features are not exposed.

The export and import has worked smoothly. A couple of observations:

1. Before exporting, it pays to set the MAC address of virtual network cards to static:

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The advantage is that the operating system will recognise it as the same NIC after the import.

2. Remove any snapshots before the export. In one case I had a machine with a snapshot and the import required me to delete the saved state.

3. After installing Hyper-V 2012, don’t forget to check the date, time and time zone and adjust if necessary. You can do this from the sconfig menu.

4. The import dialog has a new option, called Restore:

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What is the difference between Register and Restore? Do not bother pressing F1, it will not tell you. Instead, check Ben Armstrong’s post here. If you choose Register, the VM will be activated where it is; not what you want if you mistakenly ran Import against a VM exported to a portable drive, for example. Restore on the other hand presents options in a further step for you to move the files to another location.

5. For some reason I got a remote procedure call failed message in Hyper-V Manager after importing a Linux VM, but then when I refreshed the console found that the import had succeeded.

6. Don’t forget to upgrade the integration services. Connect to the server using the Hyper-V Manager, then choose Insert Integration Services Setup Disk from the Action menu.

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Cosmetically the new Hyper-V Server looks almost identical to the old: you log in and see two command prompts, one empty and one running the SConfig administration menu.

Check the Hyper-V settings though and you see all the new settings, such as Enable Replication, Virtual SAN Manager, single-root IO virtualization (SR-IOV), extension support in a virtual switch, Live Migrations and Storage Migrations, and more.