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Microsoft Hyper-V – In the Shade of VMware

Microsoft Hyper-V has for years held second place on the list of hypervisors, beaten only by VMware products. There’s no indication that it will catch up with the leader, what’s more it has to work hard to keep ahead of closing competitors.

Microsoft Hyper-V: eternal runner-up

Microsoft is the second largest player on the server virtualization software market. Nothing lasts forever though. While there’s a safe distance between VMware and Microsoft, the group chasing the runner-up seems to be pretty close behind.

Interesting data on the topic is supplied by the results of the survey ‘Server Virtualization Trends Q1 2020’ conducted by Open Virtualization Pro. 14.2% of respondents declared that they use Hyper-V, while VMware solutions are used by 25.8%, KVM (Legacy) by 12.2% and Ovirt by around 10.8%. What Microsoft might be worried about is another report on plans to implement new virtualization software. Importantly, 34.6% of respondents intend to change or implement new software, of whom 21.1% prefer VMware, 21.2% Ovirt, and 15.8% choose containerization software. Microsoft pales in comparison, with only 5.3% thinking of installing Hyper-V.

Scalable, fast and universal

Hyper-V first appeared along with the release of Windows Server 2008, and then in subsequent editions of server operating systems. The company has continually developed the Hyper-V platform with every iteration of the Windows Server system. A modified version of the Hyper-V hypervisor is what powers the backend of the Azure Infrastructure-as-a-Service platform. Hyper-V also appears in the 64-bit Pro and Enterprise versions of Windows 8, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. In addition, Microsoft makes the Hyper-V Server available as a free stand-alone solution.

Hyper-V is a type 1 hypervisor that works directly on hardware and under the host and guest’s virtual machine. The features of Hyper-V, as well as the fact that it is designed and maintained by Microsoft, allow it to be used as a virtualization platform for practically any organization wishing to expand its IT infrastructure.

Hyper-V uses hypervisor architecture with a microkernel, in which services and device drivers work independently of the hardware layer. This design means that Hyper-V has a lighter workload related to maintaining and managing devices and services that are not dependent on a hypervisor.

The result is a virtualizor that is fast and scalable as it not only has direct access to hardware, but also does not need to load drivers and services during initialization. Hyper-V saves guests’ virtual machines on a virtual hard drive and uses a high-level communication protocol called Enlightened I / O to access physical processing, mass storage and network and graphics components.

Clash of the Titans: Hyper-V or vSphere?

When choosing a hypervisor, many firms face a dilemma – vSphere or Hyper-V? Naturally, both solutions have their strong and weak points, which is why the implementation decision should take into consideration the specific IT environment.

According to the Open Virtualization Pro survey quoted earlier, when asked about the criteria for choosing virtualization software, as many as 39% of respondents put stability in first place. This was followed by price (26.5%), and ease of use (15.5%). Taking into consideration the key selection criteria, that is stability, we can safely put an equal sign between the VMware and Microsoft virtualizors.

vSphere has for years enjoyed high recognition among administrators, and complaints about the quality of its operation are extremely rare. Microsoft is also constantly developing the Hyper-V platform with every iteration of the Windows Server platform. A modified version of the Hyper-V hypervisor is what powers the backend of the Azure Infrastructure-as-a-Service platform.

It is hard, therefore, in this case to talk about instability. As usual when comparing products, it is price that arouses the highest emotions. Here it is also difficult to point to a clear favorite. The reason it isn’t so simple is that the implementation costs for both platforms vary considerably depending on the version. What’s more, they are calculated in a different way.

VMware charges a fee for the processor, and the Hyper-V price depends on the number of cores on the host. To summarize, for larger companies the VMware price structure seems to be more beneficial, while for smaller organizations it might be more cost-efficient to create a virtualized environment based on Hyper-V.

However, it is also worth noting that VMware supports more operating systems, including Windows, Linux, Unix and macOS. On the other hand, Hyper-V support is limited to Windows and several others, including Linux and FreeBSD. If a user needs broader support, especially in the case of older operating systems, VMware is a good choice. However, if mainly Windows virtual machines are used, Hyper-V is a suitable alternative.

It is also difficult to single out a clear winner in the category of scalability. Some functions are to the advantage of VMware, others put Hyper-V as the favorite. For example, while VMware can use more logical processors and virtual processors on the host, Hyper-V can fit more physical memory on the host and the virtual machine. What’s more, it can support more virtual processors on the virtual machine.

Hyper-V – what about that backup?

Microsoft provides native backup capabilities in the form of Windows Server functions. Organizations must consider, however, whether this type of backup meets their actual requirements. Windows Server Backup enables the creation of backup for virtual machines working in the Hyper-V environment. Unfortunately, there are also serious limitations that do not appear in commercial backup applications. For example, it is possible to restore individual virtual machines, but you cannot perform a detailed file and folder restore on the same machine. In the best scenario, the user will be able to restore the virtual hard drive in a different location, install it and then open the files it contains.

Another serious limitation is performing backup according to a schedule or ad hoc. The lion’s share of the latest commercial backup products are designed for continuous data protection. These products perform data backup continuously throughout the day rather than rely on the older backup model consisting, for example, of performing nighttime backups. It must be added that Windows Server allows backup to be carried out every half an hour.

Finally, commercial backup products are more flexible in terms of using a variety of hardware for backup. Most products of this type support backup on disks, tapes and in the cloud. Windows Server backup allows data backup to be performed on a dedicated hard drive, a dedicated volume or in a shared network, however it does not offer native support for tapes or the cloud.

Without a doubt, commercial backup products have considerably more functions than Windows Server Backup, and while the latter does enable backup of Hyper-V virtual machines, we recommend using commercial products. These provide a solution that is not only more convenient, but is also safer.

Pawel Maczka

text written by:

Pawel Maczka, CTO at Storware