Microsoft Hyper-V a wait-and-see proposition

Hyper-V is cheap and almost ready, but it might be best to wait out any bugs.

Windows Server 2008 is, quite officially now, here. And accompanying virtualization hypervisor Hyper-V is on the way. But hold off on that rush to the checkout line.

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Sure, Server 2008 is a fairly safe bet and Microsoft's sell on the ultra-cheap (some would say free) Hyper-V makes for an enticing proposition.

But caution should abound, with experts on the company suggesting a waiting and testing period before using Hyper-V.

"It's first-generation code," argued Michael Cherry, lead Windows analyst at Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft. "Customers have to take a much different and much more conservative approach when they look at this."

That's all the more important in the midmarket, Cherry said, where any hidden problems with Hyper-V could have serious ramifications. Microsoft's impending release of Hyper-V represents a shift in the company's virtualization strategy. Instead of running within an operating system, as Microsoft Virtual Server does, Hyper-V runs directly on top of the server, ostensibly leading to better performance. Analysts at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. predict Microsoft will soon discontinue Virtual Server.

"I don't want to imply in any way that they're not competent, but the IT staff [in the midmarket] is probably stretched to the limits," Cherry said. "Do you want to be running your production code on a first-generation hypervisor?"

No. At least, that's the answer from Thomas Coleman, chief information and process officer at Sloan Valve Co., a Franklin Park, Ill.-based manufacturer of sink and bathroom fixtures with about 600 employees. Coleman runs a fairly dedicated Microsoft shop, using Redmond-born operating systems, database management systems, clustering and Microsoft Office products -- but he won't take Hyper-V blind.

"When it comes to new products, we take a conservative road with Microsoft," Coleman said. "They try and sell us things as if they work fully and have compatibility with other products. They often do not."

It will be Version 2 before Coleman considers Hyper-V or Windows Server 2008 for his IT department.

Do you want to be running your production code on a
first-generation hypervisor?

Michael Cherry
lead Windows analystDirections on Microsoft
That could be a little while. Microsoft is promising Hyper-V six months after Windows Server 2008 hits. Cherry, who once worked at the company, said he believes Microsoft will meet that target for release. A beta version will ship with Windows Server 2008. Microsoft has attempted to sweeten the deal by pricing Hyper-V versions of Server 2008 at only $28 above those without the virtualization option. Hyper-V will also be available as a standalone purchase.

That puts Windows Server 2008 Standard at $999, with Hyper-V and five licenses. Windows Server 2008 Enterprise will be $3,999 with 25 licenses and Windows Server 2008 Datacenter will be $2,999 per processor.

Of course, there will be other virtualization options for Windows Server 2008. And CIOs wanting to skip over Hyper-V to employ other virtualization products will have to be prepared to justify the purchase to their superiors, Cherry said, what with Microsoft making Hyper-V so cheap.

So when can Coleman and others employing cautious anticipation feel safe to step in?

About a year from now, analysts at Gartner say.

"Our general recommendation for new technology is to 'go slow,'" analysts John Enck and Thomas Bittman wrote in a report late last year. "In this case, we strongly suggest that you test Hyper-V in the lab and then try it out in test and development roles before considering production deployments."

Enck and Bittman emphasize that Hyper-V's performance is dependent on Windows Server 2008 -- more reason for caution.

That's where Cherry branches off. He says there is no reason for Windows Server 2003 users not to start switching over to Windows Server 2008 at their earliest convenience. Acknowledging that as the complete opposite of the advice he offers concerning Hyper-V, he termed Windows Server 2008 as "evolutionary," more in line with a very significant update to a properly functioning product.

So he doesn't expect any major issues to come up with the server itself, Cherry said. In fact, he said cash-strapped midmarket IT departments in particular should take a good look at the Windows Server Core included with Windows Server 2008. Server Core is an option that essentially allows IT staff to run a minimal server installation like an Active Directory Server or domain name server with only the most necessary parts of the server OS.

That means working without a graphical user interface, but it also "theoretically should require less patching" and offer improved security, Cherry said. It will also require less administrative oversight once it's running.

Cherry said the Server Core's reduced demand on the actual server will allow IT departments to use older servers that were on the way to the dump or recycling center.

"They might be able to stretch a couple more years out of it," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Zach Church, News Writer

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