Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 Preview

After a frantic bit of airline-related stupidity consumed most of my Sunday, I arrived in San Francisco for VMWorld with the need to catch up. And not coincidentally, given the impending industry event being held by one of its most important competitors, what I discovered after logging on was that Microsoft had just released the latest version of its confusingly-named free virtualization product.

It's called Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 R2, and like its predecessor, it's a standalone version of the Hyper-V hypervisor server that also ships as part of the wider Windows Server platform. In R2 guise, Hyper-V Server picks up some astonishing capabilities, especially for a free product. And if you're looking for conclusive proof that Microsoft is serious about wresting control of the virtualization market away from VMWare, this is it.

You may recall my travails with the original version of Hyper-V Server 2008 last October. (See Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly for more information.) I noted that its cryptic text-based UI "makes Server Core look like a rich interactive video game by comparison," and bemoaned its requirement that you could only manage the server remotely, and then only after satisfying a poorly-documented set of steps.

With Hyper-V Server 2008 R2, things are looking up. Yes, the server still uses a unique, command line-based local admin tool, now renamed to Server Configuration. And yes, you still need to perform basic virtualization tasks remotely, from GUI tools on a different server or PC. But the underlying capabilities of this server have improved so much that I'm somewhat willing to overlook this. With only a few exceptions, Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 is technically the match for its powerful Windows Server 2008 R2-based brethren.

Most impressively, perhaps, Hyper-V 2008 R2 picks up Live Migration (and Quick Migration) capabilities. Its predecessor had no virtual machine migration capabilities at all, not even Quick Migration (which was a feature of the Hyper-V version in the original Windows Server 2008).

On the scalability front, Hyper-V 2008 R2 picks up the most important hardware capabilities of the Hyper-V version in Windows Server 2008 R2 as well. It supports up to 8 physical processors, just like Server 2008 R2 Enterprise, and up from 4 in the original Hyper-V Server. It supports up to 24 processor cores, up from 16 in Hyper-V 1.0, or 25 in Hyper-V 1.0 with SP2. Memory? You can add up to 1 TB of RAM, up from 32 GB in Hyper-V 1.0. Just like Windows Server 2008 R2.

Additionally, Hyper-V 2008 R2 now supports up to 384 running virtual machines, up from 192 in Hyper-V 1.0. Just like Windows Server 2008 R2.

These capabilities are astonishing and they're only slightly undone by the fact that Hyper-V 2008 R2 retains the same lousy text-based Server Configuration front-end that dogged its predecessor. As before, you must bring up the server locally and then configure a few simple options via what is essentially a batch file script. (Interestingly, the Server Core install of Windows Server 2008 R2 also offers this UI as an option, albeit in slightly modified form.)

Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 R2
Server Configuration is the only local UI you get with Hyper-V Server 2008 R2.

The text-based UI has been updated slightly. You can now configure clustering, for example. But the best option might be the one that prevents Server Configuration from starting in the first place.

But now that Hyper-V Server is more of a known quantity--it was just released when I reviewed it last year and Microsoft admitted that the documentation, such as it was at the time, was lacking. This time around, there should be much fewer issues.

Then again, maybe not. When I went to download the Remote Server Administration Tools so I could manage Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 from Windows 7, the Microsoft-supplied URL came up lame. I'll try again later, and of course will evaluate this server more closely once I'm back from VMWorld.

Update: The correct URL for the Remote Server Administration Tools is now available.

An edited version of this article also appears in the September 1, 2009 issue of Windows IT Pro UPDATE. --Paul