Last week, I and one of the guys in the department had the chance to attend an event that demoed VMWare 4 and Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V. Many thanks to the people at Nexus in Exeter (http://www.nexusopensystems.co.uk/) that hosted the event, especially Gary that did the demos.
The presentations were quite straight forward. The first session was VMWare and we were shown the installation process starting right from the bare metal server. The actual installation process was Linux based and took about 20 minutes on releatively low spec machines. Once it was all up and running, we had the chance to see some virtual servers being created – literally just a matter of a few minutes work. We also discussed the switching process and the various options, and briefly saw how to create virtual switches.
There was a bit of a discussion about the merits of the VMWare product – how it allows you to “overload” by selecting options for the virtual servers such as levels of RAM that total up to more than the physical amount actually available. I would want to check this out for myself, but it certainly seemed to run OK.
We then discussed clustering and resiliance and the demo that followed showed a high definition media file being moved from one virtual server to another – the file ran constantly during the move and there was not even a slight pause during the process. Really impressive! Certainly, this would be of significant value in a situation where you are having to move production data when people are still working on it.
The demo actually ran over a bit as we were really interested in the product and had several questions to ask about various aspects – and Gary was only too pleased to show us the various bits in response. There is no question that it is an awesome product.
We then had the chance to see Hyper-V in action and for me it was the first chance I’ve had to look at this. We have Windows Server 2008, but not the R2 version which contains the hypervisor. The main difference between the two is that the VMWare hypervisor sits above the hardware and handles all of the driver requirements. Hyper V sits at the same level as the OS, just above the hardware, but each virtual server will handle it’s own drivers seperately. It also doesn’t allow overloading of resources – once you hit the limit, that’s it.
From what we saw, the Hyper V runs well – certainly it provided a smooth experience whilst we were watching it and the test moving the media file ran pretty much the same. There were a few diffences in the way that the virtual networking operates, but certainly it seems to run as we had expected. It definitely doesn’t have all the functionality of VMWare, but then there is a price difference – it’s a lot cheaper.
I’ve been looking at this now for a few months (in between other jobs) and I’m convinced that virtualisation is the way to go. It will certainly cut costs in terms of the electric bill, and it will also fit very nicely into our backup process / business continuity / disaster recovery planning. About half of our servers will reach 5 years old next year, so it seems a good time to start planning a move over to a virtualised system.
We have had a couple of visits to different vendor demos and they have been really useful. Although nothing has been decided, we are leaning towards the Dell Equalogic equipment – it seems to be everything that we could want and a bit more. The big issue of course is what software to run on the servers which is why we wanted to get to the event in Exeter. Howevever, I still not sure which one I think is the best option for us.
I’ve therefore planned that in the new year, say Jan / Feb 2010, we will get ourselves a spare server – there are plenty of cheap machines around at the moment. There is a trial version of VMWare available and of course, the Technet subscription allows us to install an evaluation copy of Server 2008 R2. Hopefully, this will gives us the chance to actually work with both products so that we can get a really good idea of which one we prefer – all we then have to do then is sell it to the powers that be!