Mark Minasi on Server 2012 R2 in Another Light

In a recent Learn iT! roundtable discussion it was casually mentioned that Microsoft seemed to be making a major play toVMware_target compete with VMware in the virtualization space. Just a few days later, technology guru and thought leader Mark Minasi released his highly touted newsletter making much the same claim!

Here are some highlights of Mark's authoritative thoughts on the subject:

When I first looked at Windows Server 2012, I was overwhelmed by the wealth of goodies and so completely missed this:

Server 2012 has essentially just one reason for existence:  to make you want to and be able to build a high-availability virtual infrastructure that is similar feature-wise to but cheaper than VMWare.

(Okay, that's an exaggeration, but just a small one. 2012 is one big missile aimed at VMWare, and it's got several subsystems.)

The Hyper-V hypervisor gives you all of the DataCenter Server features in the $882 Standard SKU. High availability requires clusters, and that used to mean Enterprise Server, an iSCSI infrastructure and more than likely an expensive SAN.

No longer! Server 2012 R2 lets you skip the SAN, buy a cheap "JBOD"-type drive enclosure, hang it on a couple of Standard Server boxes to make a "Storage Space" (their word for their basic SAN software), get a few 56 gigabit/second RDMA boards and run them between the Hyper-V hosts and the Storage Spaces machines. You’ll quickly have a pretty fast, relatively inexpensive setup that offers speed, flexibility and high availability.

Besides the big chunks there -- Storage Spaces, the various improvements to Hyper-V (detailed below) and the ability to run clusters atop cheaper Standard Server -- you soon start to notice that at least 85 percent of the "all new" stuff in 2012 just plays into the "build a big virtual infrastructure" store.

So why 2012 R2?  They take all the cool "build a data center on the cheap" features of 2012 and ladle a little caramel and whipped cream on top.

Here are some of the enhancements to Hyper-V in Server 2012 R2:

  • Live Migration over RDMA.  Live Migration -- Hyper-V's answer to VMWare's VMotion -- is a great tool but the sheer amount of data that's got to be transferred between the source and destination VMs means that a migration can take over a minute.  By exploiting RDMA boards and 12R2's built-in compression, you can get that down to six seconds.  Nope, I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it.
  • Automatic activation of VMs under Datacenter.  Windows activation is that constant annoyance for us all, but inasmuch as the Datacenter license lets you run as many VMs as you like on a given Datacenter machine, 12R2 will somehow automatically activate 12R2 guests under 12R2 Hyper-V.  Just a bit less administration to hassle with.
  • Merge checkpoints on a running system.  I've not done much with checkpoints -- that's the Hyper-V word for "snapshots," in case you didn't know -- and 12R2's Hyper-V can now merge them without having to shut down the whole virtual machine.

I’m already getting excited for the release of Windows Server 2012 R2 - you can download the evaluation previews here for yourself!

Mark Minasi's full article can be found here.

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MinasiMark Minasi is a best-selling author, popular technology columnist, commentator, keynote speaker, and IT consultant.