Server 2012 R2

Some of the new great features in Hyper-V 2012 R2

Generation 2 VMs

Traditional VMs emulate hardware such as the Network cards IDE/SCSI controllers, video cards etc. With the introduction of Serve 2012 R2 Microsoft have introduced generation 2 VMs which utilise a brand new architecture whereby the VM will utilise the traditional hardware of the host server without having to emulate the devices. This opens the door to a number of new features such as secure boot and booting off virtual SCSI etc. This is limited to 64 bit Windows 8 or Server 2012 guest VMs and not supported with server 2008 or windows 7 VMs.

Virtual Machine direct connect

Before Hyper-V 2012 to remotely connect to a running guest VM you would have to RDP to the guest in question. This would require that the guest VM in question has an NIC and IP address configured that you can reach. Now with the release of Hyper-V 2012 R2 Microsoft have introduced another method with does not require this and would enable you to remotely manage your VMs that as yet are not live on your network with an IP address. This is an interesting feature which you would connect via the VMbus to manage such VMs.

Extend Replication

While the replica feature in 2012 was a great addition for implementing DR scenarios for your virtual infrastructure Microsoft have now gone a step further in Server 2012 R2. You now have the option to have a third replica which in essence means you can have store one copy onsite and push another of the same VM offsite.

Replica intervals

In Hyper-V 2012 replication intervals could not be changed and were set at 15 minutes. So even if you had the supporting hardware and network speed you could not reduce this or also have the freedom to extend it to a higher interval. In Hyper-v 2012 R2 you now have the freedom to select replication intervals of 30 seconds, 5 minutes and 15 minutes. Furthermore this will work with an intermittent connection as Hyper-V will watch for 12 missed cycles before it deems failed and thus with the 15 minute interval you can have up to 3 hours of network downtime until it switches to a failed state.

Compression for Quicker migration

Microsoft have introduced 2 new features that you can select to make Migration of VMs faster over the network by compressing the data being transmitted. Obviously compressing the data will have an impact on processing so you will need to ensure that your hypervisor has the resources available to do this. The other option is via SMB Direct where by the memory of the VM being migrated is copied over using SMB. Microsoft recommend when using the latter option that you have 10GB NICs at each end for better performance otherwise the first option to compress the transmitted data.
Live Exporting and Cloning of VMs
In Hyper-V 2012 you would have to power off a VM you would wish to clone or export which in a productive environment can be a difficult task especially if the role in which it is hosting is in constant demand. Now in 2012 R2 Microsoft have enabled a feature which will allow you to backup/export/clone a running VM. This is an amazing new feature and will no doubt make a lot of sys admins very happy.

Resizing VHDX drives online

With Hyper-V 2012 R2 we now have the freedom to expand/reduce the size of a guest VMs VHDX drive without having to shut the machine down. Bear in mind that this can only be done assuming that the guest VM in question was configured to use a VHDx format virtual disk and not the older VHD format drives.

Storage QoS

This feature enables one to limit the amount of Disk I/O by limiting the minimum/maximum amount of IOPS each guest VM can peak. This is especially useful when you have a guest VM that is running a disk I/O hungry application that could potentially cause other guest VMs on the same hypervisor to run poorly due to all the resources being absorbed by this disk hungry VM in question.
These are some of the new features for Hyper-V 2102 R2 and we can appreciate how Virtualisation is developing in the IT world. As the virtualisation technology continues to develop we system admins are going to appreciate this technology more and more. No more worrying about tape and bare metal restore backup scenarios we will be in a world where everything is in a virtualised state and can quickly be backed up and restored to another hypervisor


Introduction to Virtualisation in the world of computing.

In the past 5 years server virtualisation has become an increasingly popular choice over several physical servers per each role. For example if one was to have An active directory, file server and Exchange server before the days of virtualisation you would (in a best practice scenario) require at least 2 servers. Now with the ever expanding virtualisation technology you can host all 3 server in their own virtual instance (guest machines) on the one physical server (Host or Hypervisor).

Back in 2006 when VMware released their VMware server formally known as GSX server (now branded as ESX) this was a big leap for most IT professionals and business to switch to. This was mostly due to the uncertainty in the technology and its reliability; furthermore the cost of hardware was a lot more than it is now. Now, however as technology has evolved and processing speed and data storage exponentially increases the justification to utilise a virtual infrastructure is much more appealing and cost effective.

There are a wide range of hypervisors to choose from but the 3 biggest players are VMware ESX, Citrix XEN and Microsoft Hyper-v. Both ESX and XEN run on a Linux based platform and are managed using a client which would be installed on another server/pc and Hyper-V is managed via the server on the windows GUI application. Fundamentally the procedures in creating and managing the virtual machines is the same through their propriety management application but each have their own advantages over one another. If you have never had or required the opportunity to use or experiment with virtual servers then I would suggest getting started with Hyper-V which can simply be added as a role to your server 2008/2012 installation. You will also need to ensure that your CPU supports virtualisation and is also enabled for virtualisation in the BIOS.

When server 2008 was released Microsoft also introduced “Virtual licences” which in a nut shell means that when you purchase server 2008 Standard you can install the media on the physical hardware as you would, then you have the right to run another virtual instance of server 2008 Standard within Hyper-V on that server. The CD label has 2 CD keys, one for the physical server and the other for your virtual guest. Assuming your physical servers hardware is good enough you can effectively use this virtual server for another role that you might want to have on a separate box without paying for additional hardware and an additional Windows server license. Since the release of Server 2012 Microsoft have increased the number of virtual instances you can activate on the same physical hardware from 1 to 2 and thus allowing you to run 3 instances of Server 2012 Standard (1 physical and 2 virtual on the same physical hardware).

With the technology of virtualisation it brings another great advantage with how companies plan their disaster recovery scenario. Now as their business critical servers are hosted as a virtual instance on a physical hypervisor it makes the availability to back-up and restore full VMs a breeze. For instance let’s assume you have a couple of physical servers in your comms room that need to be backed up each night. Depending on the types of backups you have planned for in your DR strategy and if you have chosen data level or a full bare metal restore procedure you will find yourself having to either source new hardware to restore the image to or reinstalling the operating from scratch then restoring the data. However in a virtual environment there are a vast number of methods or third party software (such as Veeam) which you can use to simply take a full back up each night of the whole VM at that time. To restore one of these VMs if for example there was a corruption or you managed to destroy something on the production VM you would simple restore that whole VM back to the live Hypervisor and start it up. Furthermore if the whole hypervisor failed you could quickly install the hyper-v role on another server (assuming it has enough resources) or even a high spec workstation then restore your VMs and start them up in the interim until you get the defective server operational again. Once this server is operational again you can simply move the productive VMs over from the “temporary” hypervisor back to the primary.

Another advantage of virtualisation is the use of snap shots which enable you to take a “picture” of how the server was at that exact time and allow you to revert to that snapshot in the future. A good example when one would use this is if you wanted to install some new software on a server and want the flexibility to revert back to this point if the installation fails or the software inevitably breaks something.