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The things that are better left unspoken

a blog by Sander Berkouwer

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Setting the Record Straight One Post at a Time

Setting the Record Straight One Post at a Time ... That's the tagline of the Virtual Reality VMWare blog, but I don't think Eric Horschman did a good job in his blogpost where he compared VMWare's ESXi 3.5 and a Hyper-V enabled installation of Windows Server 2008 Server Core. His conclusions were:

  • Server Core is not "the Windows you know"
  • ESXi is faster and easier to deploy

Let's add a bit of nuance:

    

The Windows you know

Eric Horschman concludes Server Core is for experts only, since it lacks the Graphical User Interface and therefor is not "the Windows you know".

Graphical User Interface

Readers of this blog know Server Core has some Graphical User Interface to do familiar tasks, so the argument isn't a 100% argument. In the video the timezone and language settings weren't set or changed. These settings actually offer graphical elements.

Scripting

Furthermore Microsoft has introduced scripting questions in almost every exam it issued since the NT4 era. Since it's a bad idea to let non-Microsoft certified admins touch your Windows servers, you'll probably won't let non-Microsoft certified admins virtualize these server, now would you? These admins have at least a basic understanding of scripting in Windows. Most of the command line tools used to configure Server Core are commands introduced ages ago. Experienced Microsoft admins script a lot and are familiar with the netdom.exe, shutdown.exe and netsh.exe commands. They also know you can rename a computer and join it to a domain with only one reboot. (instead of two)

All-roundness

It's hard to find or make all-round admins. Admins tend to focus on one platform and try to excel on it, to make it worth their while. All-round admins with knowledge, experience and certification in Microsoft, Novell, Red Hat and VMWare products are hard to find or make. Virtualizing Windows Servers on VMWare products requires more knowledge of products, that most of the time look and feel nothing like Microsoft products. (especially under the hood)

Wizard

Of course VMWare has done a good job making ESXi 3.5 a product that is configurable using an easy wizard. You have to give them credit for making deployment as easy as that.

Microsoft doesn't have a nice wizard for Server Core, but is introducing one in Hyper-V Server, which is just around the corner. Guy Teverovski's CoreConfigurator is a good help too, although it has its rough edges and is officially unavailable due to Guy's former employer. (available unofficially here)

The problem with wizards however is how to change settings that aren't covered by the wizard? (partition sizes for example)

   

Easier and faster to deploy ESXi

The video shows ESXi goes from bare-metal to fully installed in one-third the time, half the mouse clicks, hundreds fewer keystrokes and just one reboot compared to Hyper-V's seven reboots. These seven reboots are:

  • Installation (2 reboots)
  • Change Hostname
  • Join Active Directory domain
  • Install Hyper-V RTM package
  • Install Hyper-V role (2 reboots)

Comparing a full-blown Operating System and an optimized Hypervisor seems this easy, but it's comparing apples and oranges. Comparing ESXi and Hyper-V Server (as suggested in the comments on the VMWare blog) will remain comparing apples and oranges.

VMWare ESXi

VMWare's ESXi 3.5 is a stand-alone hypervisor, optimized to virtualize high available workloads and work together with VMWare's Virtual Infrastructure.

Server Core

A Server Core installation of Microsoft Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V enabled roughly offers the same functionality, but also offers the benefits of a full Operating System. Drivers are mostly the same for Server Core installations and Full installations of Windows Server 2008, making Hyper-V run on far more hardware configurations. Other features offered are drive encryption (Bitlocker), SNMP, multiple remote management methods and integrated backup using shadow copies.

Hyper-V Server

Microsoft Hyper-V Server is an optimized version of a Server Core installation of Microsoft Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition. It offers the same benefits as a Server Core installation, but lacks high availability and is limited to 4 processor sockets, 32GB of RAM and 196 virtual machines.

Note:
Some features VMWare's products offer (notably Live Migration and Memory Overcommit) aren't available in Microsoft products yet.

In a table it looks like this:

Product Foot print Full OS installed High Availability Easy to deploy Free
VMWare ESXi 3.5 32 MB No Yes Yes Yes
Windows Server 2008 Server Core with Hyper-V Role enabled 2 GB Yes Yes No No
Hyper-V Server 1 GB Yes No Yes Yes

It looks like Microsoft will have two offerings to appeal to VMWare's ESXi audience. For people looking to deploy virtualization in a cost-effective and wizard driven way without fancy virtualization features, there's Hyper-V Server. For business interested in high available, but safe virtualization there's Server Core installations of Windows Server 2008.

  

Concluding

Letting a Windows Server 2008 Server Core installation compete with a VMWare ESXi installation... The two products are very different and comparing them merely displays a thorough misunderstanding of this fact.

Microsoft seems to be looking closely at every move by VMWare, and making up for misconceptions made in the past. Diversification of Hyper-V enabled products seems inevitable, targeted at possible VMWare ESXi audiences.

On a personal note

It's actually faster and easier to deploy Hyper-V than Eric wants you to believe: Using version 1.1 of the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) together with slipstreaming the Hyper-V updates and using one reboot to change the computername and join domain can elimate 3 of the 7 reboots and at least 15 minutes of time.

Note:
These changes have already been applied in the Hyper-V server media, which makes it more hypervisor-optimized, compared to a Server Core installation of Windows Server 2008 RTM.

Your opinion matters!

What's your opinion? Should I even comment on this kind of VMWare propaganda? Do you feel like Eric Horschman did a good job, being a Marketing Director? Do you feel I'm wrong in my nuances? Am I helping setting the record straight or do you feel I'm only a FUD-slinging Microsoft addict? Am I too late to the party? Do you think I'm obsessing on the technical details too much? Do you want to see a download link to my custom hypervisor-optimized Windows Server 2008 media? Do you want to see more posts like these? Leave a comment!

Related posts

Changing Server Core's Look and Feel, Part 1 
About Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 
How To install Hyper-V RTM on Server Core 

Further reading

Hyper-V with Server Core - Too Dry and Crunchy for our Taste 
VMware: Hyper-V on Server Core vs ESXi 
Evaluating Hyper-V with Server Core - VMware ESXi 3.5 
ESXi vs Hyper-V installation propaganda 
Hyper-V with Server Core - too hard for VMware to use? 
What’s the difference between free ESXi and licensed ESXi? 
Eric Horschman - LinkedIn
Server Core -- Too Dry and Crunchy ?
Hyper-V vs ESXi 
VMWare ESXi vs. Microsoft Hyper-V 
ESXi is currently easier to install then Hyper-v. 
Hyper-V - The Windows You Know and Love   
Deploying Windows Server 2008 with "slipstreamed" Hyper-V RTM. Part 1. 
Deploying Windows Server 2008 with "slipstreamed" Hyper-V RTM. Part 2.
TechNet Forums: Did anyone compare Hyper-V with ESXi? 
TechNet Forums: A brief architecture overview of VMware ESX, XEN and MS Viridian
TechNet Forums: What are the similarities between VMWARE and HYPER-V.

Posted: Tuesday, September 30, 2008 10:53 AM by Sander Berkouwer

Comments

mikedatl said:

"Comparing a full-blown Operating System and an optimized Hypervisor seems this easy, but it's comparing apples and oranges. Comparing ESXi and Hyper-V Server (as suggested in the comments on the VMWare blog) will remain comparing apples and oranges."

The whole premise of the video that Eric did was to address Microsoft's marketing of how easy and secure Server Core is, how it should be used for every Hyper-V installation, and how Server Core is the "Windows You Know". I think it did a good job of doing that. Yes, it would be nice to see this compared to Hyper-V Server. When it ships I'm sure we'll see that comparison. For now, we compare what's shipping since you can't install a roadmap (although Microsoft would have you think otherwise). I'm curious to see why people will still consider comparing Hyper-V Server to VMware ESXi would be apples to oranges. Is this because they're from 2 different companies? Is it because one has a legacy OS tied to it and the other does not? At least we can agree on one thing - Hyper-V != VMware ESX.

"A Server Core installation of Microsoft Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V enabled roughly offers the same functionality, but also offers the benefits of a full Operating System. Drivers are mostly the same for Server Core installations and Full installations of Windows Server 2008, making Hyper-V run on far more hardware configurations. Other features offered are drive encryption (Bitlocker), SNMP, multiple remote management methods and integrated backup using shadow copies."

Yes, Hyper-V will install on more hardware since it uses regular Windows drivers. I know some people have been disappointed they can't run VMware ESXi on their laptop or their $5 server they built with McDonald's Happy Meal parts. However, if you have a modern server built in the last 4 years and purchased from a mainstream OEM then ESXi is most likely (99%) certified to run on it. For the hobbyists out there I built a $500 server using parts from the local electronics store and it runs ESXi just fine as well.

The "other features offered" from the OS (SNMP, multiple remote management methods and integrated backup) are also available in the VMware offering. SNMP is there in every SKU (including the free one). Multiple management methods are there with the free VIrtual Center Client, Remote CLI, PowerShell, or the Perl/Java/.Net APIs. Integrated backup is also there in the Foundation SKU. Yes, the Foundation SKU costs money but if you're wanting to do on-line backups with Hyper-V Server then you need Data Protection Manager (part of Systems Center) to manage them and that costs money as well (we're still apples to apples).

"Letting a Windows Server 2008 Server Core installation compete with a VMWare ESXi installation... The two products are very different and comparing them merely displays a thorough misunderstanding of this fact."

Yes, the two products are different in how they implement things. It should be noted that Microsoft is comparing the two in every marketing slick they put out there. If you want I can forward you the last 10 PowerPoint presentations I've gotten while attending Microsoft events - all of them make these comparisons. And that brings us back to the purpose of the original VMware post - to correct this comparison. At least we both agree that the two are not the same. I guess we can leave it at that.

# October 1, 2008 4:07 AM

Sander Berkouwer said:

"When it ships I'm sure we'll see that comparison. For now, we compare what's shipping since you can't install a roadmap (although Microsoft would have you think otherwise)."

Gentlemen, start your engines!
Microsoft Hyper-V Server was released today.

Personally I think the longer VMWare (marketing) people wait comparing VMWare's current ESX(i) products with Microsoft's new Hyper-V server, the more suspicious VMWare is going to look in defending its diminishing technological advantage.

"... if you're wanting to do on-line backups with Hyper-V Server then you need Data Protection Manager (part of Systems Center) to manage them and that costs money as well"

System Center Data Protection Manager is not needed to make shadow copy backups of running virtual machines. Take a look at this post where I explain how to make backups in a Server Core installation of Windows Server 2008. (some problems with the VSS writer exist though)

System Center Virtual Machine Manager is an identical story: You can use this product (in Beta at the moment) to perform quick migration fail-over of virtual machines, but you don't need to. This functionality is already built into the Hyper-V Manager (for Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008) and through Hyper-V WMI and Powershell commands.

"Yes, the two products are different in how they implement things. It should be noted that Microsoft is comparing the two in every marketing slick they put out there."

In the Powerpoint slides I see I don't see ESXi being mentioned specifically. I see comparisons between VMWare's ESX 3.5 product and Microsoft's Hyper-V product, running on either a Full Installation or Server Core installation.

# October 1, 2008 2:09 PM
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