Virtual Cloud Strategy

ESXi is Hyper-V; Management Isn't

Hear this, Hyper-V deniers: The hypervisor you hate is the hypervisor you love.

Indeed, Hyper-V and ESXi are produced by different companies. The features they offer are different in name, if evermore similar in function. Their market share and IT embrace are also unalike, even as the percentages grow closer together.

Strip away the marketing fluff, peel back the crust from years of contentious debate, and today's unbiased eye will be hard pressed not to find striking similarities.

ESXi has long been lauded as an almost "appliance operating system." Its console offers a GUI-less, text-oriented experience. Its installation requires little more than a hostname, disk configuration, and a few network settings. Once connected, the bulk of its management occurs with its vSphere management platform. Configurations set in that studio are relayed to ESXi hosts where actions are ultimately executed.

Delivering ESXi updates is another activity best done through vSphere. Updates there are collected, bundled, and scheduled for installation on awaiting hosts. Running virtual machines are evacuated before hosts get rebooted, preserving uptime for their mission-critical workloads.

But wait, you already know this story. Now hear another.

Hyper-V installed onto a Server Core installation of Windows Server 2012 is also almost an "appliance operating system" -- when the manufacturer recommendations are followed and Hyper-V stands alone. Hyper-V's Server Core console offers a GUI-less, text-oriented experience, and an installation that requires little more than hostname, disk configuration, and a few network settings.

Once connected, the bulk of Hyper-V management occurs with its Virtual Machine Manager 2012 studio. Configurations set in VMM 2012 are relayed to Hyper-V hosts where actions are ultimately executed.

One can install Hyper-V updates manually, but doing so isn't a best practice. VMM 2012 in combination with Microsoft's WSUS collects, bundles, and schedules update installations on awaiting hosts. While many Windows updates require a reboot, VMM automatically evacuates running VMs to preserve uptime for mission-critical workloads.

Sound similar? It should. Today's hypervisors have become a commodity. It's their management tools that demand your attention.

We make this comparison to bring an end to a trend. On alternating days we two have been labelled VMware fanboys and Microsoft shills. Over the years we've been accused of all manner of dark agreements with one company or the other.

In reality, we're simply tired of the hypervisor war, the "you must pick a side" presumption that's plagued our industry for far too many years. We believe the best virtual strategy (and, these days, cloud strategy) is an unbiased look across the range of technologies to find the one -- or more than one -- that best fits business needs. We further believe that the hypervisors' longstanding vitriolic war has unnecessarily forced many people down a less-than-optimal path.

Notably, though, a sea change is afoot. An important tenet in our mindset evolution is IT's collective conscious beginning to separate "the hypervisor" from "tools that manage the hypervisor". This is a good thing.

That's because the hypervisor itself is long past interesting; it's become a utility. You can find evidence of this by skimming articles in any virtualization-related magazine or sessions at this year's conferences. The conversation on hypervisors has suddenly ceased to be.

Replacing it is something more valuable. The sex in virtualization today lies in its management studio, the extended portfolio of tools that facilitate automation in operating our virtual and cloud-enabled environments.

Critically important to recognize is that that studio is no longer vSphere and VMM alone. Fully benefitting from your virtual investment requires a far more diverse toolset. You need tools that monitor behaviors, tools that deliver configurations both onto and inside VMs, not to mention tools that orchestrate all the little business rules of your particular environment.

You also need administrators who are willing to use those tools.

The virtual environment that pays dividends is one that's moved beyond merely virtual machines. Replacing that early focus on VMs is a new emphasis one step higher on IT services and IT service delivery.

This extended management portfolio now exists and is becoming impressively mature. Microsoft delivers automation via its extended System Center suite: Operations Manager, Configuration Manager, Orchestrator, and others integrate together to fulfill all the functions IT services require. VMware's vCloud and vCenter Operations Management suites offer a similar and yet different toolset for managing one's workloads, VMs, and services.

Today's hypervisor has become a commodity, just like physical servers did a generation ago. Those servers are simply workhorses, driving whatever IT services run atop their hardware.

It's the management that matters.

About the Authors

Greg Shields is a senior partner and principal technologist with Concentrated Technology. He also serves as a contributing editor and columnist for TechNet Magazine and Redmond magazine, and is a highly sought-after and top-ranked speaker for live and recorded events. Greg can be found at numerous IT conferences such as TechEd, MMS and VMworld, among others, and has served as conference chair for 1105 Media’s TechMentor Conference since 2005. Greg has been a multiple recipient of both the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional and VMware vExpert award.

Don Jones is a 12-year industry veteran, author of more than 45 technology books and an in-demand speaker at industry events worldwide. His broad technological background, combined with his years of managerial-level business experience, make him a sought-after consultant by companies that want to better align their technology resources to their business direction. Jones is a contributor to TechNet Magazine and Redmond, and writes a blog at ConcentratedTech.com.

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