Q&A: Microsoft Virtualization, Part 1

Ben Armstrong, a.k.a. "Virtual PC Guy," discusses the past, present and future of Microsoft virtualization.

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Contributing Editor Paul Schnackenburg recently had a long interview with Microsoft's top virtualization guy, Ben Armstrong. Some of that interview was included in the December print issue of the magazine, but much of it couldn't be included, due to the space limitations of print. But there are no such limitations online, so I've decided to divide up the interview into more bite-sized chunks here, so you can get the full flavor of what Armstrong says about virtualization, VMware, containers, Azure and more. Future editions will be coming out all this week. Note that I've done some very minor editing, for clarity. -- Keith Ward, editor in chief.

Paul Schnackenburg: What are the most important new features coming in Hyper-V in Windows Server 2016?

Ben Armstrong: That's always the worst question because I love all the features. I love all my children equally and I start giving this list and then I think of other ones and I'm, "Oh but this and, oh but that."  Off the top of my head, the work we're doing around Virtual TPM and Shielded Virtual Machine, we see that as a crucial long term strategy play. We've actually been working on this for a number of years. We started working on it right after we shipped Windows Server 2012, and the thing that excites me most about that technology is worldwide we have a whole bunch of users who aren't using public cloud, aren't using hosted cloud, either because they don't trust it or more frequently because they have government and regulatory compliance that stops them from doing that.

Now, whenever I've talked with those customers to date, the attitude of those customers has always been that "This is a political problem, it's not a technical problem, it's not something that you, Mr. Engineer at Microsoft, can solve." And with Shielded Virtual Machine we're trying to come out and say, actually we can solve this, we can build a technical solution where you can take your workload, move it to a public cloud or hosted cloud in a way that meets all the requirements and regulations of your industry, or the government, and so on.

So our expectation is that's going to really unblock a lot of people from moving to public and hosted cloud components. So that's a big one.

Then kind of going to the other end of the spectrum, and I don't know if you've seen the What's New in Hyper-V session I'm doing, but there's so many features I struggle to do it in an hour; so going less for the important but kind of my favorites … one is PowerShell Direct. It is just amazing, and the sorts of automation and deployment and build ... and we have features like this in every release. This is one of those features where we had the user data to say that this was a good thing to do. We kind of sketched it out on the whiteboard and we planned it out and we're like, "OK, this looks like a good thing," and then once we'd built it, well, oh my goodness, this is amazing!

And the entire development team has fallen in love with it and we use it a lot, and all the demos that I do, they're all built using PowerShell Direct and so on. So last week we had the MVP Summit and I did a session for the Windows Server MVPs there.

The title I gave this session was "Hold My Beer While I Build the Data Centre." What I had was a single laptop with dual SSD, 32 GB of RAM, running the latest build of Windows 10 and using a combination of nested virtualization, PowerShell Direct and Nano Server and, of course, Windows Server containers. I basically started this session, hit go on a button and the demo started with three files: the script, an ISO and a WIM file. I hit go, and spent 80 minutes talking about what on earth was happening on the screen behind me.

At the end of 80 minutes, I'd stood up the domain with two domain controllers, a DHCP Server, a management console, a 4-node Storage Spaces Direct plus an 8-node Hyper-V cluster.

On the Hyper-V cluster I'd then stood up 16 virtual machines to act as container hosts, and in each container host I'd stood up four websites running in containers, all completely automated in 80 minutes. And that just wouldn't have been possible without PowerShell Direct, so it's amazing what it enables.

The third thing is geekier and esoteric. The work that we're doing with ReFS [Resilient File System], I'm so excited because we've been talking about ReFS for a while now and really ... and I mean this is the problem when you're working on a new technology to replace an existing one, is that for the last two releases ReFS has been more of an academic exercise.

PS: Very much so.

BA: We've been saying like one day Johnny is going to grow up and achieve great things, but we haven't had much that we can point to and say this.  And the stuff that we're doing in Windows Server 2016 around VHD creation, VHD merge and starting to use some of the intelligence of ReFS. One: I'm super happy to finally have that. Two: I just think it's insanely cool and, Three: when we go out with Server 2016 we are going to be making a big push to say "Hey, your storage where you store your VHDs should be in a ReFS volume." So we're happy to be able to do that.

I mean, from the engineering side, for the last two releases, as we've been building, one of the questions we've had is, Will we be able to recommend ReFS as the default storage for VHDs? In the last two releases we've come back and said No, it's not ready. Windows Server 2016 is the first time we're going to be able to say ReFS, is the fastest and the most reliable option.

About the Author

Paul Schnackenburg has been working in IT for nearly 30 years and has been teaching for over 20 years. He runs Expert IT Solutions, an IT consultancy in Australia. Paul focuses on cloud technologies such as Azure and Microsoft 365 and how to secure IT, whether in the cloud or on-premises. He's a frequent speaker at conferences and writes for several sites, including Find him at @paulschnack on Twitter or on his blog at


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