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Windows 8 and Hyper-V 3.0: Are They Game Changers?

The answer to that question is, "Perhaps." Let's go through the benefits and then I would love to hear your comments and insights.

But first, why I'm writing this blog: About a year ago I blogged about Windows 8 and Hyper-V 3 in InformationWeek. I was discussing news that leaked from a French source about upcoming features. And then last week, more news was leaked about Windows build 7989, which showed Hyper-V 3.0 in the Windows Features section of the product. This is exciting on many levels, and it reinforces the excitement I and others have been “drumming” about for a while now that type-1 client hypervisors will change the desktop and laptop market for better and forever.

Windows 8 will leverage a technology, codenamed "MinWin," that was introduced with Windows Vista. MinWin is slated to replace the parent partition approach that Hyper-V currently uses on the server side. MinWin is a very thin layer of software that installs on bare metal and occupies a footprint smaller than Windows Core. MinWin will also shake off the resource hog that is the Windows Shell and will have the bare necessities to run the hypervisor. MinWin will have the following benefits:

  • A true type-1 client hypervisor means you can host multiple VMs on the same client device including Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 or 8 and maybe even Windows Mobile. The last one would be cool if you could run Windows Mobile Phone and its apps on your client device.
  • The removal of the parent partition reduces the attack surface on the hypervisor, rendering it BIOS-like.
  • A client hypervisor significantly reduces deployment, troubleshooting and repair time for laptops and desktops
  • As Windows 8 begins to ship, type-1 client hypervisors will become standard on desktops and laptops with a single VM being deployed across different hardware profiles.

And that's not all. Also leaked was information on App-V, which will have tight integration with Windows 8, thereby, further reinforcing the notion of application virtualization. What would be exciting is if we could run App-V applications directly on the hypervisor without requiring a VM in the middle. This would be wishful thinking, of course, considering the registry and other DLLs that MinWin may or may not support without a VM. What I am asking for most likely requires applications to be written specifically for the hypervisor rather than traditional Windows.

Also rumored is a new virtual disk, to debut with the extension of .vhdx with capacity limitation greater than the 2TB limit at which .vhd is currently capped.

What is Microsoft trying to accomplish? Well, it's trying to hit many targets at once when it releases Windows 8. Microsoft desperately needs to do something to boost Hyper-V's value proposition. If the features leaked are real, those features are significant and serve Microsoft's purpose to boost Hyper-V's value very well. Microsoft has historically always won back a technology in which it trails by leaning on its traditional stranglehold of client devices. If Microsoft can trigger mass adoption of Windows 8's client hypervisor, that will inevitably lead to winning back marketshare on the server side. It's an approach that Microsoft has been successful with against Novell.

What will be the effect on Citrix? Bittersweet. On the one hand, the mass adoption of type-1 client hypervisors is a sweet spot for Citrix, considering its relationship with Microsoft and the fact that it is virtually a guarantee that XenDesktop will support Windows 8 type-1. In that regard, it's a big win for Citrix, as they already support .vhd. So, porting and tweaking to support new technology is easy. The unknown part will be around XenServer -- if Microsoft's ultimate goal is to win back the server market, it will most likely not extend support for XenServer. What happens in this space will be interesting.

And how will it shake out for VMware? What happens to VMware is completely up to VMware. No doubt, vSphere is and will continue to be the platform of choice, at least for the foreseeable future. Where VMware will struggle is in the end-user space. Windows 8 will deliver a master's blow and unless VMware is willing to be a bit flexible and possibly support .vhd and .vhdx, I cannot see how they can fight back. As long as the endpoint is running Windows, it will be next to impossible.

But VMware can turn around and concede a bit, which would put Microsoft back into a position of having to find another way to win back the market. If vSphere supported .vhd and .vhdx and organization are currently on vSphere, it would be less appealing for organizations to switch even as Windows 8 takes hold of the client devices.

And finally, what happens to current third-party type-1 vendors? They will evolve. Some will maintain the product and will try and compete head-to-head with Microsoft by offering richer and better features; others will accept the new landscape and will evolve into offering management functionally, advanced synchronization and server-based features that extend Windows 8 type-1 capabilities.

I'll be giving this topic full coverage in a future issue of Virtualization Review. In the meantime, what do you think? Am I full of it or am I making sense?

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 06/28/2011 at 12:49 PM


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