The virtual winner: VMware's ESX KOs a roughly built Hyper-V package

VMware wins due to manageability, stability that comes with maturity

The tools of the VM management trade

Because virtualization is usually part of a server consolidation project, rapid VM instance generation, movement, monitoring and trouble assessment can be critical as a single server usually represents many production processes.

We built dual Hyper-V and ESX servers to gauge how each hypervisor design could handle both hosting new and consolidated virtualized operating system and application instances. We assessed the system’s flexibility in creating new VM guests, tested the primary tools that do the heavy lifting when moving discrete physical servers to virtual servers in a process known as P2V, and reviewed how the provided tools helped in ongoing management of all guests.

In terms of ongoing monitoring capabilities, we took into account the depth of characteristics each product could track and how those were communicated in the form of logs and reports. We also assessed the flexibility of the VM security choices.

VM management tools need to perform at least four basic functions: managing which drivers are to be used, updated or deleted for the corresponding hardware connections to the hypervisor; allocating and building virtual machine spaces for guests; monitoring both ongoing characteristics (CPU, disk space, I/O) as well as alarming events; and handle loading, unloading and backing up discrete VMs.

Microsoft’s SC-VMM assists in controlling Hyper-V guests from remote (non virtual server host) locations. Hyper-V’s GUI rides on Windows (of course) and connects to the SC-VMM 2008 administrative engine running on the same machine as a Microsoft’s Active Directory Domain Controller and a version of Microsoft SQL Server. SC-VMM installs an agent on each Hyper-V virtual machine it manages.

VMware’s ESX and its hosted VMs are monitored and manipulated by VirtualCenter which runs as a background Windows application either on the virtualized server, or another Windows machine connected to it. VirtualCenter requires that SQL Server Express Edition be installed for it to function properly as a management data store and that an agent is installed on each ESX server.

Both SC-VMM and VirtualCenter perform the aforementioned management missions to varying degrees of success.

Microsoft, as we mentioned several times in our performance discussion, offers up a free Linux Interface Connector which has three components (CPU/memory, IO drivers and keyboard/mouse) to speed SUSE Linux 10.1/10.2 VMs.

ESX also has an add-in called VMTools that like LinuxIC adds network and block memory drivers, and faster graphics translation speed to a VMware ESX guest operating systems (there are versions for both Linux and Windows) if desired (it's optional).

With Hyper-V, when controlled by SC-VMM, the admin can remotely turn a VM guest on or off or have it shut down gracefully. Also, you are supposed to be able to manage user access to VM resources through Active Directory which users can access the virtual machines. You can, of course, limit what they do, such as start/stop machines, pause/resume, make checkpoints, remove machines, be a local admin for machines created by them, create new VMs, and more. The feature certainly wasn't camera ready when we tested it as it crashed the SC-VMM application repeatedly. SC-VMM also drives importation of VM images and is supposed to be able to even import ESX virtual machines to Hyper-V, but that didn't work in our beta code for SC-VMM. But on that same cross platform note, the same functionality in ESX — importation of Hyper-V images — didn’t work either. No points on cannibalizing a competitor’s images for either vendor were rewarded.

VMware's VirtualCenter can do many of the same things mentioned above (turn on/off machines, shut down, reset). We were also able to create template images to be used as a base to create images later, or clone a VM (while it’s turned off), and if VMotion, an option, is licensed, then it’s also possible to migrate between two hosts (using shared storage). Also, we were able to assign permissions to each VM where you can set up different users and groups (via Active Directory/Local Users) to be able to access that VM or group of VMs.

Another thing you can do with VirtualCenter is setup what is called a resource pool, which allows you to divide resources among multiple VMs easier. For example, let’s say you have six VMs. You would like two of those to use 60% of all resources on that system and the other four to have 40 percent. You can create two resource pools and assign the VMs to one of the two pools. This way you don’t need to worry about assigning resources to each individual VM.

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