Windows Server 2012 R2 kicks Hyper-V up another notch

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Here are the key new Hyper-V features:

  • Shared virtual hard disk: This allows the clustering of virtual machines using shared virtual hard disk (VHDX) files. VHDX was introduced in Windows Server 2012 as a new file format, but you couldn’t cluster VMs using a shared virtual hard disk until now.
  • Storage quality of service (QoS): Storage QoS allows you to manage throughput of virtual hard disks that are accessed by VMs. This allows you to place a maximum and minimum load (in I/O operations per second) for each virtual disk so that one disk doesn’t affect another on the same host.

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  • Virtual machine generation: One of the more interesting new features is the ability to choose the VM generation: Gen 1 or Gen 2. Gen 1 is the same as what you’ve known in previous Hyper-V versions. Gen 2 brings with it the ability to have secure boot, to boot from a SCSI virtual hard disk or DVD, and to PXE-boot using a standard network adapter, as well as UEFI firmware support. But before you leap for joy at the cool, new features, you should know there are limitations with the OSes supported for Gen 2: It supports only guest OSes running Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2012 R2, 64-bit Windows 8, or 64-bit Windows 8.1. And you have to decide on the generation you want for your VM when you create it — you can’t change it later.
  • Enhanced session mode: This provides for the redirection of local resources in a VM connection session, thus giving admins more functionality when connecting to a VM through Remote Desktop Connection (such as to displays, audio, printers, the Clipboard, drives, USB devices, and supported Plug and Play devices) through the VM connection.
  • Automatic virtual machine activation: This capability allows you to install VMs on a Windows Server 2012 R2 Data Center server without having to worry about managing product keys. The VMs are activated and will work even if migrated to other virtualization servers. This is great for service providers because they don’t have to give tenants a product key or access their VMs to put one in and activate it. It’s all transparent to the tenant, though the data center admins can manage and track VM license usage.
  • Resizing of virtual hard disks: Resizing is now supported while the VM is running — if you’re using VHDX files attached to a SCSI controller.
  • Live migrations: Live migrations have had performance improvements for compression and the use of the SMB 3.0 protocol. Cross-version live migrations are also supported, but only from Windows Server 2012 to Windows Server 2012 R2.

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  • Integration services: This allows an admin to copy files to a VM without using a network connection by using the PowerShell Copy-VMFile cmdlet. (To the developers behind this feature: Thanks!)
  • Export: You can now export a VM or VM checkpoint while the machine is running, which prevents unnecessary downtime and is great for duplicating your production environment to create a test environment or to troubleshoot a problem.
  • Failover clustering: This now provides for virtual network adapter protection and VM storage protection.
  • Hyper-V replicas: This now allows you to configure extended replication so that your replica server can replicate to a third server (which could be to an off-premises or cloud-based data center). If your primary server goes down, your replica is ready to assist. And you have extra protection thanks to extended replica server support: In Windows Server R2 2012, you can control replication frequency (previously fixed at 5 minutes) and can now access recovery points for 24 hours (previously, only 15 hours).
  • Linux support: There’s now support for VM backup, as well as dynamic memory support for Linux VMs.
  • Management: You can manage Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V through your Windows Server 2012 R2 or Windows 8.1 systems. That gives you down-level management support that didn’t exist before.

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