There are a few things that function as requirements today for a virtualization-specific technology to be ready to go for the enterprise. In the case of Hyper-V, there are a lot of things that are really strong with the Windows Server 2012 release (which is now generally available). First is the management, both with System Center 2012 Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM), which has matured with the System Center 2012 release. In terms of storage, Hyper-V is actually very mature already as much of the storage drivers are not new at all. The Windows drivers are usually the first to be released for a storage system.
The next logical area to look is networking. F5 Networks are releasing a virtual appliance to provide a serious pool of networking features for Hyper-V. This virtual appliance for Hyper-V, which is due to be available in Q1 of 2013, will provide all of the critical features that we expect of a virtualized network: global load balancing, advanced traffic steering, access control, application security and acceleration, and more. This virtual appliance will be an F5 operating system (effectively a custom-compiled Linux environment) with full enlightenment of the Hyper-V driver stack. This means that Integration Services will be in this virtual appliance.
If you are not familiar with some of the capabilities that F5 can do with a network, it's a rich list. In my professional experience, I remember clearly showing people through the data center pointing out this server or that storage system, but I would always stop and have a conversation near the F5 appliance. The F5 appliance line brings incredible network virtualization into any data center. To now have this integrated with Hyper-V in the virtual appliance format — this is a serious step forward.
The virtual appliance model in this realm for F5 will not have a virtual appliance for every host, but instead it will function with at least one per site. With site-to-site considerations, this will be an important management point. Along those lines, the upcoming F5 virtual appliance for Hyper-V will also have integration right into SCVMM, making the larger management decision easy.
Now, for those of you who are hardware geeks (or even network administrators), there are a few points to consider. First of all, there is a fundamental decision or shift to be made from going from a hardware appliance model that is ideally custom-engineered every step of the way to a virtual appliance model. When I asked F5 if there is a performance difference when the same features are available on a hardware appliance vs. the upcoming virtual appliance, I couldn't really get an answer. To be fair, the product is a few months from being generally available. But the fact is that dedicated hardware will generally outperform its virtualized counterparts when all components are equal.
Are advanced networking capabilities a sign of maturity for a virtualization platform to you? Do you think that the F5 appliance will add some credibility to Hyper-V's enterprise potential? Share your comments below.
Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.