Hyper-V will be included as part of Microsoft Windows 8 - what's it mean for client-side virt?

There's been an increasing amount of buzz lately around the fact that Windows 8 will be shipping with integrated Hyper-V (or at least features of Hyper-V). Nerds and admins and such (Tim, Benny, et al.

There's been an increasing amount of buzz lately around the fact that Windows 8 will be shipping with integrated Hyper-V (or at least features of Hyper-V). Nerds and admins and such (Tim, Benny, et al.) will be happy to hear that they don't need to get VMware Workstation, VirtualBox, or Parallels, but what does this mean for the bulk of the corporate desktop users? 

As it stands, 99% of them won't give a damn. It will be like Media Center, which I'd imagine most people don't know they have as part of Windows 7 Home Premium (or the other versions it comes on). That said, if Microsoft and third party companies do things correctly, maybe the client hypervisor will get a second wind. 

When we talk to people about client hypervisors (most recently on an episode of BG Live with Brian Gammage from VMware), we hear about the fact that users don't want/need/care to know about whether or not they're using a client hypervisor. In order for a product to gain widespread adoption, this is one of the things that needs to be addressed and solved elegantly, but there so much that goes into a truly seamless solution that it makes it almost impossible (even the optimists will say it's very difficult).

It's easy to argue that the best way to give a user two desktops is to give them two physical devices, which is the only way you can get the ultimate mixture of isolation and usability. Of course, that's far from seamless, and it's not very helpful to the client hypervisor makers, either. They've spent the last four years trying to arrive at a solution that is both secure and flexible with a decent user experience, all while supporting a massive amount of hardware.  For these companies (and I'm talking about Citrix, Virtual Computer, MokaFive, and Virtual Bridges, for the most part), most of their efforts have been on supporting the hardware that their clients use. It's like paying bills. You earn X dollars per month, and of that money, you need to pay rent, utilities, groceries, and so on. Most people pay the rent, then figure out how to manage the rest of the costs. The same is true with client hypervisors - most effort is spent just getting it to work, and whatever is left is spent on adding new features.

Building a hypervisor into Windows 8 with all the awareness of the client's hardware (power management, network connections, resource info, etc…) means that Microsoft will have assumed a huge chunk of the development budget, so to speak, which frees up the current client hypervisor companies to focus on things like:

  • seamless integration
  • native-like performance
  • native hardware access
  • encryption
  • enterprise management (remote wipe, provisioning, etc...)
  • out of band management
  • backups
  • single disk image
  • layering (gasp!)
  • user environment portability

Of course, it also opens the door for other companies to bring in their own solutions now that they don't have to worry about the hypervisor components, but companies like Virtual Computer, who probably have the most complete solution available today, have a leg up on management since they've been doing it for so long. Consider Citrix, too, which already has a client hypervisor solution in XenClient. They're only now getting past the toddler phase with it, so they too could benefit from no longer having to worry about the hypervisor. It would give them more time to focus on the things that would make XenClient great: portable VMs, offline VDI, and security. Don't forget about Quest, either, who've hitched their wagon to Hyper-V like no other platform. With Hyper-V in the datacenter and on the desktop, not to mention the layering capabilities that they have access to from MokaFive, they could be in a great position to put client-side Hyper-V to use early.

All that, though, doesn't amount to a hill of beans if Microsoft doesn't make a built-in client hypervisor accessible to the third parties. It remains to be seen exactly how the Hyper-V components will be implemented (could MinWin be involved, or is Hyper-V too high up the stack for that?), but the more open they are, the more third parties can develop for it. With vast hardware support off the table, the third parties can now focus on more perfecting the technology that we all once thought had so much promise. 

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It seems that people want to see in the "Client hypervisor" the Holy Grail of client computing... What is the use for such technology ?


- Single image management ? With application streaming, you can get a single and simple Windows 7 image for which there is no need for virtualization to manage it the "old way"...


- Offline mode for virtualization ? Again, with application virtualization there is simple and cheapest way to achieve it...


- Windows applications for non windows device (like from a Mac) ? Is the server side mode of application virtualization (Terminal Services like) not enough ? People that need absolutely off line mode could get a Windows corporate desktop with application streamed on it...


- 2 Windows instances or more with separate security rules ? That probably one of the best feet for it... based on the fact that offline mode is strictly mandatory...


- IT geek ? probably... but there is not much of it compare to the vast majority of users...


For me, the use case is really small for such type of technology but it solve some issues that were difficult... and I want it but for few targeted users.


Regarding the offline mode... Remember 10 years ago... Getting a connection was difficult and the offline mode was absolutely mandatory. You were only able to sync at night in hotel room using V56 modem if it was working...


Today ? Getting a connection is quite easy with 3G, WiFi... You are sure that in hotel at night you will get a descent internet access... Yes, in some case like deep datacenters, bunkers, exotic countries or planes, it is still not easy but those are rare now. So the need to have things offline is not so great after all... Next time you take the plane or the train, look at your neighbor... Is he working ? on which application ? Mail ? PowerPoint... mainly simple applications that could easily feet on any device in offline mode (with some compatible tricks or vendors)... but most of the time, they are working on their devices on MGM or HBO productions like Harry Potter, Band of Brothers and Captain America. Seriously, you're still working in train ?


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It’s cool to see that Microsoft is bringing some of the hyper-v tech to the client. When I read their blog the other day (blogs.msdn.com/.../bringing-hyper-v-to-windows-8.aspx) they seem to make it clear it’s really just for test and development use at this point. It seems like they just copied server hyper-v over to the client. So not a big effort given what they could have done it would have been nice if they went a little further with this. It will be interesting to see where they take this and if they improve on it for Windows 9 or 10 but they call out some serious limitations with this first effort and I think only they could fix those things themselves. It feels like the next version of Virtual PC. I’m guessing they are going to get rid of that now. It was interesting that they have not said anything about XP mode yet. Maybe they hope everyone will be on Windows 7 by then which is doubtful.


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The use case for Client Hypervisor as I see it now.


Currently, client hypervisors are mostly used for scenarios with well and narrowly defined business cases that are not as interesting to me.  These will continue to exist and grow, but my interest in the client hypervisor and my expectation of the growth in need follow a different path that the BYOB that most people are thinking about.


This use case starts with people like me, or Benny, that have been using Windows Server 2008 R2 (and now with SP1) with Hyper-V as a unsupported client hypervisors on their notebooks for years.  As bleeding edge “wild and crazy” IT Pros we have a need to have handy several different operating systems that we can haul with us to network-less locations and demonstrate multi-system functionality.  Having a bunch of VMs on the laptop that I can run at the same time is the most important feature.  Being able to have snapshots and restore as needed, and quickly, is an important feature.  Having good performance is an important feature.  That last one is significantly important enough that we choose not to use VMware Workstation, Virtual PC and the ilk.  That’s what we did before Hyper-V and it doesn’t cut it.


This use case also starts with developers, which we both also happen to be.  I need a VM with the version of Visual Studio (plus third party tools) needed by the customer I am contracting for.  Each needs their own setup.  I also need to make SURE the source code files of each stay isolated, and VPN access into their enterprise remains isolated to the VM dedicated to them.


Today, there are only a few of us.  Mostly because we either have to buy specific hardware to work with some vendors or use Windows Server R2 as the base OS so we can use Hyper-V.  By making this available to those with the desktop version of Windows 8, many more of our IT Pro and Developer colleagues will follow suit so that they can be more productive too.  Oh, and giving us hibernation on the hyper-v laptop really helps too.


Developers have it the easiest.  Many have an MSDN subscription that give them the ability to create a large number of VMs for development and test of pretty much any Microsoft OS without additional cost.  But if you don’t have MSDN, a TechNet subscription would allow you to install a temporary OS into a VM, or a Microsoft partner with PowerPack has no additional cost options as well.


So maybe more of these folks start using client hypervisors.  As this happens they will discover reasons to use it for others and it will spread.  Is there a killer use case?  I doubt it, but I fully expect the spread to happen.


One example?  When I upgraded my wife’s PC from XP to Windows 7, I did the following technique:  P2V her old OS and stick it into a VM, install new OS, bring up VM and transfer data.  I keep the VM today “just in case”, and I recently had a need to remount it to get an un-transferred file.  


When Windows 8 happens, I’m going to have a simpler process.  P2V the old OS and stick in a VM, install new OS and add the Hyper-V role, add her VHD as a VM on her machine, and tell her to transfer her own data.  


Compelling enough to build a business around, maybe not.  But I expect use to expand and allow us to figure out additional use cases that would expand the use considerably more.


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First of all I need to identify myself as an interested party from Virtual Computer. However, I do have the benefit of being directly involved with many customers and partners around the world that are deploying NxTop today and now gaining unique benefits that they would not otherwise be able to realize.


On Microsoft I will simply state that their validation of a client hypervisor can only be a good thing so thank you MS.


Gabe's point on users don't really care is very well put and the ability to deliver Windows a PC on top of a hypervisor without the user noticing is a key part of one of the primary use cases today being improved management. This fundamentally comes down to the fact that a client hypervisor separates the hardware from the OS and turns the user’s desktop/laptop OS into an appliance. When you add a multi-layered file system  and centralized management that is tuned for a client-hypervisor you get a number of  very specific benefits to IT and the user that cannot be delivered ‘at all’ or ‘as effectively’ without a client hypervisor.


Here are just a few of these.


- A genuine single shared image that does not suffer image sprawl from a multitude of end-point specific updates and modifications.


- Zero-touch provisioning of new users or migrating users to any PC within minutes.


- Fail-safe patching as you only patch the central image with 100s or 1000s of PCs receiving the update as fresh new image provisioned and prepared in the background with no disruption.


- A back-up solution with the ability to restore the user within minutes to any PC and to the exact user state of the last back-up.


- Delivery of a shared PC that snaps back to a 100% clean state every time. Perfect to combine with roaming profiles and file sync as well as for training rooms and kiosk applications.


- Time expiring workspaces with lock out and remote kill


- Below the OS IT support with help-desk able to remotely trouble shoot and reboot Windows as required


- Remove the OS version dependency for applications and devices on a single device


- Allow user to install their own apps 100% separate from the locked-down image from IT.


- +++++I’m in danger of doing a product pitch.


Beyond the above list, of which I have scratched the surface, the bigger picture is that a client hypervisor removes the dependency of the hardware and OS with customers primarily deploying today for the unique management benefits that this brings. In time and as this market matures, I firmly believe users will begin to enjoy perhaps the more profound benefits of being able to access any application or service on their PC whatever the OS dependency and this capability being empowered through centralized management from a public or provide cloud. At this point everyone will be asking for their PCs to be shipped with a hypervisor!


One final thought – at vmworld there was a lot of talk of “the post PC era” and I’d put it to the community that a client hypervisor redefines what a PC is capable of and that that this is 100% in tune with what IT and users are asking for. Tablets are simply slimmed down PCs with a touch screen -  ask yourself where the OS and apps execute and as the old saying goes “if it looks, sounds and smells like one it probably is”.  


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Hyper-V is a useful and natural addition to Windows 8, which enables various use-cases for users, as well as eases the manageability for IT.


And yes, it renders the immense amount of work that the client-hypervisor providers did (especially the type-1 makers) somewhat obsolete. I also wonder whether they will be able to easily "port" their management functions onto hyper-v...


But the real issue, as Gabe implies, is the management functions that are offered. In fact, with the availability of Hyper-V, these are the *only* issues that matter.  


At Wanova we took from day one a hypervisor-agnostic approach (as well being able to run with no hypervisor at all, embedded in the managed OS), which allowed us to focus 100% on the management functions for IT:


-- Single image management coupled with layering for user-installed apps


--  Complete and fast desktop recovery (centralized time-machine with desktop streaming over WAN)  


--  automatic break-fix repair (via enforcement of base-image or system-restore from snapshot)


-- In-place zero-touch Windows 7 migration


-- Hardware migration


-- Desktop Provisioning


-- Reflect your desktop on a VM in the cloud (for DR, troubleshooting, etc.) and keep it in-sync with the copy at the endpoint


And doing this on either physical or virtual hardware as well as central or remote endpoints


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