The media response to the Microsoft-Red Hat virtualization announcement has been overwhelming, if not baffling. (By the way, if you are under the impression that this has anything to do with Xen, please review this article from the Burton Group.) Most of the articles slant positively, and why wouldn’t they — what’s not to like about increased compatibility? It’s not as if any of those journalists will ever actually need to use Red Hat on Hyper-V.
From my perspective, Red Hat got exclusive rights to the downside of this deal while Microsoft benefits from media blitz and the increasing perception that they are becoming a cross-platform player. Single pane of glass, and all that.
In order to see what Red Hat stands to gain from the Hyper-V deal, we can simply take a look at SUSE — the current “supported” Linux distribution on Hyper-V. Critical aspects of supporting a guest OS are: integration components, customization, and P2V compatibility. Here is where SUSE Linux Enterprise stands today:
Hyper-V Linux Integration Components
To get the most out of a virtual machine, administrators typically install an agent inside each guest operating system. By the way, Microsoft has at least four terms for these: virtual machine additions, virtual guest services, integration components, and integration services. VMware calls them Tools.
Part of supporting SUSE Linux Enterprise is providing applicable integration components (ICs). Hyper-V, which shipped on June 26, 2008, did not include Linux ICs. Where can users get them? According to the Hyper-V FAQ:
Q. Will Microsoft continue to support Linux operating systems with Hyper-V?
A. Yes, Microsoft will provide integration components and technical support for customers running select Linux distributions as guest operating systems within Hyper-V. Beta Linux integration components are now available for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 SP2 and SP1 x86 and x64 Editions. These integration components enable Xen-enabled Linux to take advantage of the VSP/VSC architecture and provide improved performance. Beta Linux Integration components are available for immediate download through http://connect.microsoft.com.
Well, guess what happens if you go to that Microsoft Connect site and search for Linux ICs? Click on the first search result and you will get a “404” page not found error — they have been recently removed. Look a little further and you will find a bug report from an unhappy user that can’t find the SUSE Linux ICs — and several confirmations from other unhappy users.
UPDATE: James O’Neill sent me a tweet to let me know that I was not using Connect properly (and neither were those poor folks referenced in the above paragraph, hopefully someone will reach out to them soon). You need to go to the Directory and look for the integration components section. If you just search for them (like I did), they will show up in the results but not be available. So the ICs are NOT MISSING.
I can offer three possible explanations for the missing Linux ICs:
- They were pulled in order to resolve Open Source licensing issues. This happened once already in July, so it is not unreasonable.
- The production-quality version is finally ready for download from the main Microsoft Download Center, so the beta bits have been removed from Connect.
- Linux support in Hyper-V is a very low priority.
A quick search of the Microsoft Download Center reveals the following, currently ruling out possibility #2:
That leaves options 1 and 3. Select all that apply.
UPDATE: The ICs were not pulled — they are available for download from the Connect beta site. Supported by “newsgroup only” (code for “no support”) and lacking mouse, heartbeat, OS shutdown, and time sync functionality.
Do you really need the integration components? That depends. Do you want the maximum performance from your guest OS? Do you want to use a mouse over a remote connection?
Frankly, I’m not even sure the mouse will work if you did find and install the Linux ICs — at least based on some quick observations. UPDATE: Confirmed.
Linux Guest Customization
The price of admission for virtual machine management is the ability to create templates in order to deploy customized instances of a master VM. I wrote about this recently when I found that SUSE Enterprise Linux is not customizable by SCVMM. I bet Red Hat hopes they get better treatment in this area.
Linux Physical to Virtual (P2V)
Finally, the old virtualization standby: consolidation. Do you want to automatically convert your old physical Linux servers to virtual machines? Don’t expect Hyper-V or SCVMM to come to your rescue here. Nope, P2V in Microsoft parlance is strictly Windows-only. If you need to convert Linux, look no further than VMware Converter 4.
It is not clear if Red Hat will get better support than SUSE on Hyper-V. But that is not something you need to worry about — you can run your Red Hat Enterprise Linux workloads on VMware ESX today, not after some vague future milestone. You also get full support for guest customization, P2V, and if you happen to need it — a mouse!