In this series of four parts, I will show you how to implement an easy and affordable failover Hyper-V cluster based on two Hyper-V Server 2012 nodes, one Windows Server 2012 domain controller, and one Windows Server 2012 box, offering shared storage and based on the iSCSI protocol. This first part introduces the software and hardware requirements. I’ll also share the specs of my four machines, so you’ll have an idea of what hardware you could use.

Graphically, my setup looks like this:

Hyper-V Cluster

Hyper-V Cluster

Design choices ^

As the introduction already gives away, I’m making some design choices for this series. Below is the summary of these choices:

  • I’m going with Hyper-V Server for my Hyper-V failover cluster nodes.
    Most of the demos shown with Hyper-V showcase the potential of full installations of Windows Server. While this is all fun and games for demos, in the real world we tend to focus on cost, speed, supportability, and reliability. Full installations of Windows Server are not the best matches for Hyper-V hosts. So, allow me to introduce the ultimate Hyper-V platform: Hyper-V Server 2012the standalone, free, and optimized version of Microsoft’s Hypervisor.
  • I’m implementing a two-node cluster.
    While I’m not limited on boxes, I only implement a two-node cluster because doing so offers exactly what I need—reliability, flexibility, and a setup that isn’t overly complex.
  • I’m using a Windows Server 2012–based domain controller.
    Active Directory membership is a prerequisite for failover clustering. While I could use any supported Active Directory domain controller platform (everything from Windows Server 2003 SP1 and up will do), I will be using the domain controller as the main management box throughout this series. For this reason, I’ll use Windows Server 2012 on it. Using the built-in Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT), I can easily start managing Hyper-V and failover clustering from the console of just one server.
  • I’m using a Windows Server 2012–based storage box.
    To implement a failover Hyper-V cluster, you need to have some sort of storage that can be shared between your nodes. If you have budget to do so (who has that kind of budget these days?), you could use a top-of-the-range, fiber channel, fully redundant Storage Area Network (SAN) unit. iSCSI SANs will also work and, for most scenarios, offer plenty of storage performance. With iSCSI built into Windows Server 2012, several iSCSI optimizations in Hyper-V Server 2012, and a ton of storage innovations in Windows Server 2012, this is an ideal platform and protocol to use.

Prerequisites ^

My machines

As hardware for my setup, I chose four Dell XPS 420 rigs, with the following specs:

  • Intel Q6600 quad core processor
  • 6GB of RAM
  • Two 320GB hard disks
  • Onboard Intel 82566 NIC
  • PCI-Express Intel Pro1000 PT NIC

Although they are not the most cost-efficient or most recent hardware models to use for this setup, I know these trusty little machines will perform their best. The rigs are interconnected using a Dell Gigabit switch, connected to the Internet through a firewall. Their built-in support for RAID1 might also prove useful.

Hardware

Choosing the right hardware for your nodes
There is a whole range of consumer products you can use as your Hyper-V nodes. When you go and look for hardware for your fast and easy Hyper-V environment, make sure it meets the following specifications:

  • x64 processor, with support for the following features:
    • Hardware-assisted virtualization technology present and enabled in BIOS
    • Hardware-based Data Execution Prevention (DEP) present and enabled in BIOS

Several tools are available to check your hardware for compatibility with Hyper-V:

Further requirements for the nodes are the availability of two Network Interface Cards (NICs) to separate storage and management traffic from virtual machine traffic. Although one NIC suffices for the purpose of demoing Live Migration, additional NICs and/or Host Bus Adapters (HBAs) will make your life easier and increase the performance and reliability of the cluster, especially when you offload your storage traffic to a dedicated HBA.

Choosing the right hardware for your storage box
Speaking of storage traffic, your storage box should offer sufficient storage space to store your virtual machines. While you might think Windows Server 2012’s data deduplication could potentially be a solution here, it’s not designed for this scenario. Storage Spaces, however, are. You can use this technology to further expand on available storage when you add more spindles to your storage box.

If you want to be really savvy in terms of storage traffic, I suggest you look at 10GbE Network Interface Cards (NICs) that support Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA). While a bit on the expensive side, their cost is still nowhere in the same ballpark as dedicated fiber channel HBAs.

Choosing the right hardware for your domain controller
The domain controller for this environment should be nothing special. A 1GHz box with 1GB of RAM will suffice, since the only members of its Active Directory domain will be the four hosts. However, if you’re thinking about making your VMs a member of the same Active Directory domain, make sure you build a couple more virtual domain controllers.

Software

Choosing the right software for your nodes
While I’ve already made the design choice to use Microsoft’s free downloadable Hyper-V Server 2012, you could also use Windows Server 2012 Standard or Windows Server 2012 Enterprise Edition.

Technically, there are no differences in the way these three flavors offer Hyper-V and failover clustering on the scale of this series. The differences between them is their licensing:

  • Hyper-V Server comes without any licensing for virtual machines. You will need to take care of licensing your virtual machines yourself. That’s not a problem for Linux-based VMs or the non-OEM Windows Server Standard installations you want to P2V to this platform. Also, when you want to use trial editions of Windows Server in your VMs, but you want a longer lasting Hypervisor platform, Hyper-V Server is the way to go.
  • Windows Server 2012 Standard comes with a built-in license to install it on a physical host, as well as on two VMs you run on the physical host.
  • Windows Server 2012 Enterprise comes with a built-in license to install it on a physical host with at least two processors, and then allows you to run an unlimited number of Windows Server-based VMs.

Choosing the right software for your storage box
I’ve also made the choice to use Windows Server 2012 as the operating system for my storage box. As an alternative, you can also use Rocket Division’s StarWind iSCSI Server Free to offer iSCSI from earlier versions of Windows Server. Note, however, that StarWind iSCSI Server Free limits your Hyper-V failover cluster to two nodes.

Choosing the right software for your domain controller(s)
Windows Server 2012 makes for excellent domain controllers—especially virtual ones. When you’re thinking of expanding your Active Directory domain into your virtual environment, choose Windows Server 2012 with its VM-GenerationID-powered Virtualization-Safe(r) Active Directory. The best practice is to place at least two domain controllers per Active Directory domain, so go ahead and pick the operating system most suitable for this job.

Checklist ^

Throughout this series, you will need the following:

  • Four machines, equipped with 64-bit processors (two of these need to be able to run the Hyper-V Role and be equipped with two Network Interface Connections)
  • One Power Distribution Unit (PDU) and at least six cables to power the four hosts, the switch, and at least one monitor
  • One gigabit network switch with at least six free network ports
  • Six CAT5E network cables
  • Windows Server 2012 installation media
  • Windows Server 2012 (evaluation) product key, able to activate two installations
  • Hyper-V Server 2012 download
  • One blank DVD or 4GB+ USB Flash Drive to install Hyper-V Server 2012 from
  • One blank DVD or 4GB+ USB Flash Drive to install Windows Server 2012 from
    (you will also need a physical DVD of Windows Server 2012 for VM installation, but you can install the physical domain controller and iSCSI box from USB if you prefer…)

Information matrix ^

Before you start with the next part in this series, use the information matrix below to keep an overview of your host naming scheme and IP networking information:

DescriptionHostnameIP AddressIP Address on iSCSI Network
Domain Controller
Hyper-V Cluster Node 1
Hyper-V Cluster Node 2
Shared Storage
Hyper-V Cluster Object
Virtual Machine 1

In my next post I will discuss Hyper-V cluster nodes.

7 Comments
  1. Philip Elder 9 years ago

    The components the systems are based on seem to be a bit dated.
    The Lenovo Tiny or the new Intel NUC with Core i-5 4000 series (Haswell) chips and 16GB of RAM each are great places to start.
    USB 3 SuperSpeed provides all the bandwidth needed for the required shared storage with 500GB SuperSpeed 2.5″ drives to be had a great prices.
    An excellent place to start though.
    Thanks,
    Philip

  2. Gustav Brock 9 years ago

    The URL to the AMD Hyper-V Compatibility Utility has moved:

    http://download.amd.com/techdownloads/AMD-VwithRVI_Hyper-V_CompatibilityUtility.zip

    /gustav

  3. Gustav,

    thanks for the hint. I replaced the link.

  4. Karl 8 years ago

    Can anybody shed some light as to how one would do updates in this scenario. I specifically interested in knowing how to update the iSCSI file server. Does this entail downtime of the whole cluster?

  5. MCSA Chennai 7 years ago

    Great article! my question is Can we combine 2012 server and 2008 R2 server as a cluster members? is it possible?

  6. papali 6 years ago

    Hi everybody, I have a doubt, a vm created from Hyper-V Manager console is not visible by the Failover Cluster Manager, but the opposite instead, that a vm created from Failover Cluster Manager can be seen from Hyper-V Manager. Is there a way to import to the Cluster a vm created through Hyper-V manager?

  7. iPencil 5 years ago

    is it possible to implement just use one physical server and one storage??

    Thanks

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