We last looked at the upcoming version of Virtual Machine Manager in its early days. That first preview offered only a limited insight into what was coming. With the release of System Center (SC) 2016 Technical Preview 3 (TP3), there’s a lot more “meat on the bones” about what’s actually coming next year.

Joseph Moody wrote an excellent overview of Configuration Manager TP3. In this two-part article, we’ll look at what Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) TP3 brings to the table.

System Center and Hyper-V

One of the big problems in the last few releases of Hyper-V and VMM has been the “lag.” The Hyper-V platform would introduce technologies, such as generation 2 VMs or Hyper-V Replica, that VMM didn’t yet support. This hindered adoption in businesses. This time around, Microsoft seems intent on rectifying this, and new features in Windows Server 2016 TP3 are supported in VMM TP3 (except Nano Server, but that support has been promised for future TP versions).

This includes rolling cluster upgrades—something that we covered in the very first Hyper-V preview almost a year ago. This platform feature lets you evict a node from a Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V cluster (or any other type of cluster), reformat, install Windows Server 2016, and then introduce it back into the cluster. The whole cluster stays at the 2012 R2 functional level (similar to Active Directory functional levels) until all nodes are upgraded, when you can “flip the switch” to the 2016 level. VMM can orchestrate this whole process across a cluster.

Another example of VMM support for new Windows Server 2016 technologies is the ability to create Storage Spaces Direct (S2D) clusters. VMM lets you define a physical computer profile (like you can today for Hyper-V and Scale Out File Server [SOFS] hosts) and push that out to bare metal servers, turning them into S2D nodes. There’s also an option to scale out an S2D cluster with additional nodes when you need to add more storage and/or performance. SOFS clusters, on the other hand, are pretty much static once you have deployed them; there’s no easy way to add another node or more storage.

A third example is Storage Replica (SR), the new block-level replication in Windows Server 2016 that can replicate data on any storage to any other data location, either synchronously or asynchronously. VMM can orchestrate the setup and management of SR.

Storage improvements

Speaking of SOFS, it turns out that after three years of Microsoft spruiking the value of SOFS, backed by shared SAS enclosures using Storage Spaces as a replacement for SANs, the most popular use case for SOFS is instead in front of existing SANs. Think about it. If you have an FC SAN and you need to add more compute nodes to your Hyper-V cluster, you need to buy two Host Bus Adapters (HBAs) for each host, cabling, and perhaps another FC switch for the fabric. If you instead place a few SOFS nodes in front of the SANs (they’re the only servers that need FC connectivity), you can share out SAN storage as SMB 3.0 file shares over your ordinary Ethernet network.

VMM now supports that scenario by automatically zoning the SAN to the SOFS and setting up the iSCSI connectors (if required) as well as managing the SOFS nodes.

In VMM 2012 R2, there is a discrepancy in how scripts are handled when using VMM to deploy bare metal Hyper-V nodes versus SOFS nodes. That’s now been unified so that it works the same for all bare metal deployments in VMM.

Also note that you can’t “upgrade” a SOFS 2012 R2 cluster with shared SAS to an S2D 2016 cluster. You can only upgrade to a normal SOFS 2016 cluster.

Creating a storage QoS policy

Creating a storage QoS policy

VMM also brings support for the central storage Quality of Service (QoS) process in Hyper-V. Today, in 2012 R2, you can set storage QoS on a per-VM basis; however, because there’s no central “traffic cop,” there’s no way for the shared storage to actually balance the IO demands across all VMs on all hosts. Now you can create policies for groups of VMs that apply at the SOFS level, and these can be managed from VMM.

Adding an Azure subscription

Adding an Azure subscription

VMs in the public cloud as well as in your private cloud

TP3 doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Gone are the days when a VMM version (or almost any Microsoft product) was released and you had to wait a year or two for new features. Every three months or so there is an Update Rollup for VMM (and the other SC products) that contains bug fixes as well as new functionality. A case in point is the Add Azure Subscription button in TP3, which was also added to 2012 R2 in UR6. It gives you basic information and management actions on your VMs running in Azure. The same functionality for AWS was demonstrated at Ignite.

Azure VMs in VMM

Azure VMs in VMM

So, apart from managing new features exclusive to Windows Server 2016, how different will VMM 2016 RTM be from 2012 R2 Update Rollup X? Time will tell.

The VMM team prioritizes features based on feedback on uservoice. So, if there’s a feature you’ve been missing, head over there and cast your vote or add your own idea.

In my next post I will talk about the support for shielded VMs in Virtual Machine Manager 2016.


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