What’s new in Hyper-V 2016

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By now, you’ve probably already heard, seen or even played with one of the technical Windows Server 2016 previews. If not, I urge you to do so now. Hyper-V 2016 will bring lots of enhancements and new functionality that will improve your data center and solve some of the limitations you might be experiencing.

Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012 R2 is already full of functionality, and for those of you who don’t believe it is already production-ready, I suggest taking another look at this current technology. If you are running Hyper-V already, using another hypervisor but are looking to switch, or perhaps partially switch, now is the best time to start checking it out.

First, let’s take a look at some of the new functionality that we know about today. Because we are still in technical preview (TP) mode (#4 at the time of this writing), some things might still change and additional functionality may even be added later on.

This functionality might be my new favorite — if that’s possible with all the great new things coming. PowerShell Direct allows you to use a simple cmdlet (Enter-PSSession -VMName VMName) and connect to the virtual machine (VM) through a host connection. While you’ll need to provide credentials, you won’t need any network connection to the guest itself (only to the host). This certainly will make management a lot easier in some cases, and it will provide additional possibilities for remote management.

Another cmdlet you can use is the Invoke-Command -VMName VMName -ScriptBlock { commands } to send multiple commands to the VM.

To use PowerShell Direct today, you need to connect to a Windows 10 or Windows Server 2016 TP4 host with the VM using Windows 10 or Windows Server 2016 TP4 as the guest OS. You also need Hyper-V administrator privileges on the host and administrator credentials to the guest itself.

I also hope that in the next previews or GA we’ll see New-PSSession and even more.

Windows PowerShell Direct - What’s new in Hyper-V 2016

A new hypervisor means a new configuration version. With Windows Server 2012 R2, the current configuration version is 5, and surprisingly, it won’t be 6 in 2016 — TP3 gave us version 6.2 and TP4 shows 7 — unless something changes, of course. There is a difference compared to earlier versions: For instance, when you move or import a VM that comes from WS 2012 R2 to 2016, you’ll notice that the configuration version will remain at 5. This, of course, means you won’t be able to utilize the newest functionality and enhancements, but it will allow you to move the VM back to a 2012 R2 host. This is certainly interesting when you work in migration scenarios or want to use Rolling Hyper-V Cluster Upgrade, which I’ll cover later.

Once you decide not to let your VM go back to an older version, you’ll need to update the VM to the latest configuration, which you can do by using PowerShell again (Update-VmConfigurationVersion vmname or Update-VmConfigurationVersion vmobject).

The newer version  also has a new configuration file. It’s already easily readable in previous versions, and now it will bring a binary file with the VMCX extension. Some might find that bad, because it can’t be read anymore, but it’s designed to improve the performance and there’s potentially less data-corruption risk.

VM configuration version and format - What’s new in Hyper-V 2016

Tired of difficult upgrade paths? Not ready to upgrade all of your production hosts at once, but want to upgrade just a few of them at first? With Rolling Hyper-V Cluster Upgrade, you can have a Windows Server 2016 in your 2012 R2 cluster. However, the VMs in that cluster should remain at version 5 (see above), and all of the new functionality and features cannot be used until it becomes a full 2016 Hyper-V cluster.

I advise you to always keep integration services up-to-date. The number of production environments I see where this is not occurring is heartbreaking. In Windows Server 2016 Integration Services, updates will be delivered by Windows Update, which is a great way to get more of those VMs with the latest components. This functionality will also allow for tenants or workload owners to have control over this process, so they are not dependent on infrastructure services anymore.

Yes, Microsoft tells you to use Virtual Machine Manager. And no, it’s not used on a widespread basis in reality. The problem with Hyper-V Manager is that it was designed as a tool to manage stand-alone Hyper-V hosts.

The next version of Hyper-V Manager will bring enhancements like down-level management, which means you can use Hyper-V Manager 2016 to manage lower versions of Hyper-V (starting from 2012 or Windows 8 and higher). You can also alternate credentials support (finally!), and you’ll get an updated management protocol (WS-MAN). WS-MAN permits CredSSP, Kerberos or NTLM authentication and simplifies the configuration to enable a host for remote management because it connects over port 80, which is mostly open by default.

With some larger installations, you’ll still require another solution — such as SCVMM or a third-party solution like 5nine — but at least there are some improvements here.

VMs running Linux (generation 2 VMs) will be able to use the Secure Boot option now. Not a big thing, you say? Ask your Linux guys. You can now enable Ubuntu 14.04 and Suse Linux Enterprise Server 12 for Secure Boot, as long as they are running on 2016 hosts. I assume that more distros will be added to this list later on.

Windows Server 2016 will give you the ability to add and remove network adapters on the fly, without downtime. The VM, however, will need to be a generation 2 VM. You can also adjust the memory of the VM while it is running. This works on generation 1 and 2 VMs, and it doesn’t even require dynamic memory to be enabled for a specific VM.

Hot add of memory and networking adapters - What’s new in Hyper-V 2016

VM backups will dramatically change with Windows Server 2016. Microsoft is doing a lot of work in that area, including new developments for checkpoints. We have always told everyone that you can’t use VM checkpoints (VM snapshots in VMware) in a production environment because of resource and storage issues. In Windows Server 2016, the old, standard method, which is based on saved state technology, will still exist and will be the failover choice. However, a new type of production checkpoints will leverage VSS technology (for Windows) or flush the file system buffers (for Linux) to create checkpoints. For Windows, that will mean an application-consistent snapshot. For Linux, it will mean a file-consistent checkpoint.

While Nano Server isn’t technically a Hyper-V technology, it still fits in this list. Nano Server is a headless server that removes all GUI and doesn’t even allow you to RDP to it anymore. Because everything should be done remotely with server management tools or PowerShell, it is actually a very small server installation with less components, resulting in faster deployment and boot time with less patching and reboots. On top of Nano Server, you can deploy a package for Hyper-V (and clustering as well, for example), so you can build Hyper-V hosts with Nano Server.

While you may have difficulties learning to work with Nano Server at first, you will notice that it actually has many advantages. I hope you take the time to learn to work with this headless type of server. Server Manager, most of the MMCs (such as cluster manager, Hyper-V manager and more) and remote PowerShell are the tools you need to remotely manage the solution.

Besides the (expected) packages like Hyper-V and Clustering, we saw additional packages coming to TP4 such as DNS, IIS and MPIO. I strongly believe that even more packages will be added when we are at GA, and I already kind of dream of having my entire core infrastructure (File, AD, DNS, DHCP, Hyper-V) running on Nano server.

Nano Server - What’s new in Hyper-V 2016

Channel 9 video blog — Episode 21 - What the heck is Nano Server, by Dave Kawula, Microsoft MVP and Clint Wyckoff, Microsoft Evangelist, Veeam Software.

Nested virtualization is a capability that many of us have been dying to get for Hyper-V for many years. As of today, you can already do this with an insider-built Windows 10 and Hyper-V. Microsoft is actively working on making sure that the amount of resources that you lose with nested virtualization are negligible, so that it won’t be usable only in testing, developing or demo environments, but that it will also still run in certain situations in production.

Nested virtualization - What’s new in Hyper-V 2016

If you want to be sure the infrastructure or Hyper-V administrator can’t mess around with your VMs or the data that’s inside those VMs, then shielded VMs is something you should look at. You’ll get great security improvement, especially when it comes to public clouds. Shielded VMs rely on generation 2 VMs and enable BitLocker encryption inside the VMs!

The Window Server team is working hard on ReFS improvements, and Hyper-V will benefit from that work. Imagine creating a new VM with a fixed hard drive (VHD/VHDX). Today, the process of creating that drive takes time. In 2016, however, when you are placing your VMs on a ReFS file system (and I advise you to do that), that time will be greatly reduced, making it almost instantaneous. In addition, when you are using a VM checkpoint like most backup vendors do when they backup a full VM, the time needed to commit delta upon checkpoint removal will be greatly reduced, and it will use little to no I/O resources. For this reason, it will no longer disturb your production environment.

Discrete Device Assignment is something that appeared in TP4 and allows you to take some of the PCI Express devices in your host systems and pass those through directly though the guest VM. It looks a lot like the concept of pass-through disks, which I told everyone not to use anymore for years now. However, there are many valid business reasons why you want to use this, as described in this post: http://blogs.technet.com/b/virtualization/archive/2015/11/19/discrete-device-assignment.aspx

And for those of you who hope that USB pass through will finally be supported, it looks like this is not the case …

Containers, containers and more containers … If you haven’t heard about them now, you must have been enjoying a very long holiday. Microsoft is working on bringing containers on their platform, as many others out there are doing so, too. With TP4, both windows server and Hyper-V containers are now supported. I won’t go deep into the technology here, but if you have reasons to work with containers, now is the time to start investigating them.

I only highlighted a few of the enhancements coming with Windows Server 2016 that are specific for Hyper-V. Yet, there are many more. On the storage and networking spaces, there are also a lot of enhancements and new functionality that can help you in your quest to deliver virtualized workloads. Items like Storage Resiliency, Storage QoS, Storage Replica, VM Cluster Resiliency, RDMA Improvements, Enhanced Deduplication and lots more will all work together to give you a better, more optimized Hyper-V environment.

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About the author
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Mike Resseler is a Product Strategy Specialist for Veeam. Mike is focused on technologies around Hyper-V and System Center. With years of experience in the field he presents on many occasions on large events such as MMS, TechEd and TechDays. Mike has been an awarded the MVP for System Center Cloud and Datacenter Management since 2010. His major hobby is discussing and developing solid Disaster Recovery scenarios. Additionally, he has enterprise-class experience in Private Cloud architecture, deployment with marked focus on protection from the bottom to the top. He holds certifications in many Microsoft Technologies such as MCITP.
Follow Mike on @MikeResseler or @Veeam and on Google+.