Microsoft's licence riddles give Linux and pals a free ride to virtual domination

Hyper-V: The right answer to the wrong question


Analysis Microsoft is caught in a monkey-trap, created by cloud computing and Free Software, coupled with short-term thinking and a dose of not-invented-here syndrome.

You know how monkey-traps work? You make a small hole in a coconut shell, put some bait in it and tie it to something. The monkey comes along, reaches in for the bait and grabs a handful. But when it tries to retrieve its prize, it can't: its fist won't fit through the hole. The monkey is trapped by its own greed. Under pressure, the animal isn't able to choose between escape and letting go of the goodies; you just walk up and whack it over the head.

That's the situation Microsoft is in right now with its virtualisation strategy.

While researching the Register Guide to Windows Server 2012 last year, I talked to a lot of people about Microsoft virtualisation compared to the competition: users, vendors and people implementing it. The results were not quite what you might expect. Everyone acknowledges that Hyper-V 3 is a huge improvement over previous versions and that it equals or exceeds the capabilities of VMware.

But most vendors said that this was irrelevant, because while VMware's licensing scheme is clear and simple, licensing virtualised Windows is horrifically complex – something that my esteemed co-author Trevor Pott covered in detail in the aforementioned e-book. You need licences for the OS running on the hardware – Microsoft doesn't recommend the freeware Hyper-V Server for serious workloads. Then you need to licence the copies of Windows running in the VMs, plus client licences for the workstations; then you need to do the same for layered products on top, such as Exchange or SQL Server. Of course, various bundles and deals apply to all this.

Familiarity or contempt?

Compare this with the open-source way. If you're running an all-Linux data centre, it's no bother. Linux has a choice of perfectly good, free, hypervisors, such as Xen and KVM. Unless you choose to go the commercial route and pay for VMware, RHEL or SLES, you don't need to license the host or the guests. Which is, of course, one of the main reasons why many cloud outfits use Linux – thousands of server instances and no licence fees. If you're running a mixture of Linux and proprietary commercial OSes, you run VMware – it's the industry standard and its licensing is clear and simple.

Microsoft's counter-offer is the familiarity of Windows and Windows tools, both for development and for management. This is what Azure and Hyper-V 3 are all about: Windows in the cloud and powerful tools for running lots of Windows VMs in the data centre. Windows all the way down. It's appealing – it’s a familiar platform, the management tools are good, and Windows techies are much cheaper than skilled Linux devops types.

The problem is if you're virtualising Windows on Windows – the most tempting target for Hyper-V – you end up with a licensing nightmare. It's so complex that a common comment from resellers was that even their contacts at Microsoft itself didn't really understand it fully.

And the other problem is that whole-system virtualisation is rather inefficient: you end up running legions of separate Windows installations, all of which need maintaining, updating and so on. That's true on Linux as well, but on Linux it's far easier to deploy a tiny core-OS distro and omit gigs of stuff you don't need.

(The other way of course is to emulate what IBM did when it invented virtualisation in the 1960s, and write specialised OSes to run inside the VMs which don't replicate the host's functionality. That's starting to happen in the FOSS world now too.)

This is the main reason why Windows barely gets a look-in in today's cloud world. When I ask FOSS devops-type colleagues about it, their responses range from incredulity to hilarity. Why on Earth would they want to deploy on Windows? What possible advantage would it give them? These guys wield Puppet and Chef to deploy vast swarms of headless virtual Linux systems. Microsoft and proprietary software doesn't feature in their world; some weirdos run Mac laptops but that's about it.

Researching Hyper-V, just one reseller recommended something other than VMware – Parallels Virtuozzo. If you're familiar with BSD jails, Solaris Containers or AIX Workload Partitions, Virtuozzo brings the same functionality to Windows. More of a Linux person? Have a look at OpenVZ, Linux-VServer and LXC. Think of it as chroot on steroids.

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021