Windows Server 2012 R2 will ostensibly show up just over a year after the initial release. Logic would suggest that such a short release cycle would contain little in the way of new capabilities, but in this case, logic has been defied, as the R2 release delivers a significant number of both new and improved features. Hyper-V is just one of the areas with rich improvements. Using a Hyper-V Failover Cluster allows organizations to keep their virtual workloads running with little or no downtime during planned or unplanned outages of nodes within the cluster since VMs can be Live or Quick Migrated to other active nodes.
One of the problems not addressed with Hyper-V Failover Clusters is the ability to handle Disaster Recovery scenarios. If your organization’s primary data center, office, or building hosting your virtual workloads encounters any kind of outage, those services may become unavailable to end users. While there are various storage technologies that allow organizations to replicate data stores between physical locations, many of these products can be cost prohibitive and/or difficult to implement.
This is where Hyper-V Replica comes in. Hyper-V Replica is a new feature in Windows Server 2012 that has been improved in Server 2012 R2 and is included as part of the Hyper-V role. So if you’re running Hyper-V on Windows Server 2012 or higher, Replica is already available to you with no additional licensing cost or software installation. Replica allows you to replicate virtual machines from one Hyper-V host or cluster to another Hyper-V host or cluster. As long as you’re using storage that is supported for Hyper-V, you can use any type of storage for the source and any type of storage on the destination.
1. Gen2 VMs
The basic architecture of the virtual machine has not changed in a long time. Because operating systems were built to operate physical devices, all VMs emulate broadly supported hardware, such as a specific NIC card or IDE disk controller. Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012 R2 supports the concept of a totally new architecture based on modern hardware with no emulated devices. This makes it possible to add a number of new features, such as secure boot for VMs and booting off of virtual SCSI or virtual network adapters. The catch is that guest support is limited to 64-bit versions of Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012.
2. Replication frequency
One of the limitations in Hyper-V Replica on Windows Server 2012 was the replication frequency. This frequency was hard-coded at 5 minutes and couldn’t be changed. In Server 2012 R2, this is now a configurable setting. When configuring a VM Replica, you can now select 30 seconds, 5 minutes, or 15 minutes for the replication frequency.
3. Online VM exporting and cloning
One of the downsides of Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012 is the need to stop a running VM before you can export or clone it. In production environments, this is simply not an option. Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V removes this restriction. It’s now possible to export or clone a running VM from System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 R2 with a few mouse clicks. As with pretty much anything related to managing Windows Server 2012, you can accomplish the same task using Windows PowerShell.
4. VM Direct Connect
Connecting to a running VM over RDP requires an active network connection, which you can’t always count on. In addition to an active network connection, the VM must have an IP address reachable by the system attempting to connect, a requirement with potential management and security issues depending on the environment in which you’re running. All this changes in Windows Server 2012 R2 and Hyper-V with the addition of VM Direct Connect. This feature allows a direct remote desktop connection to any running VM over what’s now called the VM bus. It’s also integrated into the Hyper-V management experience.
5. Extended replication
In Server 2012, Hyper-V Replica had the ability to replicate virtual machines from a primary location to a secondary/DR site. In Server 2012 R2, you can now configure extended replication which allows you to replicate to a third site.
6. Recovery Points
In Server 2012, Recovery Points were limited to the last 15 hours. In Server 2012 R2, this limit has been increased to 24 hours.
7. Linux Replica
A new version of Hyper-V wouldn’t be complete without improvements to support for non-Microsoft operating systems. Windows Server 2012 R2 Replica includes improved snapshot support and the ability to use Failover TCP/IP settings for supported Linux distributions.
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