After a frantic bit of airline-related stupidity on Sunday, I arrived in San Francisco for VMWorld with the need to catch up. What I discovered was that Microsoft (not coincidentally, given the impending industry event being held by one of its most important competitors), had just released the latest version of its confusingly-named free virtualization product: Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008, the standalone version of Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V Server.

In R2 guise, Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 picks up some astonishing capabilities, especially for a free product. And if you're looking for conclusive proof that Microsoft is serious about wresting control of the virtualization market away from VMware, this is it.

You might recall my travails with Hyper-V Server 2008 last October. I noted that its cryptic text-based UI "makes Server Core look like a rich interactive video game by comparison," and bemoaned its requirement that you could only manage the server remotely, and then only after satisfying a poorly-documented set of steps. (See "Living Virtually with Hyper-V MDOP 2008.")

With Hyper-V Server 2008 R2, things are looking up. Yes, the server still uses a unique, command line-based local admin tool, now renamed Server Configuration. And yes, you still need to perform basic virtualization tasks remotely, from GUI tools on a different server or PC. But the underlying capabilities of this server have improved so much that I'm willing to overlook this. With only a few exceptions, Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 is technically the match for its powerful Windows Server 2008 R2-based brethren.

Most impressively, perhaps, Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 picks up Live Migration (and Quick Migration) capabilities. Its predecessor had no virtual machine (VM) migration capabilities at all, not even Quick Migration (which has been, however, a feature of Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V).

On the scalability front, Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 picks up the most important hardware capabilities of the Hyper-V version in Windows Server 2008 R2 as well. It supports up to eight physical processors, just like Server 2008 R2 Enterprise, and up from four in the original Hyper-V Server. It supports up to 24 processor cores, up from 16 in Hyper-V 1.0, or 25 in Hyper-V 1.0 with SP2. Memory? You can add up to 1TB of RAM, up from 32GB in Hyper-V 1.0. Just like Windows Server 2008 R2.

Additionally, Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 now supports up to 384 running VMs, up from 192 in Hyper-V 1.0. Just like Windows Server 2008 R2.

These capabilities are astonishing, and they're only slightly undone by the fact that Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 retains the same lousy text-based Server Configuration front-end that dogged its predecessor. As before, you must bring up the server locally, then configure a few simple options via what is essentially a batch file script. (Interestingly, the Server Core install of Windows Server 2008 R2 also offers this UI as an option, albeit in slightly modified form.)

The text-based UI has been updated slightly. You can now configure clustering, for example. But the best option might be the one that prevents Server Configuration from starting in the first place.

Hyper-V Server 2008 is more of a known quantity now--when I reviewed it last year it had just been released, and Microsoft admitted that the documentation, such as it was then, was lacking. This time around, there should be fewer issues.

Then again, maybe not. When I went to download the Remote Server Administration Tools so I could manage Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 from Windows 7, the Microsoft-supplied URL (here's the actual URL in case you were wondering: http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkID=130862 ) came up lame. I'll try again later, and of course will evaluate this server more closely once I'm back from VMworld.

In the meantime, here are some other links that DO work, from Windows IT Pro magazine and Microsoft.

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