Executive Summary:

Microsoft has pledged to ship the final version of Hyper-V within 180 days of the initial public release of Windows Server 2008. Hyper-V lets businesses run multiple OSs on a single server in a way that offers better performance and scalability than Microsoft's previous solution, Virtual Server 2005 R2. Hyper-V isn’t available in all Server 2008 product editions.

One of the odder aspects of Windows Server 2008 is that it shipped with one of its major components, Hyper-V, in beta form. Microsoft has pledged to ship the final version of Hyper-V (previously known as Windows Server Virtualization) within 180 days of the initial public release of Windows Server 2008, which occurred in February 2008. Since then, the company has shipped a so-called release candidate (RC) version of Hyper-V and by press date it will likely have shipped the release version. Here’s what you need to know about the availability of Hyper-V.

The Promise of Hyper-V
Microsoft’s new server virtualization platform, Hyper-V, is an integrated component of Server 2008 and is exposed as a role in that OS version. In broad terms, Hyper-V lets businesses run multiple OSs on a single server in a way that offers better performance and scalability than Microsoft’s previous solution, Virtual Server 2005 R2.

However, like many other Longhorn-era technologies, development of Hyper-V fell behind in 2006, and in 2007 Microsoft admitted that it wouldn’t be able to ship the final version of this technology in Server 2008. Instead, Microsoft shipped a beta version of Hyper-V with Server 2008 and promised to ship the final Hyper-V version via Windows Update within 180 days of Server 2008, or by August 2008.

Since that time, Microsoft has begun making good on its promise by shipping the RC version of Hyper-V in March 2008. This near-final Hyper-V version offers improved performance, stability, and usability according to Microsoft and supports more hardware configurations and languages.

More important, perhaps, Hyper-V RC1 supports additional child OSs when compared with the beta release. These child OSs include Windows Server 2003 SP2, Novell SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 10, Windows Vista SP1, and Windows XP SP3.

Microsoft says it’s still on track to ship the final version of Hyper-V by August 2008. I expect it will happen sooner.

Where to Get Hyper-V
Hyper-V is available as part of Server 2008, but it’s not in all product editions. Broadly speaking, Hyper-V can be found in several x64 versions of Server 2008, though Microsoft also sells x64 versions of Server 2008 that don’t include Hyper-V. These editions are specifically named (as in Windows Server 2008 Standard without Hyper-V) and can be purchased at a slight discount. (Very slight, as it turns out: Non–Hyper-V versions of Server 2008 retail for $28 less than Hyper-V– equipped versions.) Hyper-V also isn’t available in the Web edition of Server 2008, now marketed as Windows Web Server 2008, though this product does ship in both x64 and 32-bit/x86 versions.

Curiously, Microsoft will also be marketing a related product called Hyper-V Server. This product will ship in a single x64 version and will cost just $28. Microsoft says it’s a special version of Server 2008 that supports only the Hyper-V role, which should provide businesses with the most secure Hyper-V servers possible. Test versions of Hyper-V Server weren’t available at press time, but presumably a future release candidate will provide such an option.

Recommendations
It doesn’t make sense to do more than test Hyper-V in its current prerelease state, though compatibility with Virtual Server and Virtual PC should provide some continuity. Two things need to happen before you should consider deploying Hyper-V. First, Microsoft needs to ship the final version of the technology (and it may well have done so by press date). Second, the company needs to release an updated version of its System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) that will support Hyper-V. (The current version supports only Virtual Server.) This tool will enable businesses to manage multiple Hyper-V servers more efficiently and is a necessary baseline for any serious Hyper-V rollout.