I'm spending this week at Microsoft's TechEd conference and, to put it lightly, there is a lot happening! With the imminent beta release of Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, Microsoft is continuing to improve the services provided by the company's Hyper-V virtualization platform and makes progress toward closing the feature/function gap between Hyper-V and VMware's vSphere. Already, Hyper-V is a more than acceptable platform for many organizations but as Microsoft continues to throe resources at this product, it gains more and more momentum in the market share battle with VMware. However, as much as Microsoft continues to add capability to the product, there are some needs that are not currently being met and that will not be met in the upcoming SP1.
Among the most prominent new feature coming in SP1 is support for a feature that Microsoft calls Dynamic Memory. With the use of dynamic memory, you can basically oversubscribe server RAM on the assumption that each individual virtual machine won't necessarily use all of the memory allocated to it. For quite some time, Microsoft has resisted implementing this overcommit feature with the guidance that oversubscribing server RAM can lead to problems down the line, but when used correctly and appropriately, memory overcommit can increase virtual machine density and, thus, lower TCO for an overall virtualization solution.
Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 will also add a feature called RemoteFX, which is a set of enhancements to Remote Desktop Services intended to significantly boost the graphics capabilities of hosted desktops (and other remote connection types) even going so far as to support the full Aero experience. I got to see RemoteFX in action with a hosted desktop this week at TechEd and watched Aero working flawlessly. While seeing Aero itself work isn't necessarily a huge deal, I also got to watch Windows Media Player playing a video via a RemoteFX-enhanced RDP session and the quality was surprisingly good. If you'd like to get more information about RemoteFX, take a look at this TechNet article.
Host-based USB passthrough
One feature addition that has been missing from Hyper-V is support for host-based USB devices that can pass through to hosted virtual machines. Unfortunately, some environments still need to use USB devices, which can sometimes be a challenge in a fully-virtualized environment unless the hypervisor supports USB pass through or you use a third party network-based USB host, such as Digi's Anywhere USB. More unfortunate is the SP1 edition for Hyper-V will not support this feature either and Microsoft has indicated that this feature is not a priority. SP1 will, however, support client-based USB redirection for some devices meaning that users will be able to use some USB devices on clients and these USB devices will be redirected to the VM. In current versions of Hyper-V, this capability is not supported without performing some out-of-the-way operations and many devices are not supported at all.