Virtualization Platforms — 31 August 2011
Comparing HyperVisor Vitualization: Hyper-V vs. Xen

“Which hypervisor offers the best virtualized platform?”

This is a question that you might see asked these days among many IT. According to various polls, most administrators prefer VMware ESX or ESXi over the other free virtual machine managers, mainly because it is capable of hosting the most VMs on a single server. Microsoft Hyper-V (R2) and Citrix XenServer 5.5 often rank second or third among other virtualization platforms favored by administrators.

Both Hyper-V and Xen are free stand-alone virtualization platforms that are fairly similar in performance. However, Hyper-V is marginally preferred over Xen because it is integrated into Windows Server 2008 and works well with Windows and other software environments. Xen is a Linux or Unix-based hypervisor that appears to work better with other VM software environments.

Hyper-V and Xen each have impressive features, and they both have fast and free functional versions. When considering which product is best suited for an enterprise or for private use, clients should examine the capabilities of the two products, and judge according to the needs of their network(s).

Hyper-V has its drawbacks, although it is often chosen over Xen and other hypervisors. For example, Hyper-V virtual machines (VMs) use more memory and disk space than traditional dedicated servers. The computer BIOS needs to have DEP enabled to prevent data execution, and it is important to remember that some software may have not been tested with Hyper-V, which could potentially lead to issues or conflicts with its VM virtualization in the future.

Briefly, let’s compare the Hyper -V and Xen hypervisors. Hyper-V is generally preferred over Xen mostly because it does not require special hardware to operate properly. It can basically operate with any hardware that Windows software is installed on; even older Windows servers are supported. It is also, laptop friendly, which means the Hyper-V VPS (virtual private server) is portable and can be transported and used essentially anywhere. Finally, Hyper-V VPS installs intelligently with less tolerance for error and it does not need a host OS for modifications.

The Xen VPS on the other hand is similar to the Hyper-V VPS, except there are notable deficiencies in its features. The fact that the Xen require special hardware (Intel-V or AMD-VT) to function and because it has to be installed on a Linux or Unix server, poses a major disadvantage for its virtualization platform. Also, it is comparably new to the IT market, therefore some software may not have been fully tested on its platform. Xen can not be installed on laptops, meaning the server cannot be transported. And finally, the Xen hypervisor has to be contained in the guest OS in order for the server to perform maximally, is a serious disadvantage of the Xen virtualizaion network.

Despite its disadvantages, Xen virtualization platform has many advantages. Among the benefits is its unique paravirtualization technique. The Xen VPS software drivers allow a server to use less access to software devices, as opposed to excessive visualization when it is not necessary. In addition, Xen supports Linux, Unix, Solaris, and other operating systems on a single server. Today, most servers are expected to use multiple OS guests. Xen supports guest OSes with quality performance. It is reliable and secure for PC’s, enterprises, and for cloud solutions.

Overall, Hyper-V and Xen hypervisors are alike in performance. They each offer live migration, which is essential for avoiding server downtime, and they both are free products. The decision to use one over the other will depend for certain upon the size of the enterprise, the needs of the network, centered around the future potential for growth.

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