Hyper-V is no workstation virtualisation tool and 64-bit only OSs are a right pain!

A few weeks ago it was time to admit that my laptop wasn’t state of the art any more.  My plan wasn’t to jump to a Windows 7 powered web browser but leap to a Windows Server 2008R2 powered virtualisation platform.  To do this I needed new hardware and new software.

The new hardware came in the form of a Dell Studio laptop, a quad core i7 processor, 4GB of memory, eSATA connectivity and at a price point that could be justified given its educational value to me.

The software came in the form of Microsoft’s Action Pack.  A bundle of Microsoft software aimed at getting very small Microsoft Partner organisations working legally, however even with some qualification checks very small included me.  The pack costing £200 gives licences to run Windows 7, Windows Server 2008R2, Exchange 2010, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Visio, Project etc, exactly what I needed for my VM platform.

My laptop arrived with a typical OEM installation of Windows 7, not as bloated as expected, but still Windows 7.  I installed Windows Server 2008R2, 99% of the Windows 7 drivers worked and I then installed the Hyper-V role.  The last time I did this was on a HP ProLiant server when it all went smoothly.  On the first reboot I got a blue screen of death – caused by the ATI display driver apparently.  It’d booted fine all morning with that driver in place, suspicious of the Hyper-V install I did a quick Google search, “hyper-v ati blue screen”.

Immediately I found the problem!  “When you enable the Hyper-V role in Windows Server 2008, do not install the drivers for high performance accelerated graphics adapters.” Microsoft say!  Brilliant, so I have a high performance video card that I can’t do anything about which breaks Hyper-V!  There are several links at the bottom of this post to give more information but essentially Hyper-V is only designed to work with out the box Microsoft display drivers, the lovely generic SVGA driver which makes everything huge and blurred, anything else uses a memory throughput which Hyper-V can’t cope with.

My reason for needing Hyper-V was because Windows Server 2008R2 is only available as a 64-bit build and the number of virtualisation tools which support 64-bit guests is limited, very limited.  The only option I had it seemed, apart from squinting, was VMware Workstation 7.  None of Microsoft’s virtualisation-as-an-application products support 64-bit guests and Windows Server 2008R2 is ONLY available in 64-bit.  It seems that the SharePoint 2010 beta world is also equally annoyed with the need to have 64-bit guest OS support, the idea of having your everyday Windows instance also powering your SharePoint environment would have been nice, but no.

Microsoft have a KB artlcle, 961661, however it’s worded to suggest it’s an observation rather than a bug which has a fix being worked on.  I really hoped to have a pure MS software stack, but as much as I wanted to I need VMware….

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/961661
http://blogs.msdn.com/virtual_pc_guy/archive/2009/01/07/bad-performance-with-high-end-graphics-and-hyper-v.aspx

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