7 Jun.

The long term benefits of Hyper-V (and Windows) in the Xbox One

While many gaming enthusiasts have had a crash course in Hyper-V since the recent Microsoft announcements, for those of us on the IT side of the fence have had time to think about the possible ramifications of this on our world, and the good news is that it’s all good news.

More Hyper-V Hosts = More Data = Better Hyper-V Hosts

One of the most critical benefits I see in this is that Microsoft can drastically install the base of Hyper-V clients, and they will be used in different ways to the ones it has in market today. Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8 Enterprise have changed the way in which we can take Hyper-V with us without installing a server OS on our laptops. They also tend to violate the best practice scenarios of minimal workloads in the host OS.

The Windows 8 Enterprise laptop on which I’m typing this generally has two VMs running, as well as Outlook, Skype, Yammer, Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, and Remote Desktop Connection instances just to get started. Add dynamic memory support to the mix, and you end up with something very different behaviour to a server running Hyper-V. Memory pressure is coming from the host’s applications rather than from other VMs.

Xbox One now provides a different type of pressure on the host – the latency/lag of the gaming VM is now an incredibly high priority. The focus on CPU cache versus the PS4 implementation of the AMD Jaguar architecture could be a direct response to this, and in the Windows world, CPU cache made incredibly large differences to certain workloads. One of first times this was seen was back in the days of the 256KB, 512KB and 1024KB L2 Cache versions of the Pentium Pro. Yes, this was almost 20 years ago, and I still remember seeing SQL Server benchmarks that showed huge gains with chips that were mostly identical apart from their cache implementation.

The net result of this is that Hyper-V will be better across a variety of workloads. As the Xbox One rolls out globally, Hyper-V will without a doubt be the most used non-server based hypervisor in the market, and continue to build confidence the Hyper-V name. There are risks with this association – one bad Xbox One update that negatively affects Hyper-V reliability can be used by VMware in compete discussions for years to come, but the fixed hardware in the Xbox One should minimise any chance of this happening.

Threads. Threads. Threads. Threads. Threads. Threads. Threads. Threads.

Due to close ties with Intel folk in a previous life, I’ve tended to be on the bleeding edge of core counts in my home machines. There was nothing more exciting than seeing the number of logical CPU’s exposed by task manager doubling every couple of years. Below is my current Hyper-V host, more than suitable for a while to come.

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So why is the high core support important? This is the way many workloads have moved, and if you think about the move to various forms of distributed computing, anything that can be offloaded to another core within the same CPU, CPU within the same system, across the network to another system, across the internet to another group of systems etc. etc. etc. you see where things can go. Scalability is good.

Many of us who cross over into the enthusiast space get frustrated when we still see games that don’t take advantage of more than two CPU cores, so we should see the game developers learn a few tricks to really take advantage of what the Xbox One can do, and then utilise these skills on the desktop PC market. Over time the improvements in PC game development tools required to do this will benefit non-game developers. Taking a step back in time and looking at some of the multi-core improvements Microsoft made to their transcoding engine in Media Center and Windows Media Player as core counts improved show that Microsoft does take advantage of these capabilities where possible.

Next Gen Windows in a VHDX file

Some of use are already the Boot From VHD(X) features in Windows, and something many of us have seen for a while is that this has moved beyond a novelty and into something very useful for a variety of situations. Microsoft’s efforts to improve their management tools to support VHD and VHDX files is also apparent.

What we haven’t seen yet is a version of Windows that ships from Microsoft as a VHD in retail type packaging. Yes, they make trial versions of Windows client and servers available as VHD files, as well as distributing complex environments like the Customer Immersion Experience in a series of VHDs, but what does the future hold?

I don’t think we need a crystal ball to predict the possibility of a Hyper-V installation as the first stage of a future Windows installation process, and then the compressed VHD being expanded onto your SSD. Whether or not we have to wait for Boot From VHD to be the accepted way at first, meaning we have a couple of generations of Windows to wait, but it’s really not a big leap of faith.

It Expands The Installed Base Of Windows (8ish)

I admit it, I like Windows 8. Sure, some of the new UI elements aren’t very intuitive, but the 8.1 announcements should go a long way towards addressing some concerns that are out there. While I don’t expect the Windows Intune team to add Xbox One as a supported device type to the 5 devices per user that are allowed, I’m sure there will be some serious efforts to expose more of the Windows functionality out in the various communities that enjoy those challenges. While there are many potential scenarios that would be completely unsupported and in violation of lots of legalese, they haven’t been a deterrent to many in the past.

Full Of Geeky Goodness

As someone firmly entrenched in the world of Microsoft who doesn’t spend anywhere near as much time gaming as I used to, the Xbox One is still something that I’ll be buying as soon as I can use my Microsoft  Alumni benefits to order it. The question that it raises is how do I reorganise my entertainment unit to accommodate it. It’s already maxed out, so I need think creatively to get there…

 

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