With the power of today’s enterprise servers, Microsoft Dynamics AX customers are increasingly discovering that allocation of computing resources can change with the click of a mouse. Some days your group might run its work on a few machines, other days expand to 15, other days 30 or more. And though the “machines” that can support such flexibility are virtualized servers, the improved performance and other benefits are as real as the clock on the wall.
Microsoft’s virtualization engine, Hyper-V, has been making a comeback in recent years. Compared to their chief rival VMWare, which had defined and dominated the hypervisor marketplace since the turn of the millennium, Hyper-V is a dark horse to many enterprise users, having only been introduced with Windows Server 2008. So in this article and an occasional series of follow ups, we’ll be talking to Dynamics ERP experts who use Hyper-V to boost performance and improve the deployment of solutions. We’ll also be exploring some of the when’s and why’s of installing and running Hyper-V in a Dynamics environment.
Dynamics AX wearing a hypervisor
Joris de Gruyter, a Microsoft MVP and the AX Technical Services Manager for Naperville, Ill.-based Sikitch LLP, says Hyper-V is crucial to his group’s work.
“We are heavy Hyper-V users,” he says. “We have to support a lot of different versions of AX. And sometimes it’s just the matter of one hot fix that’s different. But still we need an environment to develop in that’s specific to one client. So as you can imagine that gets out of hand really quickly. There’s no way we could do that physically.”
So de Gruyter says nearly all their servers run Hyper-V, which spins up virtual machines – software-generated “machines” that act and operate as if they were physically separate boxes with each their own CPU, RAM, disk space, etc. – only as they’re needed.
And they’re not stingy with spinning up instances either. He says they’d rather run separate instances for each separate software environment they need. On any given day in the office, he says, his AX team is often running 30 or more “machines” each with their own implementations of AX plus third-party add-ons their clients might need or use.
“Today, if I wanted to, I could go buy a physical machine, put it in the server room and make sure of course that it has Hyper-V. And it fits from then on. I don’t really have to care about it anymore. It’s all abstracted. I just say I need a new virtual machine. And Hyper-V just [makes one.]”
Earlier this year, de Gruyter says, a failing disk on one of his group’s machines illustrated how modular Hyper-V has made his operating environment. He just took the ailing machine offline and fixed the disk. The total RAM, CPU cores and disk space available was affected, of course. But since they weren’t pushing the limit that day, he says, practically no one noticed any difference in the performance of their AX environments.
“AX”-ceptions to the rule
While virtualization offers many clear benefits, an organization’s first installation of Hyper-V should be carefully done. Hypervisors can run into performance problems, and, de Gruyter says, it’s worth outsourcing the installation to a consultant or other IT expert who can optimize the Hyper-V environment and ensure that it’s running as efficiently as possible. Even an installation of Hyper-V that’s just a few percentage points away from optimal can still mean drains on the overall system performance once it’s running at full throttle. Sub-optimal performance translates to increased lag time, slow-downs and frustrated developers.
And while Hyper-V excels at dynamically shifting the hardware load to where the burden is greatest at any moment, people can’t just pretend that the technology has suddenly given them additional CPU cores or memory that their server boxes don’t physically have.
“Say my physical machine has a couple dozen CPU cores,” he says. “But what you find sometimes is people over-allocate. They say, ‘Let’s give AX 8 cores.’ But the virtual server needs to be sure that those CPU cores are available. And if you assign too many of them, it’s basically stalled.”
Virtualization also won’t be the right approach for all aspects of an AX solution architecture. SQL Servers, for example, can tax an AX system the most, which is why – even with his office’s hyper-implementation of Hyper-V – de Gruyter’s group still has a separate database box, completely distinct from the Hyper-V servers.
“SQL is very memory intensive and very disk intensive, so it’s easier to optimize when it’s on its own physical server,” he says. “We see a lot of clients do that, and we go that route ourselves. It has benefits, and those benefits are mainly around performance. You could set up SQL Server [with Hyper-V]. But to do that without losing performance, you have to be a real expert to get that set up right. So for us, [our approach] an easy way to get the best performance.”
Published by Mark Anderson, 7 July 2014
Shared via MS Dynamics World