Production Virtualization for SMB - SC-VMM, Server 2008 and Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1

Production Virtualization for SMB - SC-VMM, Server 2008 and Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1

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I was talking with Dana Epp when Rodney and I were out in Vancouver for the MySecurity tour a couple of months back. He was telling me about when he was trying to get a straight answer on how he license System Centre Virtual Machine Manger in his office and the software reseller he was talking to didn't quite understand the licensing as of yet. To be fair - the product had only just released to the public and as he states below, it's something that will be sorted out in the new year.

I'm impressed with what he's done with it since then. He's running Server 2008 as the host with Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 as the virtualization solution. That's right - VS2005 R2 SP1, NOT Hyper-V and he's managing it with SC-VMM! Way cool - existing technology meeting the needs and getting ready for future of Hyper-V when he's ready to switch over.  Have a Read...

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Dana Epp (Chilliwack, British Columbia, IT Pro & MVP)

 

I’m a real fan of virtualization. For years I have used virtualization to test out software we write here at Scorpion Software and continue to create test lab deployments of complex environments that we simply don’t run here. We aren’t an enterprise shop, and don’t have the capacity to try everything an enterprise might normally see or have to act upon, making virtualization a great asset for testing.

In the last couple of years though the virtualization we use in development and in test labs has creeped into our production environment. We have transitioned from a shop that was running 12 different machines in the office down to three servers running Microsoft’s Virtual Server technology. This move alone has resulted in huge benefits to us. We have seen our power bill slashed in half. The server room is way quieter and nowhere near the sauna it used to be. And less hardware means less potential hardware failure over time as things age. Interestingly enough, with the use of some of Microsoft’s latest technology we have even reduced the reliance on hardware and can now easily move virtual machine guests across to new hardware hosts in the matter of minutes if and when things go wrong. Yes, that’s right... you read that correctly. We can easily move a virtual machine from one host to another in no time at all without caring about the underlying hardware.

This is all thanks to Microsoft’s System Center Virtual Machine Manager, or SCVMM for short. SCVMM is quite a powerful tool; and one I almost lost out on and ignored. As a small business owner when Microsoft talks about anything that starts with “System Center”, my eyes usually gloss over. For the longest time I thought the technology seemed to be targeted for enterprises that were managing huge corporate IT infrastructures that required major scalability and reliability resources. I was wrong. Solutions like SCVMM and System Center Essentials are perfect for many small businesses.

I’ve been running SCVMM in our lab since some of the early betas and really like it. Recently though we moved it into our production environment and it’s been a nice addition to our existing Virtual Server infrastructure. No scratch that. Its introduction has become a great asset to how we run things here. And I wanted to pass on some of the experiences we recently had as we transitioned to fully run SCVMM in a production environment.

First some background. We have three Windows Server 2008 x64 systems running Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 as the hosts. Our first one is called CORPVS and drives our corporate line of business systems like SQL Server 2005, MSCRM and even our Quickbooks accounting system. Our second system is called RDVS and serves all the machines that our research and development department uses, such as our automated build system, defect tracking system and even our Linux based source control server. Our third box is called QAVS and provides our automated testing system, and various QA test systems we use when reproducing customer issues.

We keep the primary partitions on the hosts pretty small, and install NOTHING on them except for the parts needed to run Virtual Server 2005. All the virtual machine guests are stored on a secondary RAID array, making it easy to blow away the primary OS and read the virtual machines back in as needed. We then run SCVMM in a virtual machine itself and wire everything up to our Small Business Server 2003 domain. Nice tiny little package that fits on half a rack.

We used to manage each server individually by RDPing into it and using an unsupported product from Microsoft called VMRC Plus (http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=80ADC08C-BFC6-4C3A-B4F1-772F550AE791&displaylang=en). It’s a great tool that really makes working with Virtual Server much easier. This worked ok, but didn’t give us visualization of all the systems across the network. In comes SCVMM to the rescue. It lets us see all machines across all hosts in a single centralized console.

It shows us CPU utilization and hardware load while letting us peer into the configuration of each system very quickly. We can easily start, stop and pause machines in an instant, and directly connect to any VM as we need to. And then there is my favourite feature, the “checkpoints”. This is a feature missing in Virtual Server that has saved my butt a few times now. A checkpoint is similar to having an undo disk, but with the power to let you restore multiple versions at different points in time. This is great news if you are like me and HATE rolling out untested patches or new software updates to the production systems. Now I just go and create a checkpoint just before the update/installation, and can IMMEDIATELY snap back to a previous working checkpoint in a couple of clicks if something goes wrong.

I could go on and rave about many of the other powerful features like how it can convert physical machines to virtual machines with the P2V wizard or how quickly you can deploy new servers with the built in provisioning with the Virtual Machine Library. But I just can’t do it justice. You have to see it for yourself. And you can. Microsoft has a FREE 120 day trial DVD you can order on TechNet here (http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/scvmm/bb679927.aspx). You can even download a preconfigured VHD that you can drop right into your existing Virtual Server or Virtual PC environment.

I can’t stress enough how much of an asset SCVMM is to a small business like ours. And Microsoft realizes that this is a great tool for small business. Next month they are releasing a “Workgroup Edition” that will be generally available to the SMB, allowing you to centrally manage up to 5 hosts and as many guests as you like in SCVMM for around $500. Depending on your environment you will probably see an ROI in the first few months. A worthwhile investment that I think many small businesses should really consider.


Dana Epp [Microsoft Security MVP]
http://www.scorpionsoft.com/

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