After my latest round of camps across the UK I noticed that a lot of you are new to System Center 2012 and given the great response to Hyper-V I thought a gentle introduction to the part of System Center that manages virtual machines (VMs), Virtual Machine Manager, (VMM) would be worth a read.

Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) does what it says on the tin, it manages virtual machines and Hyper-V is the hypervisor that provides the server virtualisation capabilities in Windows Server.  As a bonus VMM 2012 SP1 has had significant changes which make the most of the new features in Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V, and has also been updated to manage Vmware VSphere 5.1 so if you are using both this can manage VMs across both of those and the rarer Citrix XenServer.

Of course tools like Server Manager in Windows Server 2012 allow you to easily manage multiple servers in one go to a basic level, and if you have less than 70 VMs running only on Hyper-V you could probably stop reading this now and use that and PowerShell.  However if your working in a larger environment with multiple hypervisors please read on!

The easiest way to manage large numbers of things is to group and catalogue them and in VMM VMs are grouped in two distinct but complimentary ways:

Services: VMs belong to services that you deliver to the business e.g. applications. Generally applications have tiers of components for example web front ends, middle tiers and databases and to keep the service running you need to understand these dependencies especially if you are making the application highly available.  Some services can be scaled up and down e.g. those web front ends.  You may want to deploy copies of a service rather than just spinning up new VMs and gluing them together and this can be done from service templates which understand Web Deploy, SQL Server databases and can even virtualise a Windows Service in the same way that applications can be virtualised on a desktop using App-V

here’s a service I prepared earlier..

VMM Service

note the scalability setting at the bottom where you can set how big and small each tier of the service can be.

Clouds:

The business are paying us to provide services for them and they own the data centre while we are the curators who look after it on their behalf.  The Projects , Divisions business units, call them what you will, then own parts of it but rather than put stickers marked finance on a rack of servers VMM allows your data centre  to be logically split up into clouds that can be owned by one of these business units/divisions etc.  So clouds comprise compute storage and networking but scattered across hypervisors, servers, SANs etc.  You would then delegate control of that cloud downwards to an IT guy how actually works for that business unit and you would offer them a list of service and virtual machine templates that they could use within that cloud, however they can’t go beyond the limits you set on the compute storage etc.

VMM clouds

it’s your cloud and you can specify how big it is

Another key part of VMM is it’s library. This is simply a share where you can store and create all the objects you need to create VM. This might be nothing more than a standard blank hard disk and an iso with an OS on it. More advanced users will create VM and Service templates as I mentioned earlier, but one other thing you can do is to create profiles which are essentially templates which can be used in templates. For example a hardware profile gives you a place to store all the CPU, storage and network information that you use across all your templates and an OS profile details how you configure the OS. You can then mix and match the OS and hardware profiles to quickly create a set of templates you need without filling in all of the details every time you create a new template.  By the a way a top tip is to turn on deduplication in Windows Server 2012 for the Library volume you create it should save you about70% of the space it would otherwise occupy as you can see below..

VMM dedup

 

VMM also allows the VM administrator to maintain the hosts by allowing them to have a desired configuration  and to patch them by automatically sweeping VMs off and on them during the process and getting appropriate updates from your update server (WSUS). In a similar fashion you can manage your servers to save power by shunting VMs on to a smaller set of hosts allowing the rest to be shut down when not in use

 

VMM also a deep understanding of your fabric for example :

Storage. VMM understands Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) and classified based on performance which can then be apportioned to clouds. SAN copies can be initiated and offloaded from VMM via this as well.  Note most of the major storage players  (Dell, EMC, NetApp, Vmware, etc.) have signed up to SMI-S.

Networking. If you are using Hyper-V you can see the virtual networking and extensible virtual switch exposed to allow virtual machines to belong to a network that moves around with them independently of the setting of the hosts, here I have shown the networking of a few of my hosts and VMs

VMM is part of the System Center suite and really only works when it is crossed wired into the rest of the suite and you might start with:

Orchestrator allows you to automate processes into VMM by using simple scripts. the process (runbook) can be initiated from other bits of System Center or from any of the leading management tools from third parties  BMC, etc.  Then you could create a self service system based on service requests to spin up services and VM as required, although this would be easier if you used System Center Service Manager as this integrates into both VMM and Orchestrator and there is a Cloud Service Process Pack to make this easier still.

VMM oRCHESTRATOR INTEGRATION

Orchestrator has extensive tools to automate process in VMM

 

Operations Manager can not only peer into the health of VMs but the applications running on those VMs. If the application is not running as planned then an alert initiated here could then fire an orchestrator runbook to scale up a service on VMM. Operations Manager can also check the health of VMM and the hosts it is managing.

 

So that’s a quick lap around VMM 2012 sp1.  However to really understand you are need to do three things

1. Check Out the Microsoft Virtual Academy content on VMM

2. Try it out in your sandbox. You can get System Center 2012 sp1 evaluation edition here

3. Think about getting the MCSE Private Cloud certification. This is hard so you will need to study hard, but then the qualification is in demand so you  will stand out form the crowd