TECH.ED |Why should you care about Microsoft virtualisation, when VMware has already perfected the software in the space? Well, for a start, the Microsoft stuff is free...!
Virtualisation in all shapes and sizes is definitely a hot topic at this year’s Tech.Ed.
I've already gone into quite a bit of depth on application virtualisation with SoftGrid, but what about Microsoft's plans for OS virtualisation -- Virtual PC and Virtual Server? Why should anyone care, when VMWare has perfected this market over the years?
Well, first of all, I'll just point out that the Microsoft stuff is free. And that's as good a reason as any to pay attention to it!
I caught up with Microsoft Australia's Michael Kleef and Andrew Dugdell to talk about virtualisation. Michael is a technology evangelist with Microsoft and Dugdell is a MVP (Most Valuable Professional) for virtualisation.
First up, Microsoft Virtual Server
For those of you who are familiar with Microsoft Virtual PC 2007, it helps to think of Virtual Server in the same manner, with the main difference that a virtual server (on a Windows server host) runs as a service and doesn’t shut down when a user logs out.
Of course, that’s a simplistic explanation – Windows Server is geared heavily towards enterprise-level performance, stability and compatibility. Virtual PC does a great job, but you wouldn’t use it as a base for a system requiring mission-critical availability in a live environment. This is no different to running up a server on VMWare Infrastructure rather than VMWare Player.
There have been a few iterations of Virtual Server since its inception as Virtual Server 2004. Each new version has involved a large increase in performance as well as greater support for virtualising modern hardware and a greater range of support host operating systems.
According to Microsoft, the latest version – Virtual Server R2 SP1 – was stress tested on a single physical machine on which 500 virtual servers each with 512MB of RAM were run up simultaneously. Of course, there are very few organisations that would seek such a model, but it’s clear that scalability is not a problem here.
Virtual server also works well in a clustered environment – if one physical server in a cluster needs to be taken down (which would take down any running virtual servers as well), they can be moved across to another server in the cluster. There’s a minimal downtime of 30 to 60 seconds while the active session is written to disk, but this is still a much better proposition than dealing with full server downtime.
The next planned release is Windows Virtualization Server, which is on track for release 180 days after the release of Windows Server 2008. This is a hypervisor-based solution which installs a very thin management layer straight over the hardware. It has a parent partition which manages resources for the host and any installed virtual machines, which are managed from a remote management applications.
Windows Virtualization Server will also enable 64-bit virtual clients on a 64-bit host. Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 only allows 32-bit virtual clients.
And the price?
As I mentioned at the top of the article, the nice thing about all Microsoft virtualisation products is that they’re completely free. As Kleef explained, Microsoft feels that if you’ve paid for server licensing, then virtualisation capabilities shouldn’t incur an extra cost.
Of course as with all virtualisation products you still have to license all the virtualised operating systems – the one exception is if you purchase Windows Server Enterprise. This allows you install four virtualised systems at no extra cost.
And what about full desktop virtualisation?
At the moment Microsoft’s focus is very much on the server market, but there are plans in place. A whitepaper was released in May entitled “VECD (Windows Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktop) for Virtual Server” which outlines the product suite implementation which will allow businesses to host Vista Business/Enterprise on Virtual Server and have thin client connect to the desktops via RDP. You can download the whitepaper here.
As virtualisation is such a flexible technology, I wanted to know how both Michael and Andrew use Microsoft’s virtualisation products in everyday life. Andrew has a Virtual PC machine running on his Media Centre, so that he gets the benefit of two “always-on” individual machines. He’s also run up a stripped-down virtual machine which just runs IE7 to create a secure browsing environment, as all the data gets wiped once the machine shuts down.
Michael does a lot of demo presentations, so Virtual PC and Virtual Server has made his life much easier. He can demo five virtual systems from one physical machine and can quickly run up demo labs and proof-of-concept scenarios without having to build those systems up from scratch.
James Bannan is attending Tech.Ed Australia 2007 as a guest of Microsoft.