Virtualization Saves Real Dollars
Virtual Server 2005 R2 has a range of applications that can help your customers improve efficiency and cut costs.
- By James LaTour
- June 01, 2006
Virtual computing was once the purview of research technologists
-- testing applications, building test environments,
running demonstrations and other high-level tasks. As the hardware
required to run those virtual machines has become more powerful and less expensive, though, companies are
increasingly looking to virtualization as a practical way to improve
efficiency and reduce costs.
There's still some confusion about the differences between server
and desktop virtualization. The real difference lies not in what
they do, but how they do it. Virtual PC is a desktop application
targeted at average users. It has a simple interface and enhanced
interaction between the host and guest machines. Users can drag
files from their computer to the guest computer and hear audio from
the guest PC through their physical computer's speakers. They don't
need too much technical background apart from the ability to install
an operating system.
Virtual PC will run on Windows 2000 and XP Professional and supports
workstation-level guest machines such as 2000 and XP Pro, Windows
98, Millennium Edition and NT Workstation. It also supports MS-DOS
and OS/2 Warp 4.
Virtual Server, on the other hand, is targeted toward higher-powered
server platforms. It supports multiple and multithreaded CPUs, SCSI
disks, clustering, remote management, configurations with or without
SSL and up to 3.6GB RAM.
Virtual Server runs on Windows Server 2003, Small Business Server
and XP, although Microsoft strongly recommends against running it
on XP in production environments. Supported guest OSes include Windows
Server 2000 and 2003 (except Enterprise edition), NT 4.0 Enterprise
Edition and XP Pro. It also supports Red Hat and SuSE Linux. Your
customers can run other OSes within a virtual machine, but that's
not an officially supported configuration.
Virtual Server runs as a Windows service -- not an application.
It supports the 32-bit x86 and 64-bit x64 architectures as both
host and guest. Your customers can also remotely access Virtual
Server machines over a network. They'll need to use an IIS Web page
and an Active X control that lets them manage and control a virtual
machine from any computer with an Internet browser without needing
the client console installed.
Server 2005 R2
Release Date: April 2006
Price: Available as a free download (Guest
operating system licensing costs are additional
and vary based on the guest OS)
Any customers who have recently upgraded from an older OS to XP
Pro may have problems running older software. By installing Virtual
PC with their previous OS, though, they can still run legacy software
without sacrificing the increased security features of XP, having
to configure a dual-boot environment or holding onto outdated hardware.
Similarly, any of your customers on a drive to reduce hardware expenses
through server consolidation or looking for a way to affordably
upgrade legacy servers will find Virtual Server a great help.
What's New in R2?
The R2 version of Virtual Server adds a lot more power and
functionality to the base product. Originally slated to be the first
service pack for Virtual Server 2005, R2 is a more technology-aware
version of its predecessor. It supports hyper-threading, PXE boot,
the 64-bit x64 platform, iSCSI and Virtual Server Host Clustering.
Here's a look at some of the major enhancements:
Virtual Server Migration Toolkit: These tools help customers
migrate their existing physical servers onto Virtual Server 2005
machines. The Virtual Server Migration Toolkit (VSMT) runs on most
Windows NT 4.0, Windows Server 2000 and Windows Server 2003 computers.
It creates virtual images of the server's configuration and hard
disks. Although your customers will need to have Windows Server
2003 Automated Deployment Services (ADS), this is as simple as downloading
and installing the ADS add-on for companies already using Windows
Server 2003 Enterprise Edition.
Guest Clustering: Your customers will be able to use Virtual
Server 2005 R2 to create virtual Windows clusters, as it supports
SCSI and iSCSI clusters within guest machines (as long as the guest
operating system supports them, like Windows Server 2003). They
can configure their virtual machines with multiple SCSI and network
adapters to emulate a physical cluster setup. They can connect shared
disks between multiple cluster nodes and use them for data storage,
quorums and a heartbeat network to ensure inter-node communication
for status and failover.
- Advanced guest and host clustering capabilities
- Includes server migration toolkit
- Supports advanced 64-bit features
- VMware Server
- VMware ESX Server
- Promote as tool for server
- Easier integration with Microsoft shops
- Ties into Microsoft's Dynamic Systems Initiative
Host Clustering: Your customers can also set up host clustering
with Virtual Server 2005 R2. This will ensure that their guest machines
are always available. Virtual Server 2005 R2 with the Windows Cluster
Service lets them consolidate onto one physical server without causing
the host server to become a single point of failure. Configuring
a host cluster can help maintain high availability for virtual servers.
By configuring a physical host computer as a node of a Windows server
cluster, the virtual machines running on that physical machine can
failover to another cluster node if the active node fails or has
to be taken offline for maintenance.
As with all clustering techniques, these are fairly advanced practices.
Microsoft provides step-by-step guides on their Web site that can
help both you and your customers.
Microsoft certainly isn't the only company supporting the
virtualization movement. VMware (now owned by EMC) has been focused
on virtual technology since it started in 1998. VMware competes
with Microsoft on both the desktop and server side. VMware
Workstation is comparable to Microsoft Virtual PC. VMware Server
and ESX Server are server-based products similar to Virtual Server.
ESX Server is a "virtualize everything" solution. Built
on a Linux-based operating system, ESX server is exclusively designed
to host virtual machines. You can't use the physical server on which
ESX Server runs to host Active Directory, DHCP, DNS or any other
network service. Every bit of the server's processing power is dedicated
to hosting virtual machines.
Two potential disadvantages to ESX Server are price and hardware
compatibility. It's considerably more expensive than GSX or Virtual
Server. Pricing starts at $3,750 for dual-CPU support, and there's
a $30,000 price tag for a 16-CPU server. This price doesn't include
the cost of the guest virtual machine OSes or hardware. Also, because
ESX Server is its own OS, it only runs on a limited amount of hardware.
Virtual Server runs on any hardware that supports Windows.
VMware Server (formerly known as GSX Server) is a closer comparison
to Virtual Server. VMware Server runs on an existing Windows or
Linux server and supports hosting guest machines such as Windows,
Linux and NetWare. Because both products offer comparable features,
competitive pricing (both VMware Server and Virtual Server R2 are
offered as free downloads) and apply to the Dynamic Systems Initiative
(more on that later), your customers will have to consider different
factors when deciding which is the right choice.
Virtual Server and Windows are both from Microsoft, so support
is a single phone call. This could be an issue when running VMware
Server atop Windows Server 2003. Support for all VMware server products
is available only through a platinum or gold server contract (which
provides 24x7 mission critical or 12x5 non-mission critical support,
respectively). There is no pay-per-incident support available for
VMware Server or ESX Server.
Virtual Server is highly extensible and takes full advantage of
the Component Object Model (COM). All aspects of virtual machine
management, administration and automation are available through
the COM API and common .NET Framework languages such as Visual Basic,
.NET and C#. VMware solutions support fewer COM interfaces, but
they do support a handful of PERL modules through an add-on SDK.
As companies look to customize and automate virtual machine solutions,
the value of a standardized, integrated solution should be part
of your push for Virtual Server.
Marketing and Sales
No matter which company's virtualization solution you choose,
you'll benefit from the Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI). DSI is
a commitment from Microsoft and its partners to develop self-managing
dynamic systems. The goal is to help IT teams design more manageable
systems and automate operations to reduce costs and have more time
to focus on other business goals.
Virtualization ties into the DSI strategy by making it possible
to manage business tasks independently of the resources needed to
execute them. Resource management becomes easier with virtual machines,
as your customers can assign the necessary resources to handle a
task regardless of their physical location. They can monitor progress,
adjust policies and manage service-level settings in real time.
The resulting virtual infrastructure is more secure, reliable, manageable
and easier to automate.
Along with DSI, Microsoft is making its virtualization technologies
more appealing through creative licensing programs. In October 2005,
it adopted a new licensing policy for virtualization to help keep
the cost of software licensing down, while adapting to newer technologies
like multi-core and hyper-threading processors. Some of the licensing
- Pay only for what you use. Customers are only required
to pay for the maximum number of running instances (in other words,
an instance of original installed software). They can then create
and store an unlimited number of virtual machines on a particular
- Easier deployment across servers. Customers
can move active instances from one server to another without limitation,
provided the physical servers are licensed for the same product.
So customers can now store a set of instances on a storage network
and deploy any instance to a rack server or blade server with
an available license.
- Flexibility per processor. Customers can stack multiple
virtual instances on a machine by licensing for the number of
virtual processors they're using, rather than for all of the physical
processors on the server.
- R2 Enterprise Edition. The new policy for the Enterprise
Edition lets customers run up to four virtual instances on a single
server at no additional licensing cost. This limit will be lifted
entirely for customers choosing to run the forthcoming Windows Server
Datacenter Edition. In this case, customers can run an unlimited
number of virtual instances at no additional cost.
There are several compelling reasons your customers
will want to consider virtualization technologies.
Here are the top three:
1. Design and Proof-of-Concept:
If your customers have ever had to reconfigure
a computer to test a new operating system or application,
they know how long it can take. Virtualization
can speed up this process in three ways:
- Once they create a virtual machine with a
base operating system, they can reuse it for
different projects. Building the virtual system
once takes the same amount of time as building
a physical system, but copying the virtual hard
disk file and applying it to a new virtual machine
only takes a matter of minutes.
- Second, they can save a virtual machine's
state and make an exact point-in-time duplicate
for reference purposes. This is extremely useful
when recovering from a bad software install,
patch conflict or any other disaster. Simply
shut down the failed virtual machine and restore
the copy to pick up where you left off.
- Third, virtual machines are ideal for development
labs since there's no risk of making changes
to production servers and destabilizing systems.
2. Server Consolidation
and Application Migration: One of the big
benefits of Windows Server 2003 is server consolidation
-- being able to do more with less. Virtual Server
2005 R2 takes this a step further by giving your
customers a way to combine servers onto a single
physical server, thereby consuming a fraction
of the resources it would otherwise. Servers requiring
different operating systems can co-exist on a
single server, creating a less expensive and more
efficient solution. Legacy operating systems and
application can still run on newer hardware along
with more recent and secure operating systems.
3. Training and Demonstration:
Training and demonstrating software with virtual
machines is a common practice for two main reasons.
First, it's easy to build and distribute pre-configured
training and demonstration environments. Using
flexible and portable virtual hard disk technology,
your customer can create a virtual image to demonstrate
a beta application on hardware entirely different
from the one on which the demonstration will be
viewed. Second, with "save state" functionality,
your customers can restore a virtual image to
its exact state when the virtual machine started.
This is useful for training purposes, where actions
performed on the virtual machine can easily be
undone between sessions to ensure the same experience
for all students. -- J.L.
Make Virtualization a Reality
Virtualization is being increasingly embraced as a viable business
technology. The ability to better utilize powerful high-end servers
through virtualization and the potential cost savings for server
migrations is becoming more accepted and commonplace. Incentives
like the Dynamic Solutions Initiative should increase interest and
entice your customers who are serious about improving efficiency
and lowering cost to give careful consideration to Virtual Server.