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Virtualization Saves Real Dollars

Virtual Server 2005 R2 has a range of applications that can help your customers improve efficiency and cut costs.

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.

Virtual 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)

Info: www.microsoft.com/
windowsserversystem

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.

Spotlight Highlights

Key Features:

  • Advanced guest and host clustering capabilities
  • Includes server migration toolkit
  • Supports advanced 64-bit features

Competition:

  • VMware Server
  • VMware ESX Server

Opportunities:

  • Promote as tool for server
    consolidation
  • 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.

Competitive Landscape
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 changes include:

  • 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 server.
  • 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.
Why Go Virtual?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.