SCVMM 2008 R2 is a very competent product, neatly bringing Microsoft's virtualisation management offering in line with the competition at the same time as offering management of disparate platforms in the one product. The integration with the rest of the Systems Center suite makes the overall management and monitoring experience better than its rivals.
There's no doubt that server virtualisation
will fundamentally change the way IT administrators think of servers and service
delivery. It's not hard to imagine a future where applications run
on servers that have no fixed physical location and move around in
the cloud according to business needs.
Even though IT media and
virtualisation vendors paint a picture of this already happening,
real-world business implementations will take longer.
The main challenge in server virtualisation is not the actual
hypervisor, nor the process of running several virtual machines (VM) on one box; as
any business soon finds out, the trick is in managing and monitoring
VMs, optimising performance, maintaining security and preventing
virtual machine sprawl.
Microsoft's answer to these challenges is Systems Center Virtual
Machine Manager 2008 (SCVMM), recently released in its R2
SCVMM 2008 R2 manages a virtualised datacentre by controlling
MS Virtual Server 2005 hosts, Hyper-V hosts and VMware ESX hosts
via VirtualCenter. This is perhaps its biggest selling point, the
ability to manage multiple platforms in the same console.
Management of XEN servers is an upcoming feature, but it's not in the
Built entirely on PowerShell, there are essentially three ways of
driving SCVMM: the console, which can be customised for particular
users to only give them access to their own VMs; the command line; and the web-based self service portal. Going from
the physical world to the virtual is easy with a robust Physical 2
Virtual (P2V) wizard that converts a running machine to a VM in a
few easy steps. Intelligent Placement suggests which host would be
most suitable to host a new VM on, based on CPU/memory and
If you have Systems Center Operations Manager in your
environment, SCVMM can use Performance and Resource Optimization
(PRO) to suggest manual actions to remedy performance issues or
even implement solutions automatically.
SCVMM 2008 R2 runs only on Windows Server 2008 x64,
either R1 or R2. You can run SCVMM itself in a VM and manage the
environment from there which works fine on a smaller environment.
Underlying SCVMM is an SQL Server database, either SQL Server
Express (included) or if scalability is required, full-blown SQL
Server 2005/2008. The maximum tested size of SCVMM is 400 hosts and
There's also a Workgroup Edition of SCVMM that only supports
five hosts. Microsoft has just recently announced Microsoft System
Center Essentials Management Suite, a package that bundles
Workgroup edition with System Center Essentials 2007 for monitoring
of both physical and virtual servers at 37 per cent discount.
The main thrust of this R2 version is supporting
the new features in Hyper-V R2, both in Windows Server 2008 R2 and
in the stand-alone Hyper-V R2 server. Live Migration is Microsoft's
answer to VMware's VMotion. Both technologies allows for the
transfer of a running VM from one host to another in a cluster with
no perceived downtime for connected client computers.
Clustered Shared Volumes (CSV) is also new in Windows 2008 R2, which allow for more than one VM to be stored on each LUN in your Storage
Area Network (SAN). Networking advances such as Virtual Machine
Queue (VMQ) and TCP Chimney are also fully supported and result in
noticeable performance gains in networking. Adding and removing
virtual storage (VHD files) from running VMs is also fully
integrated in SCVMM 2008 R2.
Templates — self-service
The system for creating VMs that are
ready to be put in production in SCVMM involves the Library server
(essentially just one or more file shares, maintained by SCVMM),
hardware and guest OS profiles, and an existing VM. Together these generate templates for new VMs. A new VM based on a
template can be spun up on a suitable host in a matter of
Where you have the need to allow users to create their own VMs
and manage them at a simple level, the self-service portal is your
friend. A web page gives access (based on administrator-assigned
permissions and policies) for users to create new VMs based on your
templates, start and stop them as well as put them back into the
library. To curb enthusiastic users from swamping your hosts with
running VMs, a quota system can be implemented where each VM "costs"
a certain number of points and each user is given a specific
Windows Server 2003 and later can be converted from running
on a physical server to a VM, simply by running the P2V wizard and
pointing it to the server. A small agent is installed on the server
and inventories current hardware, and presents this for review along
with any issues that may affect the conversion. For earlier
operating systems that lack VSS support, such as Windows 2000, the
candidate server has to be restarted and won't be available to
service users during the conversion.
Clustering and migration
Clustering used to be a very expensive
exercise that only big business undertook for special workloads.
Virtualisation, however, pushes High Availability and Clustering into
the mainstream because if you have 15 physical servers and one of
them goes down, that's a bad situation, but if you have 15 VMs hosted
on a physical host and it goes down you might find yourself looking
for a new job.
Failover Clustering in Windows Server 2008 Enterprise and Data
Center links two or more hosts to shared storage (either iSCSI or
Fibre Channel SAN). The VMs are stored on the SAN and are executed
on either host; if one host server needs to be offline for
patching, maintenance or upgrades, the running VMs can be moved to
the other host. The addition of Clustered Shared Volumes to Windows
Server 2008 R2 will make it much easier to set-up Hyper-V
Another new feature in SCVMM R2 is maintenance mode, where VMs
are automatically Live Migrated to other hosts or placed in a saved
state while the host is down. Finally, moving VMs between hosts has
traditionally required that the host CPUs were of identical make
and model since the VMs will have "adapted" to a particular set of
instructions. A new feature that lets you limit the CPU instruction
set allows moving VMs between processor families, still only Intel
to Intel and AMD to AMD, however.
Performance and Resource Optimisation (PRO)
If Systems Center
Operations Manager 2007 is monitoring your environment, it can
integrate with SCVMM through special, PRO-enabled management packs.
These collect data about VMs, hosts and applications as well as the
underlying physical hardware. Any opportunity to optimise the
virtual environment is shown as a PRO tip in SCVMM; policies can
also be configured to allow automatic actions. For instance, if a
web server farm is receiving unusually heavy traffic, another VM can
automatically be started and put into production.
SCVMM 2008 R2 is a very competent product, neatly bringing
Microsoft's virtualisation management offering in line with the
competition at the same time as offering management of disparate
platforms in the one product. The integration with the rest of the
Systems Center suite makes the overall management and monitoring
experience better than its rivals.
The main console with an Outlookesque layout with categories on the left, objects in each category in the middle pane and tasks to perform on the right.(Screenshot by ZDNet.com.au)
Each task you start in SCVMM ends up in the job queue where their status can easily be tracked.(Screenshot by ZDNet.com.au)
A diagram of your VMs and virtual networks for the visually minded.(Screenshot by ZDNet.com.au)
A web-based portal making it easy for authorised end users to manage their own VMs. (Screenshot by ZDNet.com.au)