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Understanding System Center Virtual Machine Manager

In the past two to three years, server virtualization has shifted from something that organizations used to do in their test and development environments to something where organizations have 50% or more of their production servers virtualized. Microsoft's System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) 2008 R2 provides a number of very valuable tools for an organization with both Microsoft Hyper-V virtual servers as well as VMware virtual servers to better manage and support their virtualized environment.

VMM, like DPM, is a relative newcomer to the Microsoft management suite of products; however, just like how VMware dominated the virtualization marketplace in 2007 as the de facto standard, in just a couple of short years, Microsoft released two significant products and updates that now Hyper-V has thrust into being one of the major players in virtualization. The key to the growth of virtualization came from the release of x64-bit systems along with vendor support for virtualization.

With 32-bit systems and a limitation of 4GB of RAM in a server, there weren't many ways you could split 4GB of RAM and host production server workloads. At most, maybe an organization could get two to three small applications to run on a single virtual host system. However with 16GB, 32GB, even 64GB being common in servers with 8-core or 16-core CPUs in a single host server, a single system can easily be split 5 ways, 10 ways, or even 15 ways, providing a significant density of virtual guest sessions in a single hosted server system.

With that many guest sessions running on a single server, organizations need a way to best manage the environment. VMM 2008 R2 provides the tools to migrate physical servers into a Hyper-V guest session, and from a single console view, shown in Figure 1.10, administrators can view and manage all of the virtual host servers and guest sessions from a single console interface.

Figure 1.10

Figure 1.10 System Center Virtual Machine Manager console.

Business Solutions Addressed by System Center Virtual Machine Manager

The business value that VMM 2008 R2 provides is the ability for the IT administrator to centrally manage their host servers and guest session, regardless of whether the systems are Microsoft Hyper-V or VMware ESX hosts from a single console. With the proliferation of virtual hosts, VMM provides the needed tool to manage the guest sessions with standard builds, allocate the proper amount of memory and processing capacity, balance the workload of guest sessions across host servers, and ultimately maintain uptime of host servers in an environment.

As organizations take advantage of server consolidation by getting rid of physical servers and creating significantly fewer virtual host systems, the need to migrate physical workloads into virtualized workloads quickly and easily becomes an important task. VMM 2008 R2 can capture physical systems and migrate them to virtual guest sessions as well as migrate other virtualized guest sessions (running on Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 or on VMware) and migrate them to the latest Hyper-V host environment.

Organizations have migrated hundreds of physical servers to just a handful of physical host servers saving the organization hundreds of thousands of dollars on hardware maintenance contracts, electrical power, physical server rack space, and physical host server support costs.

Major Features of System Center Virtual Machine Manager

System Center Virtual Machine Manager has a whole list of features and functions that help an IT administrator manage virtual host servers as well as virtual guest sessions; some of the major features in the product are as follows:

  • Single view of all virtual host systems (Hyper-V and VMware)—At the root of the Virtual Machine Manager product is its ability to consolidate into a single console view all Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware host servers and guest sessions running in the environment.
  • Ability to perform physical-to-virtual (P2V) conversions—Once the centralized monitoring console is available, servers can be easily migrated from physical systems to virtual systems in what is called a P2V migration process.
  • Ability to perform virtual-to-virtual (V2V) conversions—For systems that are already running on a different, possibly older virtualization platform like Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 or VMware, the virtual-to-virtual (V2V) feature in VMM 2008 converts the virtual guest sessions into the latest Microsoft Hyper-V virtual guest session standard.
  • Delegate the administration and management of virtual guest sessions to other administrators—For larger enterprises where certain administrators are in charge of all of their servers, instead of having, for example, 10 physical servers in a rack that an Exchange or SQL administrator would be in charge of, the administrator might find their servers spread across several shared Hyper-V physical host servers. Rather than giving an administrator access to all of the guest sessions running on all of the host servers, VMM 2008 R2 provides an administrator the ability to group together servers and delegate the administration of those virtual guest server sessions to other administrators. Therefore, an Exchange administrator will be able to see, administer, and manage the Exchange servers regardless of which physical host server the guest sessions are running on. And likely, the SQL administrator or the SharePoint administrator will be able to see their servers in a centralized view without having access to servers that they should not have access to.
  • Self-service creation of guest sessions from templates—As much as the administration of guest sessions can be delegated to various administrators, when those administrators (or others in the organization) need to create a new guest session, the ability to delegate the creation of guest sessions is a core component of the VMM 2008 R2 product. An administrator can delegate guest session creation to other users, nonadministrators, using the self-service portal web console, shown in Figure 1.11, that is part of the Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 product. A self-service user is given a set amount of resources like 8GB of RAM and four core processors to use as they want. They can create a single guest session using all 8GB and four cores, or the user can create four guest sessions running 2GB and a single core each, or any variation of resource allocation. This provides administrators the ability to share Hyper-V host resources without having to give a user full access to create as many guest sessions as they want and impact the overall performance of the host servers in the environment.
    Figure 1.11

    Figure 1.11 Self-service creation of guest sessions in VMM.

  • Manage both Hyper-V and VMware guest sessions—Finally, as mentioned previously, VMM 2008 R2 can connect to a VMware Vi3 environment as well as directly manage VMware ESX servers, and as such can help an administrator in a mixed environment to manage and support virtual servers from both Microsoft and from VMware from a single console.

Background on System Center Virtual Machine Manager

System Center Virtual Machine Manager is a relative newcomer to the System Center family of products. From the first version coming out in 2007 to support Microsoft's late entry into the server virtualization space to the current version of Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2, Microsoft has made significant headway in advancing the virtualization support and features and functions of the product.

Some of the major revisions and history of the product are as follows:

  • Virtual Machine Manager 2007 (VMM 2007)—Virtual Machine Manager 2007 entered the market to support virtual guest sessions running on Microsoft Virtual Server 2005. All of the current technologies like P2V, V2V, and delegated administration existed in the VMM 2007 product; however, because Virtual Server 2005 only supported 32-bit guest sessions and not 64-bit guest sessions, very few organizations adopted Virtual Server 2005 and, thus, VMM 2007 did not have a significant following.
  • Virtual Machine Manager 2008 (VMM 2008)—With the release of Hyper-V in Windows Server 2008 along with the support for 64-bit hosts and guest sessions, now organizations had the ability of getting 5, 10, or 15 guest sessions on a single host server, and the ability to manage that many guest sessions suggested that a management tool was necessary. VMM 2008 was updated to support Hyper-V and as organizations started to deploy Hyper-V, more organizations started to install and use VMM 2008.
  • Virtual Machine Manager 2008 (VMM 2008 R2)—In less than a year, Microsoft updated Hyper-V with the release of Windows Server 2008 R2 so that Hyper-V R2 supported "live migration" failover between host servers. Hyper-V R2 was now seen as enterprise ready and organizations started to adopt Hyper-V R2 as their server virtualization platform. At the same time, Microsoft released VMM 2008 R2 to support the added capabilities found in Hyper-V R2.

What to Expect in the System Center Virtual Machine Manager Chapters

In this book, two chapters are dedicated to the System Center Virtual Machine Manager product. These chapters are as follows:

  • Chapter 12, "Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 Design, Planning, and Implementation"—This chapter covers the architectural design, planning, and rollout of VMM 2008 R2 in the enterprise. Concepts such as console servers, self-service portal servers, and management servers are defined with best practices shared on how to properly set up, configure, and tune VMM 2008 R2.
  • Chapter 13, "Managing a Hyper-V Environment with Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2"—This chapter covers the management and administration tasks in VMM. Performing tasks like delegated administration and self-service portals is covered and addressed in this chapter.

System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 even just for the P2V and V2V capabilities is of great value to organizations—let alone the ability for administrators to see all virtual servers in their environment along with the ability to delegate administration to others in the organization. Jump to Chapters 12 and 13 of this book for specific information and deployment and configuration guidance on how VMM can be best leveraged in your enterprise.

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