The Virtualization Room

March 20, 2008  11:37 AM

Microsoft readies for Hyper-V finale with new release candidate

Bridget Botelho Profile: Bridget Botelho

Microsoft announced today it has delivered a complete release candidate (RC) of Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V and is on track to deliver the final product — at a bargain price — in August 2008.

Hyper-V, code-named Viridian, is hypervisor based virtualization for x64 versions of Windows Server 2008. The Hyper-V hypervisor will also be available as a stand-alone offering, without the Windows Server functionality, as Microsoft Hyper-V Server.

Microsoft has been giving public users a taste of its virtualization offering with Beta releases of Hyper-V since December 2007. Microsoft also released a Community Technology Preview (CTP) of Hyper-V in September 2007.

This new release candidate includes three areas of improvement:

* An expanded list of tested and qualified guest operating systems including: Windows Server 2003 SP2, Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 SP1, Windows Vista SP1, and Windows XP SP3.
* Host server and language support has been expanded to include the 64-bit (x64) versions of Windows Server 2008 Standard, Enterprise, and Datacenter editions in various language options.
* Improved performance and stability for better scalability and high throughput workloads.

Despite Microsoft’s image as a market dominatrix, the computing giant may have a tough time chipping away at VMware’s dominance in x86 virtualization, said Charles King, principal analyst with Hayward, Calif.-based Pund-IT, Inc in his weekly Pund-IT review today.

“The conventional wisdom around Microsoft’s market impact tends to follow a common theme; that the company’s sheer size makes it a serious competitor wherever it decides to play, but we see a number of obstacles in the way of Microsoft’s leadership goals,” King wrote. “First, though the x86 virtualization market is relatively small (Microsoft estimates that only 10% of servers are currently virtualized) VMware has found a remarkable number of Fortune 1000 customers who drive significant sales and revenues.

“In addition, those large companies tend to be among the most conservative of IT users; once they choose a reliable technology and vendor they tend to stick with them through thick and thin,” King said.

But considering its relatively low entry price of about $28 per Hyper-V Server, Microsoft could be the pathway to virtualization for a wider audience than other high priced players like VMware have been able to reach, King reported. If purchased standalone for hard-drive installation, ESX Server 3i list price is $495 per 2 processors, according to VMware’s website. “If Hyper- V’s features prove to be as robust and beneficial as Microsoft claims, the company could become a significant virtualization player for years to come,” he said.

March 19, 2008  4:29 PM

Virtualization and Murphy’s Law

Joseph Foran Profile: Joe Foran

Bad luck sometimes follows you. Then again, I don’t believe in luck, or its evil twin Murphy’s Law.

Still, bad stuff happens, and in IT, you’re usually there to see it. This happened at an undisclosed location near a super secret military installation next to a classified roadside diner in an unidentified town west of an unnamed river. In other words, my office, the place where I’m both the head VMware and Citrix person and the IT Director (which may give me multiple personality disorder someday, but at least I won’t rust out!).

Arriving at 8:15AM, as I’m wont to do in order to get a jump start on the day, I get an angry mob assaulting me with torches and pitchforks before I’m even to my office. That usally means a big problem, and in this case, nothing’s running. No problem, probably just a power outage knocking things around again. We have frequent outages here, and since we’re not a 24×7 shop, sometimes the UPSes run out of juice and I sometimes have to restart things by hand. Normally everything shuts down gracefully, but on this occassion, the whole place was a mess.

A quick check of server health and I see that all of my physical boxes, including my SAN and VI hosts, are up and running and have been all night. I log into VC to see exactly what I had expected: lots of powered-off servers. Now had there been an event, these servers should have VMotioned off to other servers, and failing that, come back up automatically in a set order. They didn’t. That’s usually a SAN-related issue.

Ok, I check the SAN and see that it’s fine now, but showing uptime since a little past midnight. It’s looking more like the power outage was long enough to take down the UPS that the SAN was on, but not the VMware servers, which shouldn’t be the case unless there are battery problems I’m not being alerted to by APC’s software. Guess what? Yep, that’s it. Ok, lets restart some machines – Linux servers all come up wonderfully. Windows servers, not so much on some of them. The blue screens of death are visible as far as the eye can see — so blue, I thought I was in the Caribbean, except for the stress and lack of rum-based drinks.

Most of them are reporting disk and kernel related problems. Most of the error messages relate to a missing %WINDIR%\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SYSTEM file. Another common one reports that NTOSKERNEL.EXE is missing. Great, that’s a huge part the registry and the system kernel. This is gonna take days to fix if I have to pull backups and restore from them. Well, maybe not if I’m lucky and its just some corrupted space on the virtual disks.

Treating them like physcial machines, the next step is to boot the recovery console from CD (in this case an ISO file) and run chkdsk with the /p and /f switches as a first step to troubleshooting. Except of course, that there’s no hard disk to be found by the Windows installer, which cause a brief, although painful heart flutter at the though of pulling from backup. It’s one thing to do a quarterly test, it’s another when it’s real. Successful tests or not, massive documentation and howtos or not, the worst starts to flash through your head. You question your methodology: no matter how thorough you tried to be, you begin to think that maybe the test methods were somehow flawed and the backups will fail. Ok, the problem at hand is that I can’t get the disks to be seen by the Windows installer CD. Time to focus and forget doubt.

And this is where it becomes about virtualization, in case you thought I was going off-topic.

Fear pushed aside, it’s time to look at this from a hardware point of view, but also to remember that the hardware is all virtual. A common pattern emerges: the machines in trouble are all converted machines from an existing VMware Server 1.x install that we P2Ved some time ago. It wasn’t something I noticed right away, as a few of those machines were never P2V-ed, some were P2Ved by hand (i.e., just rebuilt), and our Linux VMs from that same VS box are all fine.

The common denominator is that all of the problem boxes had the Bus Logic SCSI controller. None of them would see the virtual hard drives. Switching over to the LSI Logic controller and accepting the change allowed me to run the recovery console, as the Windows installer saw the disks. It was a quick fix: from the recovery console, I ran the disk check and recovered with no further steps needed.

So, I get the Windows boxes back up, curse Murphy for his Law, and vow that in all future conversions, I will change over the controller before the converted box goes into production. Oh, that and I will have some people in to look at the UPS situation. Now, where are those rum-based drinks?

March 19, 2008  3:36 PM

VI3 on Mac under Parallels a No-Go

Joseph Foran Profile: Joe Foran

Inspired by a great walkthrough on the LTB Blog about getting VI3 running on a mac via VMware Fusion, I decided to go ahead and give VI3.5 a try on my Macbook Pro using Parallels. However, I wound up disappointed in my effort. I love Parallels for my XP and Linux virtual machines, but ESX 3.5 was just too far out on the fringe for it to handle. Nevertheless, I will blog about the experience.

Here’s what I used in my setup:

  1. VMware’s VI3 installation set, obtainable in demo form.
  2. An Intel-powered Mac (the MacBook Pro 17 / 2GB is what I used for this demo) with at least 1GB of RAM, but preferably more.
  3. Parallels Desktop for Mac.
  4. Lots of disk space (I used a 250GB firewire external hd).

I built the base ESX server, ESXtest1 with only 768MB of RAM, as I am a bit RAM shy on this machine. I wanted to have another machine, a second ESX box, for VMotion, Storage VMotion, etc. VirtualCenter will be hosted on an external box, since it’s going to sit on XP and we already know Parallels can do XP beautifully. It was a straightforward build with very few changes to the default settings:

  • The default location of the virtual machine files
  • The amount of RAM
  • The boot media (I used an ISO)
  • The network type (I used bridged)

I didn’t get far. As soon as I booted up, I received the dreaded error, “The installer was unable to find any supported network devices.” This means one thing: VMware doesn’t support the NIC (a Realtek 8029 AS) that Parallels emulates and doesn’t have drivers for it. Parallels doesn’t have any alternative devices to use, even though they have a drop down box.

And thus endeth my travels into purely fun-testing land. Oh well.

March 19, 2008  1:19 PM

Sun adds a connection broker to VDI offering

Bridget Botelho Profile: Bridget Botelho

Sun Microsystems, Inc. announced this week it has added new features to its Virtual Desktop Infrastructure software, originally released at VMworld in September 2007, including Sun’s Virtual Desktop Connector (VDC).

Sun’s VDI 2.0 provides interfaces to PCs, mobile devices, and thin clients including Sun’s own Sun Ray thin client offering. With it, centralized desktops can be delivered through the LAN or WAN to Windows Vista, Windows XP, Mac OS X, Solaris or Linux on the desktop, which is fairly unique in the Windows-centric desktop market, said Chris Kawalek, Product Line Manager, Desktop & Virtualization Marketing, Sun Microsystems.

Sun’s VDC, meanwhile, is is more or less a connection broker that interfaces with ESX 3.5 and 3.0.x and Virtual Center Server 2.0.x and 2.5 (VMware infrastructure 3) to create pools of virtual machines that can be defined based on templates.

With Sun’s updated VDI offering, administrators can statically or dynamically assign users to specific VMs, either for a set number of days or indefinitely. Another feature is the ability to ‘reset’ end users’ virtual machines (VMs) if problems arise. For instance, if the user contracts a virus while on the web, the VM can be reset to a date before the issue occurred and operate as it did on that date, Kawalek said.

The tight integration with VMware virtualization software can be attributed to the OEM agreement Sun signed with VMware Inc. in February. Thus, with VDI 2.0, users can actively manage VMware virtual machines, but VMs from other vendors like Virtual Iron can only be statically created and assigned, Kawalek said.

Kawalek said Sun moved into the VDI space last year because it embodies Sun’s ‘the network is the computer’ message. Another reason? It’s the popular thing to do. “Everyone is very interested in centralizing their desktop environment, which is why vendors like Hewlett-Packard and VMware are in this space,” he said.

Sun’s VDI Version 2.0 became available March 18 at $149 per user, including one year of support. Sun Ray thin clients start at $249. Directions on how to install VDI 2.0 are available online, and a free trial can be downloaded from Sun’s website.

March 18, 2008  12:43 PM

Will VMware be around for the long haul?

Alex Barrett Alex Barrett Profile: Alex Barrett

I chatted with server-based computing expert Brian Madden the other day, and we got on the topic of VMware Inc.’s long-term viability as a company. Unlike VMware’s stock holders, Madden believes that the company won’t always be the behemoth it is today, despite the massive changes it has spurned in the IT industry.

Today, VMware’s strength is its “first-mover advantage,” according to Madden. But the same lead that has enabled VMware to enjoy an overwhelming market share, and a several-year technological advantage over its competitors, might also come back to haunt it, Madden said.

“Look, Amazon wasn’t the first online bookseller, eBay wasn’t the first online auction house, Internet Explorer wasn’t the first Web browser,” he said.

The list of second-mover companies that have rapidly eclipsed the pioneers is substantial. (Then again, the list of companies with first-mover advantage that made it, so to speak, is probably also pretty long.)

With mounting pressure on VMware from all sides, Madden thinks the company’s days are numbered. “VMware is going to be a footnote in the history of IT,” he predicted, “albeit an important footnote, no doubt about it, because of the way that they’ve changed the industry. But in the long run, I think our kids will be talking about VMware in their history classes.”

March 18, 2008  12:33 PM

Virtual machine creation in Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V

Rick Vanover Rick Vanover Profile: Rick Vanover

We continue our first look at Hyper-V technology in Windows Server 2008 . While Windows Server 2008 has been released, Hyper-V is still in pre-release form. Hyper-V is scheduled to be officially released later this year. For now, we’re really looking at a beta version of Microsoft’s new virtualization technology.

All interface-driven tasks are done through the Hyper-V Manager MMC snap-in. This snap-in is added when the Hyper-V role is added to the Windows Server 2008 system. My evaluation of Hyper-V takes place in a full install of Windows Server 2008 Standard, x64. After populating a few virtual machines into Hyper-V, a nice feature caught my eye, one showing the virtual machine uptime. The Hyper-V Manager snap-in is shown below:

Creating a virtual machine
Creating a virtual machine is wizard-driven within the Hyper-V Manager. The wizard asks the following questions while creating a new virtual machine:

  • Virtual machine name – This name is used within the virtual management piece, not the DNS name or computer name of the virtual machine.
  • Storage location – Hyper-V has a default location for the virtual machines, whether that be local or remote storage. A different location can be specified during the wizard.
  • Memory amount – Hyper-V will give a default amount of RAM at 512, which can be changed in the wizard.
  • Networking – The network assigned to the virtual machine.
  • Virtual hard disk selection and size – Where the virtual hard drive is assigned on the file system. Hyper-V gives a generous 127 GB virtual hard disk size for the virtual machine, but does not allocate that footprint entirely on the file system.
  • Installation options – A boot media can be assigned from a physical optical-drive or .ISO image file.

Once the virtual machine is created, you can turn it on and the virtual BIOS splash screen will appear and the virtual machine will start. The virtual machine starting up is shown below:

The virtual machine created is available to run and have an operating system installed at this point.

I hope to answer all of your questions about this virtualization platform. Please post them in the comments section below. And don’t forget to come back to the SearchServerVirtualization blogs for my next entry where I look at the Hyper-V manager and how it will fit in the enterprise.

Edit: The command line interface in the core edition of Windows Server 2008 is not PowerShell but a core prompt: Different than the normal CMD, but nowhere near as functional as PowerShell.

March 14, 2008  10:36 AM

Bundling support services with hardware purchases?

Rick Vanover Rick Vanover Profile: Rick Vanover

Just about every large hardware vendor can bundle support services for virtualization platforms with your equipment and software purchases. This may seem like a good idea, but let us take a moment to identify the mechanics of the support services that you are expecting.

The types of support services I am referring to are your telephone support options for the virtualization management software, virtualization host software systems, conversion tools and any databases that may be involved in your virtual environment. There are generally two general different approaches on how the support options can be executed. These are shown below:

Virtualization vendor providing support

This is the more traditional approach where your support services are purchased and executed through the virtualization vendor. You will find that the quality of support and resolution time should be both better and quicker when dealing directly with the maker of the virtualization products. This support may be more expensive than the alternative described below, but may also be the only fit if you are a mixed environment for servers. In the example where the virtual host systems, the management software and database engine are all on different brands of servers; it may be a better idea to get the software support directly from the virtualization vendor.

If you are unsure about which way to go in this regard, I would nudge you towards purchasing support programs that are operated directly from the virtualization vendor based on recent experience.

Hardware vendor providing support

This would be where IBM, HP, Dell or any other top-tier server hardware vendor would be your point of contact for support on all of your virtual environment components. For core questions related to the virtualization components, the natural path is an escalation to the virtualization vendor. With this setup, the unfortunate consequence is that the resolution time for support operations will be increased due to the extra steps required in having the support operations originate through the hardware vendor.

This option may have slightly better pricing to the end customer, as the top-tier hardware vendors aggregate sales will drive volume pricing and appear as a complete solution. This also is a convenience as it can generally be rolled into a large implementation and function as part of the same purchase process. Probably the strongest positive in this mode is when any issues that are determined to be part of the hardware environment, they are going to be resolved quicker with all parties involved.

Okay, now what?

Why has this been laid out here? I just want you to be sure of what you are getting into with your support engagements and put your expectations in line with the stated deliverables. If you purchase your support through your hardware vendor, you may not be able to call VMware, Citrix, Microsoft or whoever your virtualization platform is provided by directly. This may add frustrating time to go through the basic troubleshooting first or even deal with quality of support issues.

March 14, 2008  10:32 AM

First look – Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V installation

Rick Vanover Rick Vanover Profile: Rick Vanover

I have been evaluating Windows Server 2008 since the recent release of the base product to retail sale. The highly anticipated virtualization hypervisor or Hyper-V is not part of the commercial product currently available, but Microsoft plans to have it available within six months of the initial product release. In this first installment of a series of SearchServerVirtualization blogs, I’ll go through my steps as I am taking a look at the beta implementation of the Hyper-V environment.

Evaluation installations of Windows Server 2008 with the beta Hyper-V are available for download from Microsoft. Installation of the base operating system is indistinguishable from the current retail versions. If you are going to evaluate the virtualization platform, start with Microsoft’s release notes and make sure you have adequate hardware available for the environment. The Hyper-V release notes outline specific system models and configuration items that need to enabled to permit operation of the hypervisor. If you are even remotely considering a Microsoft virtualization implementation, start with the release notes to get an idea of the operating environment requirements.

How does Hyper-V fit into Windows?

The Hyper-V hypervisor exists as a server role to the Windows Server 2008 installation. In my lab scenario, I will be using Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition, 64-bit with the full installation (instead of the core installation, which is explained later). For the Hyper-V beta, 64-bit processing is required. For the server role, adding the Hyper-V role is like most other roles in the Windows Server configuration, through the Server Manager as shown below:

Adding Hyper-V Role

The Hyper-V implementation on Windows Server 2008 is uniquely different from other enterprise virtualization products in that the virtualization engine may exist in line with other roles. For example, you would not want to make your VMware ESX server a file server or install a networking role like DNS or DHCP. The difference is that the other platforms are purpose-built environment only, where Hyper-V on Windows Server 2008 will integrate with other roles should you want to on your virtual environment. This configuration would be a full install of Windows Server 2008.

The alternative is the core installation of Windows Server 2008, where you can install Hyper-V and Windows Server 2008 without a Start Menu and Windows Explorer environment. The core installations of Windows provide only a PowerShell command line interface and specified server roles, including Hyper-V.

Now that I have your attention, I need to keep you on the edge of your seats until next week. As I’ll have some exposure to virtual machines running on the Hyper-V. You will see it here for more information on the beta Hyper-V!

March 10, 2008  12:42 AM

VMware ESX 3i on HP ProLiant servers: Ballyhoo or big idea?

Keith Harrell Profile: SAS70ExPERT

IT pros are split on the potential impact of VMware ESX Server 3i and on the importance of new bells and whistles, such as Hewlett-Packard Co.’s plug-and-play deployment capabilities and support from other major hardware vendors.

Last week, VMware and HP announced that at the end of March, VMware ESX 3i will be packaged on 10 models of HP ProLiant servers. So do embedded hypervisors like ESX 3i represent the next stage of the virtualization evolution?

Of course VMware seems to think so, saying the integrated offering will provide “greater speed and simplicity for customers new to virtualization, as well as increased capacity expansion for customers who already use VMware’s data center virtualization and management suite, VMware Infrastructure 3 (VI3).”

Will this optimism translate into increased virtualization in the enterprise? VMware and virtualization expert Andrew Kutz thinks that the exclusivity of the plug-and-play capability of 3i on HP is a stretch:

Plug-and-play is another no-win for 3i. The plug-and-play functionality of 3i is as artificial as its simplified management. VMware asserts that independent hardware vendors (IHVs) will be able to ship servers with 3i directly to the customer, where the customer can simply plug the box into the network and storage, boot it, and presto: installation complete. That’s fantastic! But I can order a server from an IHV with ESX 3 pre-installed on it today. The difference is that VMware has added this data center plug-and-play functionality exclusively to its 3i product. There is no reason that it cannot work with 3.0 or 3.5 as well. This is just another example of a company trying to promote a new product with features that do not have to be exclusive; they are exclusive only because someone decided they should be.

While Kutz believes that 3i is a significant step up, he says on that “ESX 3i is simply an evolution, not a revolution.”

The biggest change between ESX 3i and its predecessors (ESX 3.0, 3.5) is that with 3i, agents cannot be installed on a host. Erik Josowitz, the vice president of product strategy at Austin, Texas-based Surgient Inc., a virtual lab management company, says that for independent software vendors, “VMware’s roadmap for virtualization management runs through VirtualCenter.” Putting 3i on solid state “sends a clear signal that VMware doesn’t want people installing on the host anymore,” according to Josowitz. He notes that “from a security standpoint, it’s a good thing,” since it locks down the partition that used to be available under the host, thus keeping out any applications that might weaken a system. But now, organizations that want to work with blended images will need to architect their tech support to talk through VirtualCenter rather than a host agent.

While the solid-state product promises plug-and-play deployment of VMware’s thin hypervisor product on HP’s ProLiant servers, some analysts are still saying, “Don’t believe the hype about 3i.” Citing problems with monitoring and scaling of 3i, the ToutVirtual blog complains that 3i is “a complete disappointment” at general release. “Combine this weak infrastructure design issue with the fact that you can not get any realistic information out of the hardware state of a 3i server,” makes VMware ESX 3i “dead on arrival.”

But expert Rick Vanover begs to differ. Vanover holds ProLiant servers in high esteem, and if ESX 3i is good enough for HP, then it’s good enough for him:

I’ve worked on many different types of servers, and I think the ProLiant servers are superior. The big reason is that the ProLiant BL blade series do not have a competitor to the Insight Control Environment. Further, the Integrated Lights-Out 2 Standard Blade Edition (or iLO) is a better management interface compared to its competition. If VMware takes HP as a partner (or at least as their first partner) for an ESX 3i supported platform, I would choose it in a heartbeat.

But does it really matter that 3i is overhyped? Major vendors now put 3i inside their servers. This reduces the need for major evaluation and opens the door for IT shops to choose servers with “3i inside” and use it when and how they want.

What do you think? Leave us a comment below or send us your thoughts.

March 7, 2008  11:31 AM

VMware user on Oracle VM: Hell no, we won’t go!

Alex Barrett Alex Barrett Profile: Alex Barrett

Abbie wouldn't have switched to Oracle VM eitherOracle doesn’t officially support its products running on VMware, but it will happily support you if you virtualize on its Xen variant, Oracle VM. But at least one large Oracle PeopleSoft customer with which I spoke recently refuses to play along and will maintain its VMware status quo.

“We looked at Oracle VM, but it’s where VMware was two or three years ago,” the systems administrator said, who asked that he and his organization not be named.

Not only did this system administrator find Oracle VM to be technically inferior to ESX Server, but also he didn’t want the burden of having a second virtualization environment to run and manage. “We’d rather not do that,” he said.

The other alternative — to switch from PeopleSoft to a competing product that’s supported on VMware — isn’t an option. “Our investment in PeopleSoft is too great,” he said, and “in the grand scheme of things, running it on dedicated hardware is a drop in the bucket.”

It’s a shame, he said, because in the past six months, his group has begun actively virtualizing not only “the low-hanging fruit,” but increasingly more production workloads. “This whole Oracle-hating-VMware thing has really put a crimp in our style,” he said. Meanwhile the organization’s CIO has approached Oracle and told the vendors, “We’d like to [virtualize Oracle applications], but with terms that don’t involve unilateral demands that we use only your software,” the administrator reported. As of yet, no word back from Oracle, but as far as he’s concerned, there’s no deal to be made.

“[Oracle] can either change their mind, or we’ll keep buying physical hardware. We’re not moving to Oracle VM.”

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