I am (was) the unofficial Microsoft Entourage support person for my organization. Susie Q. is having a problem with Entourage losing her e-mail, “Call Andrew” her office-mate would say. Those days are no more. I now use Outlook 2007 on my Mac and let users know that until the next version of Entourage appears, this child of mother earth is not going to to suffer the burden of two computers any longer. No more do I have to keep a Windows box on my desk just to manage VI3 or play games. The days of this systems administrator keeping up with the Joneses when it comes to many machines is over — behold the power that is Windows on a Mac. Behold the power that is Parallels.
I know Windows on a Mac is nothing new. People have been doing it since almost last year at this time, however, it is only recently that it has been so easy to seamlessly run the latest version of Office or the VI3 client on OS X. As I type this I am also composing a message in Outlook, checking on one of my ESX hosts, and trying to get a 5-man together for the Mana Tombs. With the release of the Core-2 Duo Mac laptops last year as well as the very new Parallels release, I can do all these things on my MacBook Pro, at the same time, and still have honk left over. The recent release of Parallels is the first production release to include their feature Coherence. Coherence lets you hide a VM’s background, so that applications running inside the VM appear to be running as part of the host OS’s (in this case OS X) window manager. And it works very well. Copy and paste is supported between Windows applications and OS X, as well as drag and dropping files! You can even stick Outlook 2007 and Word 2007 in your OS X dock!
You may be wondering, “But that means he is still running a full version of Windows inside his copy of Parallels? How is that any better than two computers? And how does his laptop have any, what did he call it? Oh yeah, how does his laptop have any of this so called honk left over with a full version of Windows running in the background?” Those are very good questions, thank you for asking.
Yes, I am still running a full version of Windows. It is however far more efficient to do so in a VM than on real hardware because I do not have to keep up with 2 computers, a KVM, or using synergy, keyboard/mouse synchronization errors. I have one system to rule them all. Besides, I don’t have enough Tycho and Gabe stickers for all of my boxes, it is good to whittle the number down.
Yes, my laptop still has plenty of honk. It screams. It is so bright with power it out-gleams Mr. Cruise’s teeth from that volley-ball scene in Top Gun. Shiny! The reason for this is that I am using a modified, stripped-down version of Windows XP. I stripped out all of the unnecessary services and other miscellaneous junk out of Windows using nLite (http://www.nliteos.com/). nLite allows you to create custom versions of Windows without all of the fluff. Before I installed Office inside my VM, it was running in around 100 M of memory. Not 640K, but not bad. If you are going to go this route, it is my very sincere suggestion that you do not use Vista. It is a resource hog and the point of running a Windows VM in the fashion that I have described to you is for it to consume as few resources as possible. In fact, Windows has now become not unlike a Java Virtual Machine (JVM). It exists to make other applications possible on top of an existing OS.
You may have caught that I mentioned I am able to play games. Does this mean that the new release of Parallels supports DirectX inside of a VM? No, no it does not. That feature is exclusive to the latest beta of VMware Fusion. However, you can use Parallels to run your BootCamp (http://www.apple.com/macosx/bootcamp/) version of Windows inside of a VM. That way you can boot into Windows bare-metal when you need to and use it inside of OS X the rest of the time. How well does this work? Well, I do not know. I have no need to do this, because the only game I play is World of Warcraft (until Spore comes out) and it runs just fine on my Mac 🙂
I could keep typing, but I need to modify an Active Directory account’s attributes. Pardon me while I load AD Users and Computers from OS X. It’s evil, it’s delicious, it’s fun, and it’s a darn good business reason I can present my boss (the one I’m married too) that I should be able to buy a quad-core MacPro. Please honey?
I was doing some blog-surfing the other day and came across Christian Saborio’s virtualization blog. He mentions this really cool tool published by Microsoft that helps IT directors figure out costs of virtual machine licenses in different editions of Windows Server 2003 R2: Standard, Enterprise and Datacenter.
From Christian’s blog:
Riddle me this: How many licenses of Windows Server Enterprise Edition would you need if you are planning on running 20 Virtual machines inside a server that has 2 processors? Very, easy, you would need only 5 licenses. Too tough? How about this one…what would be the price difference if you were running 50 machines running Windows Server 2003 on a virtualization server with 2 processors if you chose to run the host machine with Windows Server Enterprise Edition vs. Windows Server Datacenter Edition? Very easy…running Datacenter edition would be $25,580 cheaper.
Of course, he didn’t make those calculations off-hand! Check out the nifty Windows virtualization calculator here.
Do you know how there are some questions that at first glance seem like they may generate long and complicated answers? Recently I was pinged with such a question, but then I came to realize that the my original answer, and in fact the question itself were both over thinking the situation. The question is, “What problems are there with running various virtualization solutions in the same data center?”
The answer is simple — there really are not any problems that do not already exist in any given data center that employs heterogeneous technologies. For example, there are the problems of redundancy, vendor support, free storage space, and staff expertise.
Imagine a data center that runs both Apache and IIS web servers. There are 2 Apache servers and 2 IIS web servers — the Apache servers run PHP applications and the IIS servers run ASP.NET applications. What happens if either all of the Apache servers go down or all of the IIS servers go down. Because all 4 servers do not use the same web server and the web applications are not based on the same language, the odds of quickly and successfully moving the load of the 2 downed servers to the other 2 are slim.
The same goes for a data center that implements various virtualization technologies. For every different technology employed, you potentially lose a little bit of redundancy.
In a given data center imagine there are Dell servers, HP servers, and IBM servers. That means 3 different vendors (unless you went through a VAR) for supporting your infrastructure. The same is true for virtualization software — having multiple virtualization solutions means having different vendors to contact when problems occur.
Free Storage Space
Available storage space is usually scarce in any data center. There is almost always someone or some system clamoring for more spindles. Throwing additional virtualization solutions into a single data center results in additional servers trying to grab whatever free space they can off of your storage device(s). Since most virtualization solutions use different file system types — NTFS, VMFS-3, ext3, etc…, different virtualization solutions cannot efficiently make use of other virtualization solutions’ free space. There are of course loop holes, such as mounting other file systems as a network file system, but these solutions result in a degradation of speed and also incur the overhead of a file system on top of a file system.
Implementing multiple virtualization solutions also means that your staff must now be experts on each piece of software used. This expectation is most likely unrealistic and can result in system administrators that are proficient in many areas but are experts in none.
While there are no technical reasons you cannot utilize virtualization solutions from multiple vendors in one data center, there are many reasons why it makes sense to stick to one vendor. However, there are always exceptions. The trick is to simply be mindful of the pros and cons in using heterogeneous technologies and to make the decision that makes the most sense for your environment.
The brouhaha over VMware’s attack on Microsoft’s virtualization licensing has brewed up some good blogs.
“I guess this marks the beginning of a crazy roller coaster ride,” writes Andrew Dugdell on his ‘Dugie’s Pensieve’ virtualization blog. He doesn’t think Microsoft’s licensing story is as full of “doom and gloom” as VMware says. “Obviously all forms of virtualization licensing and interoperability is going to get better,” Dugdell wrote. “It has to. I don’t think the market/customers will tolerate anything less.”
VMware is “foaming at the mouth”, says Alex Vasilevsky, founder and CTO Virtual Iron Software, on Virtual Iron’s Virtualization Blog. He thinks VMware is the pot calling the kettle (Microsoft) black. He wrote: “Of course, if VMware truly felt that ‘customers require an any to any interoperability model’ then wouldn’t their virtual disks be in an open format, as opposed to the proprietary format they continue to use? (For what it’s worth, we’re using Microsoft’s VHD format.)”
On his virtualization.info blog, Alessandro Perilli predicts that VMware may feel the ire of its parent company, EMC. “While suggesting a pacific resolution of this case (which would require a public rectification from VMware), Microsoft is clearly recalling its partner EMC for the unprecedented attack of its virtualization subsidiary,” Perilli wrote. He notes that EMC plans to launch a VMware Initial Public Offering (IPO) this summer, “and a compromising of Microsoft partnership could lead to a remarkable damage for stock performance.” That’s an “undesired risk” for EMC, which hasn’t been in Wall Street’s good graces for a while, Perilli concluded.
Dugdell wants to move beyond the age-old software licensing arguments. “Here’s the exciting burning question, how much better will Virtualization interoperability get? How aggressive is that curve going to be? I want to see that curve so steep, you can just feel the gforces kicking in!”
Yesterday evening, Microsoft’s PR team sent out a statement attributed to Mike Neil, its GM for virtualization, responding to the whitepaper posted by VMware last week:
“Microsoft believes the claims made in VMware’s whitepaper contain several inaccuracies and misunderstandings of our current license and use policies, our support policy and our commitment to technology collaboration. We believe that we are being progressive and fair with our existing licensing and use policies and creating a level playing field for partners and customers. We are deeply committed to providing high-quality technical support to our customers who are utilizing virtualization technology. In addition, we are committed to working collaboratively with industry leaders to foster an environment of interoperability and cooperation that best serves our customers.
I agree with Ashlee Vance at the Register when he said “Microsoft has fought back against VMware’s meat with something akin to marketing bologna.”
The idea that VMware’s paper contains “several inaccuracies and misunderstandings of our current license and use policies” is tantalizing to a reporter, except that Microsoft would not provide a spokesperson to elaborate.
Where things get interesting, however, is in the next paragraph, when Microsoft brings up… EMC, VMware’s parent company:
“We believe it’s better to resolve VMware’s claims between our two companies so that we can better serve customers and the industry. EMC is a long-time partner of Microsoft. We’ve extended this courtesy to VMware due to our mutual customers and partnership with EMC. We are committed to continuing to collaborate with VMware as we have been doing on regular basis. Consistent with this, Microsoft believes that we will be able to accommodate a mutually agreeable solution between our two companies and clear up any existing misunderstanding with regard to the points raised in the whitepaper.”
Maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t it seem that Microsoft is invoking its “strong partnership” with EMC as a way of bringing the wayward VMware child back in to line?
VMware’s whitepaper Microsoft Virtualization Licensing and Distribution Terms has generated a flood of articles by the IT trade press, and SearchServerVirtualization.com is no exception (See ‘VMware criticizes Microsoft virtualization licensing‘). Now that the story is up, I’m left wondering whether in this case, is Microsoft really trying to stymie competition, as VMware contends, or is it also possible that Microsoft, like every other software vendor on the planet, is grappling with how best to approach software licensing in this brave new virtualization world?
In Microsoft’s defense, the company has made some very virtualization-friendly moves as of late. In October, it announced Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition, which allows for an unlimited number of Windows Server VMs running on a system. According to Microsoft’s Windows Server Virtualization Calculator, it’s more cost-effective to buy the unlimited virtualization license over Enterprise Edition after just nine VMs on a two-processor server. The company made a similar announcement last week with SQL Server 2005 Enterprise Edition — pretty cool.
The revelation that reassigning Windows Server licenses between hosts is prohibited more frequently than once every ninety days came as a surprise to everyone I talked to, so I’m wondering whether this is more of hypothetical threat than a reality? Have any actual VMware customers out there changed or discontinued their use of VMotion and Distributed Resource Scheduler to comply with this license provision? If that describes you, email me at email@example.com.
Thomas Ptacek writes about two ways virtualization complicates life for systems security people in his blog entry, Dark Reading on Virtualization Security.
First of all, he says, “you now face the spectre of guest-hopping attacks, which are vulnerabilities in your hypervisor that allow you to beat VM protection and gain access to other hosts. The driver for these attacks is that a hypervisor has to provide at least the illusion of a ‘ring 0’ for a guest operating system to run in.” Secondly, he adds: “If you’re on the same hardware as your target, you have significantly improved timing channels to pry encryption secrets out with.”
Fortunately, he has some ideas on how to handle these problems. So do the other writers for Matasano Chargen, a blog about information security.
Virtualization security is on our readers’ minds, too, and we’re answering their requests for advice. Check out Chris Wolf’s advice on virtual switch security on Virtual Server, VMware and XenExpress and the virtualization security series by Harley Stagner, in which he suggests ways to improve Microsoft Virtual Server security.
What aspect of virtualization security is bugging you? What should IT shops really be worried about?
This week, Microsoft revamped pricing for SQL Server 2005 whereby “Enterprise Edition” customers can run unlimited instances of SQL Server within virtual machines of any denomination — VMware, Microsoft Virtual Server, etc… Compare this with SQL Server Standard Edition, which is licensed per physical or virtual processor.
At first blush, this seems like a pretty good deal, kind of like the unlimited virtualization with Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder — just how many folks is this really pricing really going to affect? First of all, how many SQL Server instances would one need to run per host in order for this deal to make economic sense? More to the point, how many shops are really running databases in virtual machines? And even if they are, don’t virtualization best practices state that we need to mix up our workloads?
Anyway, these are just some preliminary thoughts. If you’re running databases within VMs — particularly big honking I/O intensive ones — leave a comment; I’m curious to hear about how it’s working out.
Since I joined the site, I’ve watched our contributors help our tip section grow with some phenomenal series-length tips. To date, the best have been:
- Optimizing Microsoft Virtual Server 2005, by Anil Desai
- Getting started with VMware on Windows, by Andrew Kutz
- Microsoft Virtual Server from the ground up, also by Anil Desai
- Step-by-step virtualization, by Alessandro Perilli
- and Choosing the right virtualization solution, another by Andrew Kutz.
…at least in my opinion. Have you used them? Were they helpful? Comment and tell us. Also let us know what you’d like to see more of.
Just recently published a new guide by Alessandro Perilli, which talks about virtual machine backup, how to create failover structures, configure clusters and automate the provisioning of virtual machines.
Next up is a new series by Anil Desai. He gets in to detail about automating Virtual Server using Visual Studio .NET and VBScript.
Lastly, welcome to our blog! We’ve been talking about this for a while, and we’re all pretty excited about it. We hope you join right in and comment away. After all, it’s our readers that make our site.