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How to install a guest OS with Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2

If you've been following this series, you've successfully set up Microsoft Virtual Server, configured basic server settings and created a virtual machine (VM). But your new VM has a blank hard drive. The next step is to install a guest operating system. And that's the topic of this article!

If you've been following this series, you've already set up Microsoft Virtual Server, configured some basic server settings and have created a new virtual machine (VM). What's missing in this picture? Well, if you stopped after the last article, then your VM doesn't do much. In essence, you have the equivalent of a physical computer with a blank hard drive. The next step is to install a guest operating system. And that's the topic of this article!

Overview of guest OS installation

Installing a guest operating system is similar to installing an operating system on a physical machine. You need some way of getting the OS installer (and all related files) onto the computer. CDs, DVDs and network-based installs are the most common means of accomplishing this.

Hundreds of operating systems have been successfully run with Virtual Server (though only a small subset of them are officially supported by Microsoft). In general, as long as your guest OS supports the hardware configuration shown in Table 1, you should be able to run it within a Virtual Server VM.

Component Specifications
Motherboard chipset Intel 440BX
CPU Based on the host CPU
BIOS AMI BIOS
Video S3 Trio 32/64 with 4MB of video memory
Memory Up to 3.6GB
Input devices PS/2 mouse and keyboard
Floppy drives Up to two 1.44MB 3.5" floppy drives
Communications
Ports
2 serial port
1 Parallel Port
IDE controllers Two channels, each of which supports up to two devices each (up to four IDE total devices)
SCSI controllers Up to four Adaptec 2940 SCSI controllers
Network interfaces Up to four Intel 21140 10/100Mb network interface cards
Table 1: The virtual hardware configuration for a Virtual Server VM.

The main thing to remember is that the guest OS will function like a physical OS in almost every way. It has a BIOS, it performs a POST operation and it enumerates removable drives and fixed hard disks during the boot process. You can even go into the BIOS to make changes (though the default options will probably work best). With that out of the way, let's look at installation options.

Guest OS installation options

On a physical machine, you'd start the installation of a new operating system by inserting a CD or DVD. But because a virtual machine has no physical drives, you'll need to attach your VM's virtual DVD-ROM drive (which also supports CD-ROMs) to the appropriate media.

To manage these attachments, simply choose to edit the configuration of your virtual machine using the Virtual Server Administration Web site. Let's look at the three most common methods.

Installation using physical media
If you have a physical CD-ROM or DVD-ROM from which you can install your guest OS, the simplest approach is to capture the host computer's physical DVD-ROM drive to your VM's virtual DVD-ROM drive. Go to the configuration of your virtual machine and then click on the CD/DVD link. As shown in Figure 1, you'll have several options. Select Physical CD/DVD drive and choose the appropriate drive letter from the host.

Figure 1: Capturing a physical CD/DVD drive

The next time the VM is booted, it should automatically detect the media as if it were mounted in a virtual DVD-ROM device. Assuming that the media is bootable, you'll be up and running with the guest OS installation process.

This is a pretty simple process, but there's one catch. Using physical media can be a very slow method of installing an operating system. Also, only a single VM can capture a physical host drive at a time (a problem if you're planning to run multiple installations in parallel). Fortunately, there's another option.

Installation using ISO files
The ISO standard specifies a method of representing disc-based media formats (like DVDs and CDs) in file format. You can create an ISO file using various third-party utilities, and it has become very common for OS distributions to be available for download in ISO formats. If you have an ISO file, you can easily make it available for use by a VM, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Capturing a physical CD/DVD drive

Installing from an ISO file is usually faster than using physical media, and multiple VMs can attach to the same ISO file at the same time.

Network-based installations
The pre-boot eXecution environment (PXE) standard allows computers to be booted over a network. There are several requirements for this to work properly. First, the virtual network card must support PXE booting. Virtual Server has you covered here (as long as you're using Virtual Server 2005 R2 or later). The other is that a collection of server-side technologies need to be available. Various vendors (including Microsoft) have PXE-based installation methods for their operating systems.

Using the VMRC

Once you've captured the appropriate media for installation, all you need to do is start the VM and use the VMRC to connect to it from within the Virtual Server Administration Web site. Both operations can be performed by clicking on the thumbnail of the VM in the Master Status page.

Completing the OS installation

Obviously, the exact steps for performing an OS installation will vary based on the specific OS. Again, keep in mind that the process should be similar (if not identical) to that of installing on a physical machine.

The first step that you'll want to perform after the OS installation is complete is to install the Virtual Machine Additions. This package includes drivers and related software that will greatly improve VM performance and usability. The easiest way to do this is to click the Install VM Additions link when using the VMRC. Behind the scenes, Virtual Server will automatically mount the appropriate ISO file and (if your OS supports it) will automatically start the installation process.

Once you reboot the VM, you should be all set to do what you will with your new VM.

Virtualization checkpoint

In the first three articles in this series, we've gone through the process of setting up a new VM and getting it ready for use with a guest OS of your choice. In future articles, I'll cover details related to other configuration options such as configuring virtual networks. Stay tuned!

Creating your first virtual machine Configuring virtual networks

About the author: Anil Desai is the author of numerous technical books focusing on the Windows Server Platform, Virtualization, Active Directory, SQL Server, and IT management. Most recently, he has written The Rational Guide to Managing Microsoft Virtual Server and The Rational Guide to Scripting Microsoft Virtual Server. He has made dozens of conference presentations at national events and is also a contributor to technical magazines.

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