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Manage a growing data center with profiles and VM templates

System Center Virtual Machine Manager offers a number of tools to help preserve consistency and ease VM deployment.

As a virtual data center increases in scale, the need to make sure that virtual machines and applications are deployed in a consistent manner grows as well. New VMs must comply with the organization's established security policies and must be easy to create. Microsoft simplifies this process with profiles and templates in System Center Virtual Machine Manager. VM templates and profiles are each designed to allow administrators to store and reuse common configurations.

Profiles and templates are exposed through the System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) library. As you can see in Figure A, SCVMM provides three different types of VM templates and six different types of profiles.

VM templates and profiles are exposed through the Library Fabric.
Figure A. VM templates and profiles are exposed through the Library Fabric.

As previously mentioned, both profiles and templates are designed to eliminate the need for manual configuration -- allowing an administrator to create a configuration  once, and reuse it as many times as necessary. Although profiles and templates both allow for configuration reuse, the difference between the two is the level of granularity they provide. Profiles tend to be more granular than templates, and provide configuration settings for hardware allocation and applications. Templates, on the other hand, apply to larger objects, such as entire VMs.

Setting up templates

SCVMM provides three different types of templates -- Service Deployment Configurations, Service Templates and VM Templates. As you would probably expect, a VM template is a template that can be used to create a virtual machine. VM templates are linked to preconfigured virtual hard disks. Because these virtual hard disks have been configured using Sysprep, they can be used as a deployment image for new VMs.

As the name implies, service templates are used to deploy new services. While it might be tempting to think of a service as being similar to a system service, here the word service takes on a different meaning. SCVMM defines a service as a set of VMs that have been preconfigured, and are designed to be deployed together as a single entity. While VM templates are useful for deploying a single VM, service templates are useful for deploying multi-tier applications that span multiple VM.

Although the SCVMM console treats Service Deployment Configurations as a type of template, Service Deployment Configurations are actually just services that have been saved while configuring a service instance's deployment settings. Items listed as Service Deployment Configurations have not yet been deployed.

Creating profiles

SCVMM allows for the creation of six different types of profiles. These profiles include application profiles, capability profiles, guest OS profiles, hardware profiles, physical computer profiles and SQL Server profiles.

Application profiles

Automated VM deployments would be of limited use if the VMs contained only an operating system. Application profiles provide SCVMM with instructions on how to install applications. Application profiles can be used with Server App-V applications, Microsoft Web Deploy applications and Microsoft SQL Server data tier applications.

Capability profiles

SCVMM isn't just a tool for managing VMs and Hyper-V hosts, it can also be used to create a private cloud based on Hyper-V resources. In these types of private cloud environments, capability profiles can be used as a tool for limiting the resources that the VMs within the private cloud are able to use.

Guest OS profiles

Guest OS profiles are used to automatically configure the operating system when a VM is deployed. A guest OS profile is very similar to a Sysprep answer file, and can include configuration items, such as a product key and a password, to be used when a VM is created.

Hardware profiles

A hardware profile defines the hardware allocation for newly created VMs. When you manually create a VM, you must enter information, such as the amount of memory and the number of virtual CPUs to assign to the VM. A hardware profile allows you to save this information, so that VMs can be deployed without an administrator having to manually configure the VM's hardware allocation.

Physical computer profiles

Physical computer profiles were introduced in System Center 2012 R2 SCVMM as a replacement for host profiles. Physical computer profiles can be used as a tool for automatically provisioning physical computers as new Hyper-V hosts.

SQL Server profiles

Application profiles can be used to deploy Microsoft SQL Server data tier applications. However, a data tier application cannot work without a database engine. SQL Server profiles allow an administrator to automatically configure a SQL Server instance for use with a Microsoft SQL Server data tier application.

VM templates and profiles allow SCVMM to be used for automated VM and application deployment. Although each template and profile has its own specific use case, it is very common for templates and profiles to be used together. For instance, a VM image might be created using a hardware profile and a guest OS profile, before being turned into a VM template.

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