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Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008: A first look

Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) 2008 now supports Hyper-V and VMware ESX. And VMM features like performance and resource optimization benefit large-scale virtualization environments.

Coming right behind Hyper-V's big launch is the beta for Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) 2008. System Center Virtual Machine Manager gets a minor facelift with the upgrade to 2008, along with a few new features.

VMM is designed as an optional add-on for managing virtualization environments that grow beyond the scale of one or two servers. Adding features like central manageability, P2V, monitoring and improved control over the virtual servers in your environment, VMM is a must-have for any IT shop that runs more than a very few host servers.

Previous versions of VMM were designed to layer atop Microsoft Virtual Server, the previous virtualization platform from Microsoft. VMM 2008 adds support for Microsoft's newest and substantially higher-performing virtualization product, Hyper-V. This new feature is arguably the biggest reason for the upgrade, with much of its new capabilities surrounding the management of Hyper-V hosts running on Windows Server 2008.

Microsoft's release of Hyper-V in June 2008 has brought about real commoditization in today's hypervisor market. With Hyper-V effectively bundled with every Windows Server 2008 license, Citrix subtly changed its tune regarding the positioning of XenSource. With VMware reducing, or in some cases eliminating, its prices, it can be argued that the excitement surrounding hypervisors is beginning to lessen. As we see hypervisors grow to become commodity items, today's most important conversations are about management and automation. Managing and bringing automation to virtualization environments is poised to be the next wave in virtualization adoption.

VMM enables new levels of both management and automation through a series of new features. First, VMM 2008 includes support for managing VMware ESX virtual hosts. This integration arrives through integration with scripting exposure at the VMware VirtualCenter level, requiring a VirtualCenter server in-place for any integration to occur. Upon adding a VirtualCenter-hosted datacenter to a VMM 2008 instance, hosts of both technologies as well as their residing virtual machines (VMs) can be managed through a single interface.

This commonality in management can be a coup for environments that leverage both virtualization vendors. For example, if your organization plans to run highly critical Tier 1 servers within VMware-hosted environments, while relegating servers of lower criticality on top of Hyper-V, both can be managed through VMM 2008's single interface. Common tasks such as powering on and off, VMotioning, snapshotting and others are exposed through VMM 2008's interface.

Microsoft also provides a mechanism within the interface for converting VMware-hosted servers to Microsoft's virtual hard disk (VHD) format. Though it is worth noting that no mechanism is provided for back-converting should you wish to return a server back to a VMware-hosted environment.

The Hyper-V role integrates well with Microsoft's Windows Server Failover Clustering role, available with Windows Server 2008. With a clustered instance of Hyper-V in place, the process to provision a virtual machine to its high-availability infrastructure involves only a few mouse clicks. VMM handles provisioning the machine and configuring the necessary cluster resources in the background.

One widely anticipated new feature of VMM with this release is titled Performance and Resource Optimization (PRO). PRO is an integration of the management functionality of VMM along with the monitoring capabilities of System Center Operations Manager (OpsMgr) 2007. This integration is a significant value-add for larger-scaled environments that want or already have in-place OpsMgr's knowledge-filtered and actionable alerting capabilities.

The integration between OpsMgr and VMM works a bit like this: OpsMgr agents reside on physical hosts as well as virtual machines. When augmented with Management Packs released by Microsoft, these agents are specially coded to watch for known issues that are common to Microsoft virtualization environments. These events can be related to excessive resource utilization, problem VMs or VMs consistently running out of resources. In cases like these OpsMgr alerts VMM that a condition has occurred that requires its attention.

VMM can alert the administrator or take action on its own to migrate or restart a VM or even create new ones to handle the load. By integrating VMM technology with OpsMgr's database of knowledge filters, administrators gain actionable information that might otherwise be missed.

Automation improvements with VMM arrive as part of its heavy PowerShell integration. With VMM 2008's functionality built on top of PowerShell, every command completed in the GUI actually drives a PowerShell command under the covers. The final page of virtually every wizard in the interface includes a button that will show you the actual PowerShell command to be run. This gives the administrator an easy solution for scripting down the road.

Expect to see VMM 2008 ship in the fourth quarter of 2008, arriving in two different packages. First, a workgroup edition that has a hard limit of managing five hosts, designed for smaller environments. The full version will arrive as a component of the Server Management Suite Enterprise that includes server management licenses for OpsMgr as well as System Center Configuration Manager, System Center Data Protection Manager, and two years of software assurance.

About the author: Greg Shields, MCSE, is a co-founder of Concentrated Technology ( and an IT professional with nearly 15 years of IT architecture and enterprise administration experience. He is an IT trainer and speaker on such topics as Microsoft administration, systems management and monitoring, and virtualization. His recent book, Windows Server 2008: What's New/What's Changed is available from Sapien Press.

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