Virtualization

Windows 2008 R2 is almost here

It is just 2 days until the release of Windows 2008 R2. While a lot of people are hanging out for the Windows 7 (released on the same day), it is the new server operating system that is going to make waves in server rooms everywhere.

Significant improvements have been made to Hyper-V in the form of Live Migration (think VMotion but without the price) and support for more memory and more virtual CPU’s.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that Microsoft have already changed the game by making Virtualisation affordable to the masses and that now they are beginning to add Enterprise Features. Hands up who thinks VMware ESXi would exist if Hyper-V didn’t?

Windows 2008 R2 is also the enabler for many of the enterprise features of Windows 7. The server component of the DirectAccess “VPN-less VPN” feature requires Windows 2008 R2. DirectAccess does have some fairly specific requirements that make it more suited to medium to larger sites. Businesses with highly mobile work forces should also consider it as a way to simplify end-user remote access experience and as a way to better manage laptops that spend a lot of time out of the office.

The server can also be used in conjunction with BranchCache to reduce pressure on WAN links and accelerate access to services that use SMB, HTTP or BITS for remote users. Think of this as WAN acceleration but without dedicated hardware. Nice one Microsoft!
One of my personal favourites is the Active Directory undo feature. I would never admit to doing this myself, but I am sure a few accidents have happened over the years where this feature would have saved a lot of pain and agony!

The ability to park CPU cores is an interesting feature which allows the server to actually turn-off cores within a CPU when they are not required. This has the potential to save significant amounts of power and lower the operating costs of servers. Power consumption as the focus of governments globally and it my opinion is going to be an area where technology innovation is focused.

Don’t forget that this release builds on the many features of previous Windows versions. Remote Desktop Services, Network Access Protection, Distributed File System, Active Directory, Read-only Domain Controllers, IPv6, Windows Deployment Services etcetera. It builds on the same reliable, understandable and efficient foundation we already have with Windows 2008.

One more small note, this is a 64bit only operating system, time to consign those old 32bit only items to the giant recycling bin in the sky (some may of course not meet the criteria to get into software heaven and spend the rest of eternity being prodded with a blunt fork somewhere very hot). Software vendors should be supporting modern technologies by now. If they aren’t it is definitely time to put the pressure on. Isn’t that why we pay annual maintenance fees?

Microsoft will release Windows 2008 R2 on October 22nd 2009. No news on when or if we are likely to see R2 releases of Small Business Server 2008 and Essential Business Server 2008 has been announced yet.

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VMware Site Recovery Manager overview

VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM) is a disaster recovery technology that allows VMware ESX environments to be replicated to a secondary site. The ability to move protected virtual servers between sites quickly and easily takes away a lot of the difficulty associated with implementing a Disaster Recovery (DR) solution. SRM does require a significant investment in hardware and high performance links (fibre is recommended) between sites making it a solution for larger sites.

SRM leverages SAN to SAN replication technology to keep up to date copies of the production Virtual Servers at the recovery site. Any changes made to production servers are replicated in real-time to the recovery site.  The recovery site has VMware host servers with Virtual Servers in a shutdown state, in even of a failure at the production site, these servers are started (manually or automatically). SRM uses plug-ins to manage the underlying SAN storage environment simplifying management of the total solution.

Testing and validation of the recovery site is often one of the most complexed and often difficult parts of managing a DR site. One of the best features of SRM is the testing functionality. This allows the recovery site to be tested without shutting down the production environment. VLAN’s are used to isolate the recovery site during the test. This lowers the risks and costs associated with testing the site.

Recovery time is essentially the time taken to boot up the recovery site. Multiple protection groups can be created and started in a predefined order. Within a protection group, servers can be give priorities e.g. Active Directory starts before Exchange servers which start before Citrix and Blackberry.

Basic requirements:

  • Two VMware farms (a production farm and a recovery farm)
  • Two VMware vCentre servers (one at each site)
  • Two SAN’s with replication between sites (a wide range of SAN’s are supported)

SRM can fill a big part of the Disaster Recovery jigsaw and should be considered by any organisation with a VMware environment and DR needs. It is a competitive solution in terms of functionality and low on going management costs. It does require high performance data links between sites so ensure you can get and afford those services at the start of the planning process.

VMware Site Recovery Manager website

VirtualBox 3.0

Version 3 of my favorite desktop virtualisation software was released last week. The first thing that attracted me to VirtualBOX is the ability to run 64bit guests on a 32bit host, a nice way to extend the life of those 32bit boxes scattered around my house. The second feature I like is that it is multi-platform, I can build a VM on my Macbook and then copy the virtual disk to a Windows Vista machine (or Linux if you’re that way inclined).

A short and incomplete list of features:

  • Seamless Desktop e.g. IE8 running as a seamless app on OSX via Windows 7 guest.
  • USB pass-through
  • Audio pass-through
  • Direct3D 8 and 9 and OpenGL 2.0 support if running on Windows
  • Convert VMware VMDK files to VDI format files
  • RDP access to guests allowing remote access to VM’s even if the OS doesn’t support it
  • Guest additions for Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7

As a test I decided to install Windows XP from an ISO into VirtualBox on a 1 year old Macbook. XP installed in just over 10 minutes including reboots. Setup network bridging, installed guest additions and in less than 20 minutes I had a working XP professional VM with internet access and seamless desktop integration with the Mac. Next step was to move the image to my Vista laptop, a simple file copy, quick VM creation using the built in Windows XP template, connect the virtual disk and booted up. Now I can run IE6 and IE8 at the same time on the same hardware or any other legacy software for that matter.

Now for some really geeky stuff…I decided to create a VM and install HaikuOS (a BeOS clone). I downloaded a VMDK file from the HaikuOS website, ran the VMware to VirtualBox conversion tool which took a minute or so booted up. Now I have a great virtual machine that can run in full screen mode and is a good way to prevent unwanted people on you PC…

On a more serious note, I have installed Windows 7 and Windows 2008R2 RC’s in Virtualbox and was impressed with the overall performance and support for both operating systems. Making snapshots of base servers allows for easy roll back when carrying out experiments in the “test lab”.

Finally, Virtualbox is being developed actively, improvements appear frequently and you can’t beat the price.

www.virtualbox.org