virtualisation

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

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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

Why Virtualize?

I read recently that 50% of CIO’s couldn’t see any benefit in virtualizing. My initial reaction was less than flattering and then I realised it probably isn’t that they don’t like virtualization. They just don’t understand the long term benefits of virtualization.

The key thing virtualization does is remove dependence on physical hardware. Basically it allows you to change the underlying hardware without having to reinstall the operating system and applications that run on the hardware.

5 things virtualization can do to save you time and money:

  • Migrate to new hardware without a reinstall. Great if you lease hardware and want to replace it every 3 years because you simply move the Virtual Machines, no expensive reinstallation required.
  • Run more servers on less hardware and take advantage of the virtual OS entitlements e.g. Windows Server 2008 Enterprise allows 1 physical and 4 virtual servers or unlimited virtual servers with Data Centre edition.
  • Use server templates to cut server build time.
  • Do a physical to virtual migration of old servers so you can power them on in the future if needed.
  • Simplify your disaster recovery plans.

The ability to rapidly change the resources allocated to services, build a test environment, expand a web server farm or do an upgrade with a simple role back are other great reasons to consider virtualization.

Virtualization is a strategy decision and for many is quite a mind-shift. Many of the benefits will appeal to systems administrators, but if you want to convince the CIO you need to show how it will improve productivity, increase agility and lower costs.

EBS 2008 Premium Server Overview

The premium edition of Essential Business Server 2008 (EBS) includes an additional Windows 2008 Standard Server licence and SQL 2008 standard license. While the three servers that make up the core of EBS are 64bit, the forth server can be either 32bit or 64bit. Here are a few ways this server can be used to enhance the network environment.

Virtualisation

With the included Windows 2008 Standard server license you get rights to run a single Virtual Instance of Windows 2008 Standard. The physical server can be installed as a Hyper-V host for a virtual server running a second instance of Windows. Additional Windows licenses can be purchased to run additional virtual machines.

SQL

SQL 2008 Standard Edition is a powerful database management system that can be used to host a wide range of SQL applications e.g. Microsoft Dynamics, Sharepoint content databases, SAP etc. It also features reporting, data analysis and replication technology and is a great platform for managing data company wide and making that data accessible.

SQL 2008 Home Page

Compatibility

In some environments it might be desirable to have a 32bit Windows server e.g. to support legacy 32bit only applications or devices such as printers that don’t have a suitable 64bit driver. Either a 32bit physical operating system or a 64bit instance running Hyper-V with a 32bit virtual machine can be useful options to get around these issues.

Client Access Licenses

When adding new users to EBS 2008 via the EBS Management Console you can choose between standard and premium client access licenses. If you have users who don’t require access to the forth server you can assign a standard CAL to those users.

EBS 2008 Edition Comparision