Getting Ready for System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012


Microsoft is investing in cloud services in three distinct areas: Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Conceptually, SaaS provides access to major applications without the need to deploy, maintain, or manage the applications using an in-house infrastructure. For example, Microsoft Online Services hosts Microsoft Office 365 which consists of Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Lync, and Microsoft Office (feel free to join the beta). Microsoft Office 365 applications can be accessed through a web browser, and you can also deploy Microsoft Outlook 2010 for a more powerful mail client experience. In contrast, PaaS provides a hosted environment which allows the deployment of line of business (LOB) applications that consume database, storage, and network resources to provide specialized services to an organization or an organization’s client base. One example of a PaaS service is the Microsoft Azure platform. Finally, IaaS enables the deployment of private or public clouds. Private clouds are deployed, maintained, and managed internally by an organization’s IT staff to provide any type of virtualized service (email, database, LOB applications, virtual desktops, and so on) to the user community, but with a high degree of automation and orchestration of processes and procedures for self-service, chargeback, and lifecycle management. Public clouds are the basis of SaaS and PaaS infrastructures.

Regardless of the type of cloud service, there is a virtualization infrastructure at its core that enables rapid deployment and control of services on virtual machines by leveraging available capacity, reliability, and scalability resources in the cloud. Of course, the cloud infrastructure requires management tools that support both the physical and virtual components that are its building blocks. With System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012, Microsoft makes the leap from a virtualization centric management tool to a cloud centric management tool while providing a clearer view of the organization and relationship between core cloud components.

Overview of System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012

Just like System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 (VMM 2008 R2), System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 (VMM 2012) consists of the following six major components:

  • VMM Management Server – A command and control service which manages communications with all other VMM components
  • VMM Database – An instance of a Microsoft SQL Server database that contains configuration information
  • VMM Library – A storage component that manages file-based resources such as virtual hard disks (VHDs), and database-stored resources such as templates and profiles that are used to deploy virtual machines and services
  • VMM Console – A tool that allows connection to a VMM Management Server
  • VMM Self-Service Portal – A web site that allows users to deploy and manage designated virtual machines within a private cloud
  • VMM Command Shell – A PowerShell 2.0 interface to the scripting engine that powers VMM commands

A great improvement in VMM 2012 is that it is cluster aware, eliminating the risk of deploying an infrastructure with a single point of failure. This is a feature that is unfortunately not available in VMM 2008 R2. Another major improvement in VMM 2012 is that the management model has been redesigned and expanded to support cloud fabrics, services, and libraries (instead of only hosts and hosts groups, virtual machines, and libraries in VMM 2008 R2). Fabric management encompasses server systems, network components, and storage devices (Figure 1).

Figure 1:
VMM Administrator Console – Fabric Management View

Services management provides a means to control the creation and deployment of a set of virtual machines that operate together to provide a specialized service. For example, if a LOB application is composed of a web component, business logic component, and database component that each require a virtual machine with a customized operating system configuration, VMM 2012 allows you to define a service template which captures the configuration settings for each virtual machine as well as deployment and service policies (Figure 2).

Figure 2:
VMM Administrator Console – VMs and Services Management View

In the area of managed platforms, VMM 2012 drops support for Virtual Server 2005 R2. However, more importantly, it adds support for Citrix XenServer. More specifically, VMM 2012 supports the following virtualization hosts:

  • Hyper-V and Hyper-V R2
  • ESX and ESXi 3.5 and 4.1 (along with vCenter 4.1)
  • XenServer 5.6 with Feature Pack 1

Unlike VMM 2008 R2, VMM 2012 does not support VMware ESX or ESXi 3.0 hosts. In terms of Citrix, XenServer hosts are directly managed using VMM 2012 without interfacing with XenCenter. This requires the installation of the Citrix System Center Virtual Machine Manager Integration Suite supplemental pack on each XenServer host prior to adding it as a managed host in VMM 2012. Also, XenServer pools must be created and configured in Citrix XenCenter before they can be managed by VMM 2012.

Library management (Figure 3) also encompasses new resources in VMM 2012. VMM Library resources remain either file-based (such as application packages) that are stored on a share, or non file-based (such as service templates) that are stored in the VMM 2012 database. Private cloud libraries are one of the new items in VMM 2012 that allow read-only library shares to be assigned to a private cloud, as well as writable shares to store self-service user virtual machines and services.

Figure 3:
VMM Administrator Console – Library Management View

Fabric Management – Physical Hosts

The management capabilities of VMM 2012 for physical hosts include the abilities to discover and configure bare-metal servers into managed Hyper-V hosts, and to further create and configure Hyper-V clusters. In order to perform physical computer discovery, VMM 2012 communicates with a server baseboard management controller (BMC) using the following protocols:

  • Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) versions 1.5 or 2.0
  • Data Center Management Interface (DCMI) version 1.0
  • System Management Architecture for Server Hardware (SMASH) version 1.0
  • Custom (enabled through PowerShell)

After VMM 2012 discovers a physical server, the VMM Management server can restart the host to boot from a Windows Server 2008 R2 image on a PXE server, and configure it as a new Hyper-V host according to the settings described in a host profile. Furthermore, VMM 2012 allows you to create and manage Hyper-V host failover clusters through the VMM console (Figure 3). You can add or remove nodes from a Hyper-V host cluster, and also return a Hyper-V host to a standalone configuration using the VMM console.

Figure 4:
VMM Administrator Console – Fabric Management Cluster Option

Fabric Management – Networking

Fabric management also includes the configuration of network resources that are required in a virtualized environment or private cloud. In particular, VMM 2012 allows the management of the following network resources:

  • Logical networks
  • IP and MAC address pools
  • Load balancers

Logical networks represent an abstraction of underlying physical network details by allowing the association of a set of IP subnets and VLANs to a logical network name. For example, a test lab logical network named LABNET can be created that contains IP subnet and VLAN 15. Multiple logical networks can be created to describe different network segments and available services, and support simple assignment to virtual machines without requiring detailed network knowledge or individual configuration of network details for each virtual machine deployment. In addition, logical networks can be scoped to specific VMM host groups, making them available to provision only on a pre-defined set of hosts. In order for a logical network to be available to virtual machines, it must (of course) be associated with a physical network adapter on a host. Logical networks also simplify dynamic load balancing by presenting a common logical network resource name to virtual machines across a host group.

VMM 2012 allows defining and managing static IP and MAC address pools for assignment to Windows-based virtual machines and services running on a managed host, including VMware ESX and Citrix XenServer. IP address pools can be configured for each subnet that is assigned to a logical network, and both IPv4 and IPv6 are supported, although cannot be mixed in a single address pool. When a standalone virtual machine or service is removed or deleted, IP and MAC addresses are reclaimed, making them available for future virtual machine deployments.

VMM 2012 also supports hardware load balancer provisioning for services by allowing the definition of virtual IP (VIP) templates that contain settings such as hardware manufacturer and model, network traffic protocol and port, session persistence, and load balancing method. Multiple VIP templates can be created to optimize load balancing for specific network traffic and services.Fabric Management – Storage

In addition to physical hosts and networking, storage is the other major fabric component in VMM 2012. Storage management encompasses the discovery, classification, and assignment of storage resources to Hyper-V standalone hosts and clusters. VMM 2012 communicates with storage arrays using Storage Management Initiative – Specification (SMI-S) providers. Although still supported in VMM 2012, Virtual Disk Service (VDS) providers will no longer be supported in future releases.

VMM 2012 allows the classification of storage resources according to throughput and capabilities. In this manner, logical classification names can be given to storage devices that simplify assignments to virtual machines and services, and that do not require knowledge of specific storage device details. For example, using three classifications such as HIGH, MID, BASE, could represent three different storage technology types and speed (Fibre SAN, iSCSI SAN, DAS).

Fabric Management – Updates and Optimization

Fabric management in VMM 2012 also includes update and optimization features. For example, update management is integrated into VMM 2012 to allow scanning and update deployment to fabric servers. VMM 2012 requires a dedicated installation of WSUS 3.0 SP2 to scan and update fabric servers.

Dynamic Optimization enables dynamic load balancing within host clusters that support live migration of virtual machines on Hyper-V, VMware ESX, and Citrix XenServer virtualization platforms. Dynamic Optimization is scheduled based on frequency and aggressiveness parameters. Aggressiveness defines the level of load imbalance that is required to trigger virtual machine migrations. Dynamic Optimization can also be performed on-demand, if required.

Power Optimization enables the consolidation of virtual machines on a smaller set of hosts, and powering down of unused hosts to minimize power consumption. In order to support Power Optimization, hosts must be configured with a BMC that allows out-of-band management. Power Optimization can be configured to operate continuously or only during off-peak periods.

Services Management

Services management in VMM 2012 includes the configuration and management of the following elements:

  • Private Clouds
  • Services
  • Virtual Machines

VMM 2012 provides the ability to create private clouds that support self-service provisioning and utilization of fabric components (hosts, networks, storage devices) without the knowledge of the underlying physical devices. In VMM 2012, a private cloud is created using host groups that include Hyper-V hosts and clusters, VMware ESX hosts, Citrix XenServer hosts, and associated resource pools. Creation of a private cloud is predicated on the configuration of hosts, network, storage, library shares, and other required fabric components. After the fabric is configured and managed using VMM 2012, a private cloud is defined by assignment of fabric resources and setting the capacity boundaries of the cloud.

The management of services in VMM 2012 includes the creation and configuration of service templates that capture the settings for a group of virtual machines that are deployed and work in tandem to provide a user service. VMM 2012 provides the VMM Service Template Designer which is a graphical tool that supports creating virtual machine and service templates. A virtual machine template contains virtual hardware, operating system, applications, and if required, SQL server configuration parameters. A service template can be created by selecting and adding objects such as virtual machine templates, logical networks, load balancers, connectors, and application host templates to define the service. Services can be updated by making a copy of a service template and performing the required modifications. Service deployment is performed either through the VMM console or through self-service in a private cloud environment.

VMM 2012 also expands the scope of virtual machine management features compared to VMM 2008 R2. Rapid provisioning in VMM 2012 supports the ability to use SAN features such as snapshot and cloning to quickly provision new virtual machines from a template associated with a VHD stored on a SAN. Using the template, VMM 2012 creates a read-writable copy of the VHD stored on a LUN, and can deploy the virtual machine by remapping the LUN from the library server to the destination host. Rapid provisioning using SAN snapshot and cloning supports both standalone virtual machines and virtual machines defined within the scope of a service.

Library Management

With new components such as clouds, services, and Citrix XenServer hosts, the VMM 2012 library catalog of supported resources has expanded to include the following new objects:

  • Application packages – A set of file-based resources used to deploy applications to virtual machines
  • SQL Server applications – A file-based resource used to deploy SQL Server applications
  • Driver files – One or more file-based resources that are used when configuring Hyper-V hosts
  • Custom resources – One or more file-based resources such as scripts that are not standard library objects, but that VMM 2012 can import into a library
  • Service templates – A set of service configuration parameters that are stored in the VMM 2012 database
  • Host profiles – A set of hardware, operating system, and host settings that are used to deploy Hyper-V on a bare-metal server, and that are stored in the VMM 2012 database
  • Application profiles – A set of parameters that define operating system compatibility, applications, and deployment scripts to install on a virtual machine, and that are stored in the VMM 2012 database
  • Capability profiles – A set of parameters that define virtual machine host compatibility, as well as processor, storage, network, and feature support, and that is stored in the VMM 2012 database
  • SQL profile – A list of SQL installations that support virtual machine application deployment, and that is stored in the VMM 2012 database
  • Resource groups – A set of equivalent library resources that supports the deployment of virtual machines and services by using resources stored in the closest library to the host
  • Cloud libraries – Read-only shares and writable node that are assigned to a private cloud and support self-service
  • Update catalog and baselines – Update baselines for the VMM management server and VMM 2012 managed servers

Although this does not represent a comprehensive list of new objects in VMM 2012, these are the major new resources that support private clouds, self-service, and services.


System Center VMM 2012 represents a huge step for Microsoft in the area of private cloud and overall virtualization infrastructure management. With its support for the leading virtualization platforms, high-availability, fabric abstractions, multi-tier virtual machine services, fabric update and optimization features, and many more new capabilities, it is a tool that is sure to gain deployment traction when it is officially released by Microsoft. In the meantime, download the beta version, and start getting ready by exploring it and putting it through its paces in your lab environment.

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