The How’s and Why’s of Server Virtualization

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One of the biggest technologies that Microsoft seems to be pushing lately is server virtualization. The main idea behind server virtualization is that a single physical machine can act as multiple, independent virtual machines. Each of these virtual machines has its own set of system resources, its own operating system, and its own applications. In this article, I will explain how you can create some virtual servers of your own.

Configuring a Virtual Server

Before you can deploy a virtual server, the first thing that you will have to do is to download a copy of the Virtual Server software. Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 Enterprise Edition is available for free. Please be aware that there is both a 32-bit version and a 64-bit version available. You must download the version that matches your server’s existing Windows operating system.

After downloading Virtual Server, you must verify that IIS is installed and running on the server. After doing so, double click on the file that you have downloaded to begin the installation process. When the Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 Enterprise Edition splash screen appears, click the Install Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 button. At this point, you will be prompted to accept the software’s end user license agreement. After doing so, click Next and enter your user name and organization name. Click Next one more time and you will be asked if you would like to perform a complete installation or a custom installation. Select the Complete option and click Next.

Since Virtual Server is a Web application, you will be asked what port you want to access it through. I recommend using the default port number (1024). In most cases, you should also use the option to configure the administration Web site to always run as the authenticated user.

Click Next and you will be asked if you would like to enable Virtual Server exceptions in Windows Firewall. Assuming that the virtual servers will be accessed from across the network and not just locally from the physical server that you are working with, you will need to enable these exceptions. Clicking Next, followed by Install and Setup will copy the necessary files to the server.

When the installation process completes, Setup will provide you with a link to Virtual Server’s Web Interface. I recommend clicking on this link and then adding the URL to your Web browser’s Favorites list. If you plan on accessing the Virtual Server management console directly from the server then I recommend disabling Internet Explorer’s Enhanced Security Configuration.

Creating a Virtual Machine

Now that Virtual Server is up and running, it’s time to create a virtual machine. I recommend starting out by defining a virtual hard disk. To do so, select the Create command found in the Virtual Disks section of the management console. You can create a fixed size virtual hard disk or a dynamically expanding virtual hard disk. Just pick the option that is the most appropriate for the virtual server that you are deploying.

To create a virtual hard disk, select a location from the Location drop down list, shown in Figure A, and then enter a disk file name in the place provided. I recommend using a name that is descriptive of the disk’s purpose. The default disk size is 16 GB, but you can set the size to anything that you want. Click the Create button to create the virtual hard disk.

Figure A: Begin by creating a virtual hard disk

After creating a virtual hard disk, click the Create option found in the virtual server management console’s Virtual Machines section. When you do, you will see a screen that’s similar to the one that’s shown in Figure B.

Figure B: This is the interface that you will use to create a virtual server

Begin the process by entering a name for the virtual machine that you are creating. The name should be as descriptive as possible. For example, I have a Windows Server that’s hosting a handful of virtual machines. On my server, I use descriptive names that reflect the server’s operating system and purpose.

After entering a name for the virtual server, you must enter the amount of memory that will be available to the virtual server. Keep in mind that your server has a finite amount of memory available. You must enter an amount of memory that is sufficient for the virtual server’s use, but that will still leave adequate memory for the underlying operating system and for any virtual machines that may eventually be running simultaneously with the virtual machine that you are creating.

The next thing that the interface asks you about is the virtual hard disk. You have already created a virtual hard disk, so just select the option to use an existing virtual hard disk and then select the virtual hard disk that you created earlier.

The last thing that you must select is which network adapter you want the virtual machine to use to connect to your network. You do however have the option of isolating the virtual machine from the network if you so desire, by selecting the Not Connected option. Click the Create button and the virtual machine will be created.

Using your Virtual Machine

Now that you have created a virtual machine, you must install an operating system onto it. When the machine creation process completes, you will be taken to the screen shown in Figure C. Insert the operating system installation into your CD / DVD  drive and then click the thumbnail that’s shown in the figure. When you do, Windows will turn the virtual server on. It’s worth noting that when you power up the virtual machine, the screen that’s shown in Figure C comes alive with various performance statistics, as shown in Figure D.

Figure C: This is the screen that you will see after creating a virtual server

Figure D: This is what it looks like when you power up a virtual server

As you can see in Figure D, you are supposed to be able to click on the virtual machine’s thumbnail to be able to access the virtual machine’s console. However, you still have a little bit of setup work to do before you can actually view your virtual machine. Specifically, you must install the Virtual Machine Remote Control ActiveX component. To do so, just click on the thumbnail as if you were attempting to access your virtual machine. When you do, you will see the screen shown in Figure E. There are lots of options that you can set, but if you are looking to just access your virtual server with a minimum of effort, then just select the Enable button and click OK. When you do, you will see the yellow bar appear at the top of the browser window, telling you that you need to click on the bar to install the ActiveX Control. Click on the bar and follow the prompts, and you are in business. The virtual session will look something like what you see in Figure F.

Figure E: Select the Enable check box and click OK

Figure F: Notice that Windows is running inside of a Web browser


Before I end this article, I want to give you a couple of pointers regarding the use of virtual machines. You might have noticed that the mouse pointer shows up in Figure F. That mouse pointer is static until you click inside the virtual server’s window. Upon doing so, you will take control of the mouse pointer, but you will be unable to move it beyond the confines of the virtual machine window. If you need to use your mouse outside of the virtual machine window, just press down the right Alt key, release it, and move your mouse outside of the virtual machine window.

Another thing that I want to mention is that you can’t press CTRL+ALT+Delete to log on to a virtual machine. Doing so opens the Task Manager for the server that is hosting the virtual machines. To log on to a virtual machine, press the right ALT key and Delete.

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