In-Depth

Review: Checking out Virtual Machine Manager 2008

Microsoft's virtualization management offering gets the job done.

Microsoft's Virtual Machine Manager 2008 (VMM 2008) manages the virtual infrastructure created by Hyper-V and has extensions to manage VMware's ESX Server. The product boasts delegated administration, failover cluster support and a simple checkbox for highly available virtual machines (VMs) -- much improved over version 1. It also offers resource optimization that recognizes poorly configured or failed hosts and VMs and dynamically self-heals them.

A VMware Gotcha?
Installation requirements include Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V (this means 64-bit only), IIS7 and SQL. If you want to include ESX, you'll need VMware ESX 3.0.2 or better and VMware vCenter 2.0.1 or better.

In other words, you're forced to purchase vCenter in order to interact with VMM 2008, which tends to negate the whole idea. Paying for two virtual managers is not an attractive option.

In terms of operation, VMM 2008's Admin Console is clean and well laid out. From the overview, you can easily see the health of your hosts, VMs, jobs and library. You can also easily drill down to the hosts to see and modify configurations. Clicking on VM Configuration provides a quick glance at configurations, usage and owners.

The bulk of the work is done with Actions. From there, you add or remove hosts, perform clustering and manage your library of templates, guest OS profiles and virtual hard disks. And when working in conjunction with Operations Manager 2007 (to grab historical data of physical servers), VMM 2008 will generate a report of consolidation candidates, taking into account average usage and any spiking of a physical server's resources.

Simplified P2V
Once identified, you can convert physical servers to VMs and convert VMs from ESX to Hyper-V. These conversions are greatly improved over the previous version. You no longer need to jump through all the hoops-simply point to the physical server, identify the volumes to copy and choose whether it will be an online (where the server remains live and available) or an offline conversion.

Finally, you specify the number of processors and RAM for the VM.

VMM 2008 gives you a rating of each host, determining the most suitable host on which to deploy the VM, which makes the process quick and easy.

One of the greatest benefits to a virtual environment is disaster recovery (DR) capability. You no longer need to purchase and maintain multiple physical servers for DR purposes. With VMM 2008, you can perform the initial P2V conversion and set it to periodically refresh the VM. Using this approach, if you have a physical server that needs to stay in production, you can create snapshots of it and use these to refresh the virtual server automatically, without any intervention. Easy and complete -- and, it actually works! This allows you to "travel" with up-to-date VMs to a warm or cold DR site.

Virtual Machine Manager 2008
Figure 1. Virtual Machine Manager 2008's physical-to-virtual Wizard, for converting physical servers to virtual workloads, is fast and easy to use. (Click image to view larger version.)

Microsoft has long pitched integration as a key differentiator to its products and strategy. All of these factors apply to this version of VMM 2008, including hints at further progress with the next release.

The 'Good Enough' Test
Overall, VMM 2008 is a solid version 2. The big question is: Is it "good enough" and worth the money and investment of time required? The answer depends on your immediate and future needs and goals. If you need the advanced features included in VMware's offerings, such as easier clustering, live migration and failover, then you should make the necessary investment to get those features. However, if you don't need those types of features and are in a cost-sensitive situation (and who isn't these days?), then the basic, easy-to-use, integrated approach of VMM 2008 makes this product a very good bet.

About the Author

Reed Wilson is a global infrastructure architect at Nu Skin, a billion-dollar direct sales company with offices in more than 45 countries.

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