Editor's Note: Increasing Your Odds with Virtualization

The move from physical to virtual has become a sure bet for IT organizations, and with more payoff to come, it’s time to make sure your infrastructure is aligned for maximum value.

By Mitch Irsfeld

It’s hard to generalize the benefits of virtualization, partly because we don’t fully know where the value ends. One of the main evolutionary paths leads to cloud computing and the value there could be tremendous. In that respect, virtualization is like a high flying stock just before it splits; there’s good reason to own it now, but just wait!

As commonly touted, the main benefit of virtualization today is cost savings, and the biggest savings come from the consolidation/reduction of servers which, in turn, results in the reduction of hardware, maintenance and management costs. It also saves space in the datacenter(s) which can save on future build-outs and requires less in the way of infrastructure like air conditioning, racks, wiring, etc.

The ability to control and better predict expenditures is great, but IT Pros need to deliver savings while creating new business value with technology. How do you make your business groups more agile by quickly aligning computing resources with new objectives? Can you ensure the same levels of security, customer privacy and compliance? We’ve compiled a number of great resources in this edition of TechNet ON to help you win at the virtualization game, as well as align your systems for an easier migration to the cloud.

According to Mitch Tulloch in the second edition of his ebook Understanding Microsoft Virtualization Solutions from the Desktop to the Data Center, lowering total cost of ownership is only one of three key drivers for considering a virtualization solution. Increasing server availability and thereby increasing service levels and minimizing disruption is a direct business value. Finally, business agility can be enhanced by providing capacity and applications on demand.

Tulloch walks through Microsoft’s offerings in all levels of the virtualized architecture: server; desktop; remote desktop, and; virtualization management. He also talks about the evolution of virtualized infrastructures to cloud computing, and how adding cloud solutions on top of your existing virtualized infrastructure allows you to provision resources as services.

Paving the way to the cloud

While the cost advantages of virtualization may be enough in their own right to justify migrating from physical to virtual machines, the end game could be even better. It’s oft been said that IT should regard virtualization more as a strategy than a technology. In the lively Microsoft vs. VMware debate showcased in Network World, David Greschler, director of virtualization strategy for Microsoft’s Server and Tools Business, noted that virtualization is no longer seen as the final destination. “Now it is clear this technology is a stepping stone to the more agile, responsive world of cloud computing,” Greschler says. “The core benefits of virtualization – the ability to consolidate servers, quickly provision new applications, automatically backup system – pales in comparison to the speed and cost savings possible with cloud computing.”

The virtualization of all tiers of your infrastructure is a necessary first step in moving to the more flexible service model of cloud computing.

If you’ve been waiting to overhaul your application infrastructure with a virtual desktop and application solution, an upgrade to Windows 7 might present the perfect timing for the transformation. Microsoft’s Application Virtualization (App-V) 4.6 has full support for Windows 7, and as Chris Jackson describes in his TechNet Magazine article, Making Applications Compatible with Windows 7 in a Virtualized Environment, when working App-V into your Windows 7 migration, you can benefit from the potential for reduced cost during installation and testing, and leverage most of the same processes for resolving application compatibility issues using shims. He details how to apply and manage shims as a centrally managed database using your existing systems management software.

Should all systems go virtual?

Before you migrate all your physical systems to virtual systems, you should understand the advantages and disadvantages of virtualization. Yes, there are potential risks. In his Top 10 Virtualization Best Practices article, Wes Miller says you need to enforce the same policies for your VMs that enforce for your physical systems. It’s “far too easy to clone a guest,” he writes, and this can result in systems that are improperly secured or cause other problems with the system from which it was cloned.

While virtual environments are more efficient to manage, they do not manage themselves. In his other TechNet Magazine article, Care and Feeding of Virtual Environments, Wes Miller notes that Virtualization doesn’t make hardware more reliable. It just changes the odds. Check out his best practices for minimizing the cost of virtualization and his considerations for managing virtualized systems.

“Just because a system is virtualized doesn’t mean you can’t lose it due to registry corruption or corruption of the entire VM,” Miller says. On top of that, the security protection needs for virtualized machines are similar to those of physical machines. “The last thing you need is an infrequently used VM becoming the local botnet representative on your corporate network,” he says. IT Pros’ old skills remain very useful in a virtual world, no matter what you hear from pessimists.

So how does Microsoft’s family of virtualization solutions stack up? Enterprise Strategy Group’s Lab tested the Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 server virtualization offering and determined that “the performance overhead of Hyper-V R2 is manageably low compared to the outstanding benefits of server virtualization.” In its ESG Lab Report, Microsoft Hyper-V R2: Scalable, Native Server Virtualization for the Enterprise, ESC documents the hands-on testing of Hyper-V R2 with a focus on the enhanced flexibility, availability, and performance, and concludes that “powerful flexibility and availability capabilities tested by ESG Lab—including Live Migration, Clustered Shared Volumes, and improved performance—are turning Microsoft server virtualization technology into an enabler of server management and data center automation.”

Where do you start?

This edition of TechNet ON includes a host of resources to get you going on both server and application virtualization, including trial downloads of Hyper-V in Windows Server 2008 R2 and the App-V 4.6 beta. But in particular, we’d like to call out the collection of free training clinics from Microsoft Learning, Exploring Microsoft Virtualization Technologies. This is an outstanding offering and includes the following:

  • Clinic 5935: Introducing Hyper-V in Windows Server 2008
  • Clinic 6334: Exploring Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008
  • Clinic 6335: Exploring Microsoft Application Virtualization
  • Clinic 6336: Exploring Terminal Services in Windows Server 2008

You can also take advantage of a free lesson from Microsoft Learning: Installing, Configuring, and Managing Windows XP Mode. This lesson is excerpted from Microsoft Course 10324A, Implementing and Managing Microsoft Desktop Virtualization--part of a five-day, 300-level course intended for Microsoft Windows Server 2008 system and desktop administrators who will manage and implement desktop and application virtualization technologies within their network.

Another great starting point is the Virtualization Training Portal, which offers a comprehensive set of certification paths and training resources that cover the entire Microsoft virtualization solution.

Mitch Irsfeld

Mitch Irsfeld*, Editor of TechNet, is a veteran computer industry journalist and content developer who managed editorial staffs at several leading publications, including* InformationWeek, InternetWeek and CommunicationsWeek*. He is also an editor for* TechNet Magazineand managing editor of the TechNet Flash newsletter.