While server virtualisation is nothing new, with the forthcoming release of Virtual Server 2005, an application that virtualises the Windows 2003 Server operating system, Microsoft promises to ease server application migration and simplify testing environments using a unique take on the technology.
Virtual Server 2005 creates virtual machines on top of the Windows 2003 Server operating system, instead of at the hardware level like many of its competitors.
Hardware-level virtualisation ensures that the technology is compatible with nearly every operating system, but this approach often lacks seamless integration with host operating systems.
Virtual Server 2005 leverages the management and performance tools included with Windows 2003 Server, making virtualisation an almost transparent process.
CRN Test Centre engineers installed Virtual Server 2005 on an HP TC100 server running Microsoft Small Business Server 2003. The server was equipped with a 2.66GHz Pentium 4 processor and 2GB of RAM, far exceeding the minimum requirements of a 550MHz Pentium III and 256MB of RAM.
Installation was straightforward and uncomplicated. Virtual Server 2005 requires that Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) be installed and active on the target server, since the product is managed through a Web site created under IIS.
Once the management Web site is created, administrators can use Microsoft Internet Explorer to access and manage virtual machines.
This management approach allows administrators to manage virtual machines from almost anywhere there is an IP connection to the server and Internet Explorer. The browser-based management console offers a clean interface that follows Microsoft's standard conventions, making the product quite easy to master.
Virtual Server 2005 is simple to use, since most tasks are wizard-based. New virtual machines can be created in a matter of minutes with just a few mouse clicks.
Administrators can connect remote drives to a Virtual Server management session, allowing the remote installation of new operating systems and applications.
Microsoft's Virtual Server is an excellent tool for migrating legacy applications that run under previous versions of the Windows Server operating system.
For example, an organisation that deploys a Windows 2003 Server platform could use virtual machines to run legacy Windows NT 4.0 applications. Even legacy versions of other operating systems such as Novell's NetWare or Unix variations will run under Virtual Server 2005, but Microsoft only offers support for its proprietary platforms.
Other notable features include the ability to create virtual networks and virtual disks, a must for software developers and deployment testers. Virtual networking allows for creation of a pseudo network that is isolated from the host machine's primary network.
Virtual disks allow on-demand disk resizing for virtual machine sessions. Administrators can also save an image of a virtual machine for backup or testing purposes or to move a virtual machine over to a new virtual server.
All things considered, Microsoft's stab at creating a virtual server product seems to be right on track. Microsoft's Virtual Server 2005 is a tool that almost any administrator can find a use for.