System Center Virtual Machine Manager

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Architecture and Interfaces

SCVMM was designed by Microsoft to be the premier front end for all of your virtual machine management needs, and in that sense, it supports managing VMs running on Microsoft's Hyper-V or Virtual Server 2005 R2, or VMware-hosted virtual machines as well. Indeed, among the smoothest features of SCVMM is its support for live-migrating a machine using VMware's Vmotion technology from one host to another.

Interestingly, SCVMM doesn't support live migration among Hyper-V servers because that feature is not yet available in Windows Server 2008. (Live migration is the no-downtime way to switch a virtual machine between compatible hosts.) But in the meantime, SCVMM can and does support VMware's version of this feature, called V-Motion. When Windows Server 2008 R2 ships, Microsoft's native live migration will be available and supported, and SCVMM will work seamlessly with it out of the box.

The architecture of SCVMM relies on a single server-side installation of the product and the various interfaces to it. The administrator console, previously mentioned, and the PowerShell integration sit atop the server product. Underneath the server product are the various system management interfaces to the individual virtual machine hosts, a SCVMM library server that allows you to store VM images, scripts to turn ISO images into readily available VMs, a pre-filled template for a virtual machine and other "quick-start" shortcuts. These virtual machines, templates and other elements can be stored on disks within the hosts, or you can leverage your existing SAN environment and its various data-transmission methods to move these artifacts around.

Easing the Administrative Burden

New to SCVMM 2008 is the integrated performance and resource optimization (PRO) feature. PRO allows you to set up -- either alone or with System Center Operations Manager -- alerts and policies that notify and govern certain performance scenarios. For example, if problems like disk space, processor usage or memory consumption degrade the health of a virtual machine, PRO can be configured to trigger an alert. (These alerts are extensible.) You can then instruct SCVMM to automatically act on an alert, if you wish, and perform remediating actions which shorten the time between problem and solution. These alerts can also be logged to be addressed later, in a manual fashion, by an administrator.

PRO is a neat feature that continues to ensure your virtual machine stable is performing in the best way possible and takes away some of the tedious parts of managing a set of virtual machines.

Also of note is the self-service portal available for users to create their own virtual machines that can then be managed by SCVMM. Administrators can set up a policy that allows users to create machines that require different numbers of "quota points" based on their hardware footprint or overall resource profile, and those points are aggregated into an overall total that can be restricted based on the group in which the user is a member. This allows users to service their needs themselves, within reason, without either bothering the administrator with tedious tasks or overburdening the system with VM creep.

The Last Word

Overall, I find SCVMM to be a compelling solution for managing virtual machines across your enterprise. I was impressed by the scope of management available, and in some ways, having SCVMM manage VMware hosts and virtual machines seems superior to using VMware's own tools because the UI is easier to use than the VMware interface and SCVMM plugs in better with the rest of your Microsoft infrastructure. And the extensibility of the management capabilities via PowerShell is second to none. The integration with Operations Manager and the PRO performance optimization features seal the deal.

If you find yourself looking to integrate VM administration in your enterprise beyond native tools, SCVMM is absolutely worth your time to evaluate. As of this writing, pricing hadn't yet been finalized.

Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker on a variety of IT topics. His published works include RADIUS, Hardening Windows, Using Windows Small Business Server 2003 and Learning Windows Server 2003. His work appears regularly in such periodicals as Windows IT Pro magazine, PC Pro and TechNet Magazine. He also speaks worldwide on topics ranging from networking and security to Windows administration. He is currently an editor at Apress Inc., a publishing company specializing in books for programmers and IT professionals.

This story, "System Center Virtual Machine Manager" was originally published by Computerworld.

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