If you haven't already heard ...
PALO ALTO, Calif., February 6, 2006 VMware, Inc., the global leader in virtual infrastructure software for industry-standard systems, today introduced VMware Server, a free new entry-level hosted virtualization product for Linux and Windows servers. The product is available as a beta download at www.vmware.com/products/server/.
Virtualization is everywhere in IT news these days and I'm hearing more and more companies evaluating or switching to server virtualization. VMware is thinking smart. By offering it's entry level virtual server for free, IT people (like me) will go and play with it (which I am) where they might not have otherwise. I've dorked with Microsoft's Virtual PC before, but never really got to kick it's tires properly before the 30 day trial tanked. Now I can test VMware Server at my leisure...nice!
Maybe you don't know what the heck virtualization is?
Virtualization allows multiple virtual machines, with heterogeneous operating systems to run in isolation, side-by-side on the same physical machine. Each virtual machine has its own set of virtual hardware (e.g., RAM, CPU, NIC, etc.) upon which an operating system and applications are loaded. The operating system sees a consistent, normalized set of hardware regardless of the actual physical hardware components.
Virtual machines are encapsulated into files, making it possible to rapidly save, copy and provision a virtual machine. Full systems (fully configured applications, operating systems, BIOS and virtual hardware) can be moved, within seconds, from one physical server to another for zero-downtime maintenance and continuous workload consolidation.
For instance, right now my home PC is running XP along with a virtual instances of Ubuntu Linux, Windows 98, Windows Vista Beta, and Small Business Server2003. So I've got 5 different operating systems that could be run at the same time (assuming you have enough RAM) easily switching back and forth between them ... each running in it's own isolated and protected "space". This is a great way to do testing and experimentation and you can create simple "snapshots" of each virtual environment and restore back to the snapshot should you goof something up. Should a virtual machine crash...since it's isolated from everything else...it doesn't cause any problems to the other virtual machines or base operating system.
Curious to experiment with this technology, we took our Terminal Services server which has dual Xeon 3GHz CPU's and 4GB RAM but sits idle...the remains of our abandoned attempt to create our own ChMS (church management system) and formatted all the drives, installed a base Server2003 image on it then installed VM Server console. From the VM Console you can create and manipulate all your virtual machines. To create a virtual machine you simply click...File>New Virtual Machine>select the operating system from the drop down list>enter how big you want the virtual hard drive to be>Finish. Now click the start virtual machine button and install your operating system like you would on any other box. The virtual machine can share your CD-ROM, Network cards, USB ports and such ... it's really that slick and simple to use!
So we created a basic Server2003 install, then ran sysprep on it and copied the folder holding all the data files and renamed it template. Now we can have a new Server2003 virtual server full functioning in the amount of time it takes to click File>open>browse>and select the template folder. Bam...a full blown Server2003 server is now up and running. Crazy!
So we have a virtual Server2003 server now running our Terminal Services, and another virtual Server2003 server running WSUS (windows server update services). Those have been running for a week now with no problems. Next we'll move Track-IT, Spy Sweeper, MOM2006, and OpManager into virtual environments on that same physical server. So now 1 physical server can host many virtual servers all on the same hardware ... since most servers are way under utilized this is a great way to utilize spare resources (CPU, RAM) while keeping all the different applications in their own virtual space so as to minimize conflicts. The cost saving were talking here is huge!
Virtualization isn't new, as I've been reading about it for years, but the buzz surrounding it is now to the point where you have to really take notice. I'll admit I was very skeptical of using it in a production environment, but our uber-volunteer Dustin said they're doing a lot with virtualization at the large firm he works at (he's a Network Admin) and he's patiently explained things and answered my questions over the span of several weeks. There was a lot of writing on the whiteboard during explainations :-) The more we use VM Server the more impressed I am ... even more so given the fact it's FREE!!!
Why is it free you ask? Well because VMWare knows once you try the free version you'll be so blown away you'll want to migrate everything over to virtualization. The for-pay VMWare products build on the free version allowing all sorts of amazing functionality like moving a fully running virtual machine from one physical server to another ... yes, while users are connected ... drag-n-drop ... yes, it's amazing. You can also do stuff like hot spares ... say your exchange virtual server has a major malfunction ... you can set a another exchange virtual server to auto fire up and take over ... or start another instance and do load balancing if a particular server is getting loads of traffic.
What's the catch? That's what I keep asking myself! The only catch I can see is that by consolidating everything onto few boxes should you have a hardware problem it effects all the virtual machines running on it. So if a network card wigs out on a server running 5 virtual machines they're all going to have problems. Of course the beauty is that you can quickly move then to another VM Server on another box and have them back up and running ... something you can't do without a ton of time and effort with standard servers.
The other catch is drive space ... unless you're running a SAN (storage area network) ... all the virtual machines are using the same physical disks in that physical server so space will become an issue. We're not running a SAN, but we're looking at creating some massive DAS (direct attached storage) units on the cheap.
I'm really excited about this technology...if you couldn't already tell by the length of this post :-)
This could dramatically improve our server environment and save a bunch of $$ in future server purchases.
OK ... so who's already running production level virtualization? If you're not already looking at virtualization I strongly recommend you do so! Buy a single server for your church with a bunch of RAM and you can install many virtual machines on it. Don't forget about licensing costs though...I'm just started to dig through Microsoft's complex licensing info on what the licensing is for virtual installs.
Check out this 30min webinar on Introduction to Virtualization coming up March 8th...great stuff