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One of the greatest strengths of virtualization is the ease with which IT administrators can use the technology to create new virtual machines (VMs) at a moment’s notice. Need a few extra test environments for development? Create a few VMs. Don’t have the budget to buy new server hardware to run that new app that the marketing folks need? Copy an existing VM and install it there. But after a few months of reveling in the ease with which new VMs can be created, copied, and disposed of, the bill comes due: Virtual sprawl has arrived.

As some wise person once said, nothing is ever truly free. Such is the case with VMs, which can quickly mutate from a cost-reducing Dr. Jekyll into a time-consuming, profligate nightmare that would do Mr. Hyde proud. It’s clear that managing a growing virtualized infrastructure can be a beastly task that many IT pros are now finding at the top of their to-do lists.

So what does a harried IT pro need to do to get this explosion of VMs under control? A host of companies have been rushing to get products to market that help get things sorted, with Microsoft and VMware taking the lead with their own unique product approaches.

Have VM Sprawl? Say Hello to SCVMM

Microsoft has built up the Microsoft System Center brand into an impressive family of products that help IT pros manage their infrastructures. Redmond introduced the ability to manage virtual machines with Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM), which—in addition to having arguably the worst acronym in the IT industry—was announced late in 2007. The current release of SCVMM allows IT pros to get a handle on the deployment and management of Microsoft Virtual Server VMs, and also provides some analysis features that help identify servers that could benefit most from being virtualized. A familiar Windows interface helps even out the learning curve, while more advanced users can rely on SCVMM’s integrated support for PowerShell scripting to manage their VMs from the command line. The R2 release of SCVMM (dubbed vNEXT) is slated to be available in late 2008, and Microsoft has indicated that version will add support for the management of XenSource and VMware VI3 VMs as well. One big feature that SCVMM offers that VirtualCenter lacks is the ability to manage physical machines, a feature provided by the Microsoft Operations Manager portion of Microsoft System Center.

"SCVMM is part of the Microsoft System Center family of management tools, so we provide the ability to manage both physical and virtual machines from one platform," says Patrick O'Rourke, group product manager of Microsoft’s server and tools business. "Feedback from customers has been consistent in that they’re looking for a single pane of glass to monitor their services and devices, as well as both traditional and virtualized systems."

O’Rourke also argues that SCVMM—when viewed in partnership with the broader Microsoft System Center product family—provides a better value than VMware’s VM management solution. “Our Server Management Suite Enterprise license is about $860 per server, and that includes an unlimited number of operating system environments on a single physical server and 2 years of software assurance,” O’Rourke says.

VirtualCenter to the Rescue

VMware’s answer to SCVMM is VMware VirtualCenter, a VM management product that has been on the market far longer than Microsoft’s solution. That market seniority shows, as VirtualCenter provides a number of features that SCVMM lacks, including the ability to live migrate virtual machine disks from one storage device to another with VMware VMotion.

"Unlike Microsoft’s \[SCVMM R2\] solution, VMware VirtualCenter is currently available and shipping," says Erik Wrobel, VMware’s director of product management. "\[SCVMM\] currently only works with Microsoft Virtual Server, although Microsoft has indicated that SCVMM will support Xen and VMware VMs at some point in the future." Wrobel points to VMware features like VMotion and the upcoming VMware Lifecycle Manager that provide VM management capabilities that SCVMM likely won’t have for some time, possibly well into 2009. VMware clearly has the head start when it comes to managing VMs within an IT infrastructure, but Microsoft’s track record of relentless product improvement should make this a very competitive race to watch.

In addition to the offerings from VMware and Microsoft, a host of smaller developers have jumped into the market with VM management solutions of their own. The expected growth of virtualization over the next few years has led to a considerable amount of venture capital flowing into the market, which has helped fund an impressive number of VM management products.

ManageIQ offers their Enterprise Virtualization Management Suite (EVM), a product that offers real-time discovery, analysis, and policy-based control of VMs. The EVM management console is Web-based and fully supports Web 2.0 features, such as AJAX, RSS, and tagging to simplify the access to and distribution of relevant VM management info.

Embotics also offers a VM management solution with their V-Commander product, which can identifying and manage VMs across an IT infrastructure, even if they’re currently inactive. V-Commander also uses a VM identification system that lets IT administrators track and observe the relationship between VMs over their production lifecycle. A VM zoning feature enforces policy requirements, which ensures that VMs meet some predefined criteria, whether for forced expiration after a certain date, a set amount of VM activity, or after some other criteria.

There are other VM management products that specialize in certain aspects of VM management as well: VMLogix’s LabManager specifically focuses on managing software development and testing environments, while Niyuta stresses the ability of their vmGalaxy to streamline the management of patching multiple VMs.

If you’re a harried VM wrangler looking for some help corralling all of your VMs into a manageable herd, all of these products demonstrate that help is most definitely on the way. With the right strategy, a useful product or two, and some hard work, even the most chaotic virtual infrastructure could be brought to heel.

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Virtualization News
by Jeff James

Wyse Introduces TCX USB Virtualizer
VMworld Europe—held in Cannes, France, the last week of February—was the launch venue for a host of virtualization product news and announcements. One of the more interesting was from Wyse, which announced that its Wyse TCX USB Virtualizer software was adding support for Microsoft Windows XP Embedded. Users of Wyse thin computing solutions can plug in their USB storage devices and begin working in their virtualized desktop environment running VMware Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) or Citrix XenDesktop. "We've broadened the appeal of our Wyse TCX Virtualizer software by adding Microsoft Windows Embedded support," said Curt Schwebke, CTO for Wyse Technology. "We've simplified the deployment and management of peripheral devices in virtual desktop environments, which just wasn't possible in the past."

VMware Invests in India Operations
Proving once again that software development is now a global enterprise, VMware has announced that it will build a new 82,000 square foot development center in Bangalore, India, and also invest $100 million in their Indian operations by 2010. VMware already has a smattering of offices across India, and the planned office space and financial investments should lead to more than 1,000 VMware employees in India. In a statement from a release announcing the new, VMware CEO Diane Greene said, “Great products are built by great people. India has both an excellent technical education infrastructure and outstanding people. We highly value our Indian citizen employees," said Greene. "India is also one of our fastest growing markets and where we have increasingly important system integrator partners. For these reasons, we are now substantively increasing our investment in India.” In news a bit closer to home for this publication (which is based in Colorado), the Boulder Country Business Report writes that VMware is also considering expanding its presence in Colorado with an office in Louisville, CO, that could employ as many as 500 people by 2011.

Marathon Releases everRun VM
Providing high availability for virtualized servers is the focus of everRun VM, a new product from Marathon Technologies. According to Marathon, everRun VM provides "reliable protection for virtual workloads by providing redundant virtual machines and synchronized mirroring of the whole system." Marathon also touts the combination of XenServer with everRun’s architecture, with Marathon’s Peter Levin claiming that the integration of the two allows companies to "virtualize a range of applications that they wouldn’t even consider previously." Marathon claims that everRun VM will accomplish that by virtue of its automated VM availability setup and configuration feature, the ability to select multiple availability levels for each VM, and by supporting standard Windows applications without any needed modifications.

Microsoft and Citrix Share Copies of Virtualization Pitchwoman
One of the proven benefits of virtualization is the ability to easily create duplicates of existing VMs, a feature that drastically reduces the amount of time needed to deploy new operating environments. The marketing departments at Citrix and Microsoft have obviously taken that spirit to heart, and have begun using the same, unaltered photo of a spokemodel for marketing their virtualization wares. Long Zheng at istartedsomething.com pointed out the offending marketing Web sites in question, which provides proof of the perils of using stock marketing photography.

Tips & Tricks: 10 Free Virtualization Utilities
by Michael Otey

With virtualization technology making deep inroads into almost every aspect of IT, assembling your virtualization toolkit can really help you be prepared to deal with the wide variety of situations that you’re likely to encounter. For instance, what do you do if you want to convert a virtual machine (VM) from Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 to VMware? Or what if you’ve created a Microsoft Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) image, but it’s run out of space and needs to be expanded? I’ve come up with a list of some of my favorite free virtualization tools for working with Microsoft or VMware VMs that can solve these problems and more.

10. Ultimate-P2V—Converting physical systems to VMs is one of the most common virtualization tasks. The Ultimate-P2V utility is essentially a plug-in for BartPE that creates new boot VM images by ghosting the physical image and then injecting drivers into a VMware VM image. This utility is far simpler to use than a tool such as Microsoft Virtual Server Migration Toolkit (VSMT), but it requires another third-party tool—Symantec Ghost or Acronis True Image, for instance—to create the disk image. You can find Ultimate-P2V at www.rtfm-ed.co.uk/?page_id=174.

9. Virtual Floppy Drive—Virtual Floppy Drive is another helpful tool; it lets you mount a virtual floppy drive from a VM. Creating a set of virtual floppy drives can be handy for loading storage drivers and other software for your VMs. Virtual Floppy Drive can be found at chitchat.at.infoseek.co.jp/vmware/vfd.html.

8. ISO Recorder—ISO Recorder is my favorite free utility for working with ISO images, and ISO images are really handy for installing the OS and other software on a VM. ISO Recorder integrates into Windows Explorer’s context menu, and it lets you create ISO images and burn ISO images to CD-ROM or DVD. You can download ISO Recorder from isorecorder.alexfeinman.com/isorecorder.htm.

7. VMware Converter—This is my favorite conversion tool for VMware. VMware Converter is an easy-to-use, wizard-based tool that can convert either physical machines or Microsoft VMs to VMware VMs. VMware Converter works with Windows Server 2003 (32-bit and 64-bit), Windows XP (32-bit and 64-bit), Windows 2000, and Windows NT 4 (SP4 or later). You can download VMware Converter from www.vmware.com/products/converter.

6. VMDK to VHD Converter—If you’re looking for a tool that can convert the other way—from VMware to Microsoft images—then you’ll want to check out vmToolkit’s VMDK to VHD Converter. Because most free tools seem oriented toward making VMware images, this is a welcome addition if you need to deal with both VMware and Microsoft VMs. You’ll find the VMDK to VHD converter at vmtoolkit.com/files/folders/converters/entry8.aspx.

5. VMware Workstation 5.5 Disk Mount Utility—This utility lets you mount a VMware virtual hard disk file (.vmdk) on a Windows host. The virtual hard disk file is mounted as a drive, and you can read from and write to the .vmdk file. You can get VMware Workstation 5.5 Disk Mount Utility from www.vmware.com/download/eula/diskmount_ws_v55.html.

4. Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1’s VHDMount—VHDMount is Microsoft’s answer to VMware’s Disk Mount Utility. VHDMount is a command-line tool that lets you mount a VHD file (.vhd) as a local drive. VHDMount is included as part of Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 (which is itself free).

3. VHD Resizer—Expanding an existing virtual hard drive has always been a problem for both Microsoft and VMware VMs. VHD Resizer can expand and shrink Microsoft’s VHD files. It’s also able to convert between Fixed and Dynamic file types. VHD Resizer is found at vmtoolkit.com/files/folders/converters/entry87.aspx.

2. VMmark—Does it seem like VMware has too many entries in this list? It’s no wonder they’re the market leader in virtualization. VMmark is another powerful and free tool; this one lets you benchmark applications running in VMware VMs. You can find VMmark at www.vmware.com/products/vmmark.

1. Virtual Machine Remote Control Client Plus—VMRCplus lets you manage, configure, and connect to Microsoft VMs. Unlike Virtual Server, VMRCplus doesn’t require Microsoft IIS. VMRCplus can manage up to 32 VMs. You can download the Microsoft VMRCplus client from www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=80adc08c-bfc6-4c3a-b4f1-772f550ae791.