The evolution of Microsoft System Center
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Microsoft's entire suite of System Center products received a major refresh in 2012, in which the Virtual Machine Manager plays a central role. Microsoft is relying on virtualization to drive its private cloud strategy and pit it against VMware. With that focus, virtualization administrators have plenty of new features to appreciate when it comes to daily tasks.
Since VMM 2008, virtualization expanded to have needs beyond server consolidation. As IT deploys Hyper-V, it wants a single tool that helps control the Hyper-V infrastructure. In Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) 2012, there are major improvements in managing the Hyper-V host even at the operating system level, including: clustering, deployment and removing barriers to managing Hyper-V across the environment.
Culture Aware: All hosts under one roof
If you've managed a group of untrusted Hyper-V machines, such as those you might host in a demilitarized zone (DMZ) environment but not join to the domain, then you know the pain of developing two separate management servers with VMM 2008. In Virtual Machine Manager 2012, you can manage your full suite of virtual servers and their security tiers in a single pane of glass. Microsoft VMM is so critical to the operation of Hyper-V environments that it is now cluster-aware and can run on a physical cluster and a highly-available virtual machine.
VMM 2012 now supports automation options to deploy Hyper-V. You can configure your Hyper-V hosts using a bare-metal method to take it from nothing to Hyper-V host in one step. This greatly simplifies the deployment of a new set of hosts because you don't have move to another preboot execution environment (PXE) option to build your servers before launching into Hyper-V management mode.
Template enhancements and application delivery
To deploy machines quickly, virtual machine (VM) templates are a must-have. The problem with most templates is that because things change with applications, the templates need to be recreated after a period of time. In VMM 2008, this means recreating new virtual machine templates. You also have to reference specific Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) files when building a set of resources, which is difficult when dealing with a distributed set of resources across sites that have limited bandwidth. Often, you need to create multiple sets of templates for the same kind of deployment.
Instead of using manual processes to deploy all of the servers in a solution, you can now deploy them as one single entity. This can include drivers and details for n-tier applications deployment packages. You can also store application profiles, SQL Server profiles and operating system configuration options, which will apply the changes required to your VM template to make it a functioning app. This provides a great way to integrate stability between development and QA production environments. Plus, it could reduce the possibility of human error in change management.
The Service Template Designer builds a profile of a service and includes all of the required server changes, from hardware requirements to application installation, for those services. This even applies to SQL Server, where you can configure details such as Security Mode and Run As accounts within the SQL Server profile. This will walk you through the tiering, networking, setting a release version, scale-out and other appropriate settings. This tool also allows you to address a group of instances all at once when a version is updated.
The VMM Library is not new -- in fact, it is a staple feature of VMM 2008. However, when deploying multiple site-specific Library Servers for larger deployments across sites to support installing locally from those VHDs, you would have to deal with the headache of keeping those separate templates in sync to different file shares. This was the case even if you wanted the consistency of the same template everywhere. Now, you can link those various library files together into resource groups so profiles and templates do not have to use specific files from specific shares. Instead, you use the resource group which defines the resources available across the board.
Patching updates have always required a close eye to make sure that you don't take down an entire Hyper-V cluster in one round of patching. Instead, VMM 2012 works with its own Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) server to confirm that patching is done in order, one at a time, while ensuring that the virtual machines are automatically migrated to another Hyper-V host in the cluster.
There are plenty of new permissions to dole out both within the VMM for administrators and for the enhanced self-service features. Instead of giving self-service users the ability to work from templates, you can now allow them to create virtual machines and deploy service access the new library resources. Although VMM2012 includes several new roles, you can still maintain your existing self-service accounts and roles for backward compatibility through the VMM 2008 Self-Service Portal.
VMM's improved role
Now that VMM 2012 is the center of Microsoft's private cloud universe, you'll note the changes in the interface, the new capabilities, and the enhanced compatibility with vmWare ESXi and Citrix Xen. These changes make VMM an easier place to work from and allow you to concentrate on deploying complete solutions that focus on the application -- not just the server. With the changes, VMM is a worthy competitor to vmWare vCenter and truly expands the scope of the tool to make it enterprise-appropriate.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eric Beehler has been working in the IT industry since the mid-1990s and has been playing with computer technology well before that. His experience includes over nine years' experience with Hewlett-Packard's Managed Services division, working with Fortune 500 companies to deliver network and server solutions; and most recently, IT experience in the insurance industry working on highly-available solutions and disaster recovery. He currently provides consulting and training through his co-ownership in Consortio Services, LLC.