Some weeks ago, I blogged about my first impression of Virtual Machine Manager (VMM). I had some time now to have a closer look at Microsoft's new management tool for Virtual Server. I must admit that VMM made me see Virtual Server with different eyes. A good user interface completely changes the perception of a product.

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I first tried VMM under VMware Workstation, which probably doesn't make much sense. This might have been just a bit too much virtualization. This time I installed Virtual Machine Manager on a physical machine running Windows Server 2003 R2 SP2. My test system just met the minimum requirements for VMM (Pentium with 2.8 GHz and 2GB RAM). Usually, one has to double Microsoft's recommendations. However, I didn't encounter performance problems. My test environment was quite simple, though. I just worked with two Virtual Server hosts, and 10 virtual machines.

When I played with the VMM under VMware Workstation, the Admin Console crashed several times. This didn't happen in my new test environment. I installed the VMM Admin Console on my Vista desktop. The installation is easy and fast. The only information I had to enter was the name of the VMM server.

To use VMM, you don't need a manual. Everything is absolutely self-explanatory if you have worked with virtualization software before. I only had problems with cloning virtual machines. It seems to be a bit unreliable. It failed twice after reaching 90% of the cloning progress. Virtual Machine Manager doesn't allow you to clone while VMs are running. So basically it just has to copy the VHD files. I wonder what can go wrong here. The error message wasn't helpful since it claimed that the connection to the host was lost which was not the case.

VMM Adminstration ConsoleBut in both cases I was able to get the new virtual machines working by using VMM's "Repair Virtual Machine" feature. What I like about cloning is that you can use it to copy a VM from host to host. I tried this with Windows Server 2003 and Linux as guest OS. It is also possible to move VMs. This feature is called migration. Unfortunately, VMM doesn't support live migration, that is, you can only move a VM if it is down.

You can also store VMs in the VMM library. This is useful if you don't have enough space on your hosts and have to move offline VMs somewhere else, for example. So you can just park the VM on your VMM server in its library. Of course, you can't run it there.

Very useful is VMM's checkpoint feature. VMware calls them snapshots. Creating checkpoints allows you to restore a VM to a previous state. You can create multiple checkpoints of a VM. Unfortunately, this is also only possible when the VM is down. VMM shuts down the VM automatically, and restarts it after the checkpoint was created. In my test, this was done within a minute or so. The same applies when you restore a checkpoint. You can merge checkpoints if you need space on the host and if you are sure that you no longer need them. But VMM will also shut the virtual machine down then.

Microsoft really has to work on Virtual Server's and Virtual Machine Manager's live features. This is one of the major shortcomings compared with VMware products. Since this feature was also cut for Windows Server Virtualization (WSV), there is no hope that we will see an improvement in this direction in the near future. However, one also has to consider that with $499 for the Workgroup Edition, VMM is really cheap. You can only work with five hosts, though. If you have more Virtual Server hosts, you'll need the Enterprise Edition which costs $860 per physical host (together with Operations Manager and DPM 2007).

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VMM also supports physical to virtual migration (P2V). It is interesting to note that it is possible to migrate a physical server while it is online. However, you can also do this when the server is down by using the WAIK. The latter option is probably more reliable. I want to have a closer look at this feature, and I will report about it in another post.

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