VMRCplus is a free new Microsoft tool for Virtual Server 2005 R2. It allows you to configure Virtual Server and to manage virtual machines with a real (graphical) interface. Today, I had a quick look at this nifty tool.
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Some days ago, one of our admins who is responsible for our virtual servers was asking me if I know of a better way to backup virtual machines under VMware Server. At the moment, we shut down the VMs before we secure the virtual disk files. I replied to her, that I don't know of a better option for VMware Server, but that we could consider moving to Microsoft's Virtual Server once DPM 2007 becomes available. She was twisting her mouth then and said "Doesn't Virtual Server have a web-based interface only?"
Only a day later I have read of VMRCplus. Of course, I was eager to test the tool. Installation was easy and fast. When I started it, the tool complained that I don't have service pack 1 for Virtual Server installed. However, it worked anyway. To be sure, I updated my test server to Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1.
VMRCplus consists of two tools, the Guest Manager and the Console Manager. The Guest Manager is for configuring Virtual Server, that is the virtual disks, the virtual networks etc., and for configuring the virtual machines. I was pleased to see that VMRCplus supports all settings of the web interface. At least, I found everything I was looking for.
You can start a Guest Console from the context menu of a virtual machine. If the VM is off, it will automatically boot up. Like with the VMRC tool that comes with Virtual Server, you can use the Guest Console to logon to the VM.
However, the console of VMRCplus offers some more options than the ultra simple VMRC tool. For example, you can mount CD/DVD drives, load ISO images, save states and access the guest's hardware properties. You can also paste text you copied to the Windows clipboard on the host. The Guest Console has an extra menu point for this feature. So you can't just use copy and paste directly to the guest system like with VMware Server and it is not possible to copy text from the guest to the host.
There are some more drawbacks. You can use VMRCplus to remotely manage a Virtual Server only if the host is in the same Windows domain as your desktop. It took me quite a while to figure this out because the error message just says "The virtual server service on server name does not exist or is unavailable or you may not have sufficient permissions to connect to Virtual Server". Since I was able to connect to the same Virtual Server using VMRC, I thought it is just a configuration issue. Well, I should have checked the help file of VMRCplus earlier.
VMRCplus seems to support snapshots just like you know in VMware. However, this didn't work in my test. I was able to create snapshots, but the sub menus of "Restore Snapshot" always stayed grayed out, regardless of whether the VM was on or off. It seems I am not the only one having this problem. Read the first comment in the weblog of VMRCplus' creator.
The biggest problem with this tool however is that there is no official support. If you read the history of VMRCplus, you will recognize that this tool is just a hack of someone who was somewhat unsatisfied with the official interface of Virtual Server. (I can understand that very well.) So, the question is, how reliable is VMRCplus? During my test it happened once that my keyboard and mouse were blocked off while I was managing a guest system. I had to log off from the host to make it work again.
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Please, check out Keith Combs' Blahg for a complete feature list. All in all, I think, VMRCplus is a step in the right direction. However, Virtual Server still can't compete with VMWare Server when it comes to usability. Thus, I hope that Microsoft will trash this ugly web-based interface in the near future and give us a full-blown MMC interface for Virtual Server. Otherwise, it will most likely be hard to convince our VMware admin to move to Microsoft's virtualization solution.