How to…Perform Server Virtualization

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Server virtualization is a hip and cool topic in IT these days, but alas, the focus tends to be on the enterprise space with an emphasis on “doing more with less.” In this month’s column, I look at server virtualization in the small and medium business space.

Defining Server Virtualization
For some, understanding server virtualization comes easily and brings back analogies of the multi-session kernel of UNIX running multiple computer sessions on the same box. When explaining this area, I often try to use an understanding of Microsoft Terminal Services as a starting reference. Again, this relates to the way that a single computer can really act as several computers.

Server virtualization is really just an extension of this thinking and relates to creating multiple servers on a single box. Each server session has its own dedicated memory space, dedicated storage space and emulated processor. When deployed properly, this eliminates the need for multiple server machines that each have a physical box associated with them.

There are two major applications providing server virtualization support in the marketplace:

 

 

  • VMWare: This is the granddaddy of server virtualization applications and supports the broadest range of operating system options in the marketplace, including Linux. I will use VMWare as my example in this column.
  • Microsoft Virtual PC: Microsoft entered the server virtualization game by acquiring Connectix. You might remember Connectix providing the virtual environments that allowed Macintosh computers to run a “DOS box” or session to achieve cross-platform compatibility. If you’ve ever taken a Microsoft hands-on lab, then you’ve likely worked with Microsoft Virtual PC, as it would have been running the underlying operating system and applications. The latest Virtual PC edition cures a malady that afflicted Microsoft’s first release: Dual network interface card (NIC) support is now supported.

 

The SMB Story and Server Virtualization
Of course, the small-and-medium-business (SMB) space is different from the enterprise, and I don’t hold back in drawing out the distinctions. Server virtualization in the enterprise space can arguably be set in the context of reducing total cost of operations and boosting performance. I would suggest a different viewpoint for server virtualization in the SMB space: return on investment (ROI). The “killer” reason to engage in server virtualization in the SMB space is to create a LAN/WAN on a laptop to go and show off cool products to potential customers, such as Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003 (SBS). You then make the sale, and, bada bing, you contribute favorably to your financial station in life. (That’s the ROI part.) In other words, you waltz in with a powerful laptop (more than 1 GB of RAM) and proceed to demonstrate a small-business solution. You win over the client, and life is good indeed.

SMB Server Virtualization Specifics
Now the good stuff, the step-by-step procedure. Please note that the following example could be accomplished using either VMWare or Microsoft Virtual PC (pick your poison on that one). For brevity and consistency, I’m using VMWare Workstation 4.0 in this column. You will create a small local area network (one SBS 2003 server, one workstation running Windows XP Professional) and an outside machine (running Windows XP Professional) for a total of three machines.

First, complete the installation of VMWare according to its native setup instructions. You will create three virtual machines, one of which has two virtual network adapters installed. (This will be the Server1 machine.)

Second, follow the specifications shown in Figure 1 to create the demonstration network. Part of this second step includes installing the underlying operating systems on each machine. Note that Server1 is running SBS 2003 and is in VMWare “host mode,” which allows the two network interface cards (NICs) to act as one external-facing NIC and one internal-facing NIC. The external workstation has a static IP address, and the internal workstation receives its IP address dynamically from the SBS 2003 server machine.

Figure 1: Create the Following Network Using These IP Addresses in Order to Follow the Example

Note that when you install an operating system using external media (a CD) in VMWare, you have to tell the virtual session (the machine you are creating) to map over and use the physical CD drive on your computer. That is how you would access the source installation files.

The third step is to configure the network deployment. First add a few users to the SBS 2003 network. Then, join the internal workstation to the SBS 2003 network using the native SBS 2003 Network Configure Wizard (run the http://server1/connectcomputer command on the workstation). Be sure to assign a user (e.g., NormH) to the Acct1 machine. In short, this is your basic SBS 2003 network configuration and isn’t that unusual. (Perhaps in an upcoming column I’ll explore the SBS 2003 setup process in more detail.) Note that you’ll need to add NormH to the Remote1 machine as a local user as well.

Finally, as the fourth step of this setup process, you launch all the VMWare machines and prepare to log on.

Payoff Time!
Now it’s time to make hay. You will demonstrate the absolute coolest feature that customers enjoy. It sells SBS 2003 and you, the SMB consultant, get a leg up! Follow this procedure:

 

 

  1. Log on as the local user you created (e.g., NormH) on Remote1. Pretend you are at a coffee shop, and you want to check in at the office. This is the essence of the Remote Web Workplace (RWW) scenario found in SBS 2003.
  2. Launch Internet Explorer and type the following address: http://65.132.15.21/remote. This is the command to commence a Remote Web Workplace session.
  3. Log on to RWW. Note two things: First, the session is now HTTPS for added security. Second, the logon screen assumes a public computer by default, and that translates into a 20-minute inactivity timeout where a forced logoff occurs.
  4. You will be presented with the RWW user interface at this point (Figure 2) and should select “Connect to my computer at work.” This will initiate a Terminal Services-like session that is actually a Windows XP Professional Remote Desktop session, which allows you to take over your desktop computer at work. You will perform another logon for this local desktop back at the office (just as if you were sitting at your desk).
  5. Proceed to work on the computer. For example, work on a document using a word processor and check your e-mail. This is the “a-ha” moment when customers really get it.
  6. Select “Disconnect” from the Start button to terminate the remote session to the desktop, and you’ll be returned to the RWW screen.

 

Figure 2: Remote Web Workplace

What has occurred here is you’ve demonstrated fairly sophisticated technology for an SMB customer that would normally require three separate machines. The difference is that you virtualized the entire experience on a single machine (in my case, a laptop). The outcome is that you’ve likely landed a new customer, and you can move efficiently on to the next opportunity.

One final technical comment: When you create your virtual machines, you should place them in “Undo” mode (a capability supported by both VMWare and Virtual PC) after you create the perfect sample environment. That allows you to return to your start-of-day baseline each time you commence the sessions for demonstration purposes. Consider the alternative. If you didn’t place the virtual machines in this revert mode, you’d pollute your example network with heaps of sample documents and system modif

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