REVIEW: Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 Bolsters Hyper-V

Any organization that goes beyond dabbling with Hyper-V should use System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 to manage virtual resources in the Hyper-V component of Windows Server 2008 R2.

Hot on the heels of the release of Windows Server 2008 R2 is System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2, an essential management companion for the Hyper-V component of Microsoft's server platform.

Any organization that goes beyond dabbling with Hyper-V should use System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2, or SC VMM, to manage virtual resources in Microsoft's revamped Hyper-V--including Hyper-V's new ability to move running virtual machines from one physical host to another.

SC VMM has also gained the ability to manage both Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware environments, a feature not found in VMware's management tools. All told, the advances in SC VMM are significant but are not yet enough to dislodge frontrunner VMware from the leading position in server virtualization.

The most important new capability in Hyper-V is live migration. During tests conducted by eWEEK Labs' Executive Editor Jason Brooks, running virtual machines could be "live migrated" with barely noticeable impact on application performance. During those tests, Microsoft's Failover Cluster Manager was used to initiate the live migration.

Using SC VMM, I was similarly able to orchestrate the live migration of virtual machines. But SC VMM goes further and also centralizes myriad virtual machine management tasks such as VM creation and teardown, as well as physical-to-virtual and virtual-to-physical machine conversions.

SC VMM also provides basic up/down status reporting on VM state and barebones information about VM utilization. For greater depth on VM utilization and reporting, SC VMM can be integrated with Microsoft's System Center Operations Manager.

When I reviewed SC VMM 2008 in January, I noted that one of its most important features was cross-platform support for Hyper-V and VMware environments.

Since that time, VMware released the current virtualization platform champion, vSphere 4. eWEEK Labs is running a vSphere 4 environment on a pair of Dell R710 servers, each equipped with 24GB of RAM. My tests showed that SC VMM was able to work just fine with vSphere 4, although Microsoft officially supports only VMware Infrastructure 3 environments at this time.

This cross-platform support is still one of the most attractive features of SC VMM from an IT operations point of view. SC VMM actually proxies the desired action, such as VM startup/shutdown or VMotion calls to VMware's management console and reports of status in the SC VMM administrative console.

Overall, the interaction between SC VMM and both versions of VMware's management tools worked without a flaw in my tests. The end result was the centralized management of seven Intel Xeon 5500-based physical host systems running more than 20 virtual machines across both VMware and Microsoft Hyper-V environments.

As mentioned earlier, SC VMM can orchestrate the migration of virtual machines between physical hosts with similar but not identical processors. VMware also has this capability. In both cases, the hypervisor presents a processor to the virtual machine that represents the CPU capability of the lowest common denominator in the migration group. Neither product can yet migrate virtual machines to physical systems running processors from different manufacturers.

With SC VMM, a configuration check box comes up during VM creation that allows the system to move to physical hosts with similar physical processors. The primary consideration here is that IT managers must ensure that applications running on the VM don't use instructions provided in a more advanced chip before enabling this feature.

Microsoft also added storage enhancements to SC VMM to accommodate changes in the way that VMs can now use CSV (clustered shared volumes) and for provisioning changes to speed up VM deployments.

These features--along with a variety of convenience features, including a library to store resources such as virtual machines, virtual hard drives and other profile settings for hardware and guest OS settings--make SC VMM a workable complement to the improved Hyper-V role in Windows Server 2008 R2.

Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at [email protected]