From the Trenches – Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 Beta 2

Mark Seniow (Richmond Hill, Ontario)

Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 Beta 2

From the Trenches is a new series on the CanITPro blog where we will be highlighting IT Pro's across Canada who are running the latest Microsoft technologies in their pilot and production environments.  If you are on the front lines and live on the bleeding edge and want to be highlighted here, drop us a line, we'd love to hear your story!

The first article is an interview I did with Mark Seniow of SM Internet Solutions Inc. in Richmond Hill, Ontario.  Mark is doing some innovative things with Virtual Server and used Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 Beta 2 for his latest work, virtualizing an entire SBS infrastructure.


Can you describe the project a little bit so readers have an understanding of what you did?

The ultimate goal of this project is to provide the client with an easy to manage, highly robust, flexible and resilient networking infrastructure.  We decided to do this by virtualizing Microsoft Small Business Server 2003 Premium Edition along with several other LOB application servers to provide very high levels of network and application up-time, disaster recovery and business continuity at a very affordable price.


The original opportunity/motivation for this project was a small (15 user) Private Wealth Management client with very aggressive growth plans for the next 3-5 years.  After extensive analysis of the client’s current network infrastructure, business practices and over all risk assessment it was determined that they required Enterprise grade data protection, business continuity and disaster recovery, along with ease of use but at a SMB price.  The decision was made to upgrade their existing network (both hardware and software) from their current Windows 2000 Back Office Server along with several Windows 2000 LOB application servers to a Windows 2003 Server infrastructure including Windows Small Business Server 2003 Premium Edition as the primary business suite.  Additionally one mission critical application (for which there is no longer any support, source code or developers with knowledge to upgrade it) was virtualized and has to be maintained until such time as it can be replaced.


It was decided that using virtualization technology would best provide the client with a flexible and cost effective means achieve these goals. The ultimate infrastructure would consist of a multi processor, physical server with hardware based virtualization support running Windows 2003 Server R2 64bit as the host OS.  On top of that would sit Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 beta 2 providing the virtualization infrastructure to host several/various guest OSes.  These guests would include Small Business Server 2003 R2 Premium Edition, Windows 2003 Server R2 Standard Edition with SQL Server 2000 Standard Edition for their mission critical LOB application, Windows 2003 Server R2 as their web server, Windows XP Pro for their voicemail server, as well as several other non-mission critical servers and desktop operating systems as performance of the physical server would permit.

Of the many pieces of the puzzle we decided on...


• Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 beta 2 to be used as the virtualizing enabling technology.  During testing it has proven to be extremely fast, robust and stable enough to consider it for a production environment.


• Microsoft Windows Server 2003 R2 64bit for the host OS provided for very cost effective host operating system considering the fact that when purchased under Open Value Licensing you are entitled to run, in addition to the host OS, up to 4 virtualized Windows 2003 Server instances on the same physical server.  Being able to spread the payments for all software purchased under the Open Value Licensing program over 3 years made for easy purchase approval.


• Microsoft Small Business Server 2003 R2 Premium Edition provides an all encompassing suite of applications to meet the day-to-day requirements of any small and medium business.  Purchasing Small Business Server under Open Value Licensing, along with Software Assurance, also allowed for the software purchase price to be spread over 3years.


• By purchasing under Open Value Licensing along with Software Assurance the client will also be able to take their old server and use is as an offsite dark spare in the event that the primary server should catastrophically fail.  While this may not be as powerful as new server it will be able to provide for temporary backup server should the need arise.
What was your motivation for virtualizing the entire environment?


Primary motivator for virtualizing as much of the environment as possible is the client's aggressive growth plans and requirements for high network and application availability.  By virtualizing as many physical servers as possible the client will gain tremendous flexibility, resilience and hardware cost savings.  It now made sense to purchase a single larger, faster and more resilient server with greater levels of built in redundancy (RAID Arrays, redundant NICs and power supplies, hot swap memory, etc...) and consolidate several other physical servers onto this platform.


Another motivation for virtualization was the portability of the guest operating systems and data.  By simply copying guest OSes virtual hard drives and configuration files to SAN (and then to tape or portable USB hard drives) the entire network infrastructure could easily be moved/relocated and reconfigured on another physical server (or servers) in a fraction of the time it would otherwise take to re-provision an entire network in the event of a catastrophic event.  And now the fact that VS 2005 R2 beta2 supports VSS makes it even easier than ever to take snapshots of an entire guest OS at various points in time.  Being able to take a complete copy of the entire network and fire it up elsewhere will provide the client with the ability to test software upgrades and new deployments in a virtual test lab environment that is not only close to their production environment but it could very well have been their production environment from last night, last week or any other saved point in time.


Also, should the client grow faster than or beyond their initial projections and require or desire moving their infrastructure into a data centre the fact that most of the infrastructure is already virtualized will minimize this transition.


Why did you decide on Virtual Server 2005 R2?


Initially (8-12 months ago) I expected to use VMware but a major concern was that Microsoft 'might' not be able to support SBS or other virtualized OSes while on VMware.  My clients, colleagues and I thought this was an unnecessary risk.  As it turns out they do support it to an extent but all recent changes in the industry have led me to believe Microsoft has become significant player in the virtualization space and will continue even further as time goes on.


Further changes and a $0 cost make Microsoft Virtual Server a very attractive and cost effective solution for our company, our current clients and most other clients/colleagues/IT Partners which are primarily Microsoft shops and prefer to continue this way.  We found that with Microsoft Windows Server 2003 and Virtual Server there was both a low learning curve and barrier to entry which will save us time and money.  Our experience has shown that Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 seems fast, reliable, stable and supports hardware virtualization (with SP1).  SP1 beta 2 seems faster and has some great features and testing has proved stable enough for production environments. 

Last, but not least, Virtual Server 2005 R2 seems to be the best upgrade path to "Longhorn" and Windows Server Virtualization moving forward.


What drove you to deploy SP1 Beta 2 in production?


While 'dog fooding' in our test lab and then our own office our initial testing with various guest OSes has shown SP1 beta 2 is very stable and guest OS performance seems to have improved on both single and dual core Intel processors. 


A significant feature that also drove the decision was the support for hardware virtualization with Intel-VT processors which has gone very well encouraging even further server consolidation.  In addition, the support for VSS allows us to backup the virtual machines live and no longer requiring a scripting to pause, backup and then resume the machines thus providing greater system up-time.


What are your future plans to take this solution to the next level?


Future plans include:

• Implementing clustering with SAN support.
• Implementing further high availability and DR through DPM 2006.
• Moving clients towards thin clients and a Terminal Server environment (also virtualized) for further flexibility/resilience.




Mark Seniow is a consultant and proprietor of SM Internet Solutions Inc., an IT Consulting Firm located in Richmond Hill, Ontario.  Mark has over 15 years experience in the IT Industry dealing with clients of all sizes and industries and is often seen on the leading edge.  Over the last several years Mark and his company have been focusing on Microsoft solutions for the SMB market.  By bringing together Enterprise thinking, best practices and process management S.M. Internet Solutions Inc. is able to enpower their clients and allowed them to leverage technology to it’s fullest.


Comments (3)

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