One of the most compelling capabilities being added in IAG SP2 (which will also be available in UAG) is the ‘virtual appliance’ installation option. A virtual appliance is a preconfigured, ready to use Virtual Machine that already has Windows Server and IAG / UAG installed. Microsoft will build the VHD and make it available for customers to download. Customers will then take the Virtual Hard Drive (VHD) and drop it into a child partition on a Hyper-V host. At this point, the VM would function like a classic IAG installation, with all the normal features and capabilities customers have come to expect. The reason we’ve added this capability in IAG is to give customers options for how they want to deploy IAG in their networks. For many customers, the pre-tuned, dedicated hardware appliances available from our partners are a great option that fit in well with their overall management methodology. For other customers, they prefer a more standardized hardware platform in their datacenters and thus the virtual appliance on Hyper-V is preferred. Note that it’s not a question of which is ‘better’; the two options allow customers to chose the solution that best fits their environment.
For customers looking at deploying the virtual appliance, a common question is what is the best way to provide a secure virtualization environment for the IAG/UAG VM? There are three primary design options to choose from. Again, it’s not a question of what option is best; rather, customers should look at each model and decide which best aligns with their management approach.
Option 1: Classic Physical Appliance
It may seem strange to list a physical appliance as an option here, but arguably the dedicated physical appliance is the most hardened configuration out of the box. The reason for this is that the OEM appliance vendors take Windows Server and IAG and really mold the entire hardware platform around them. In doing so, they reduce the attack surface of the machine by disabling services not critical to IAG, ensure necessary updates are installed, and then put that image on top of a hardware platform designed for them. Because IAG is built on top of Windows Server, it’s possible for a customer to take many of the same software steps the OEMs do, but the benefit of the appliance is that it’s all been done and tested for you. For customers looking for the most secure out of the box experience with IAG, physical appliances provide some unique benefits.
Pros: minimal configuration; pre-hardened operating system; hardware designed specifically for remote access gateway
Cons: limited hardware choice; potentially non-standard device and software configuration in an otherwise rationalized datacenter
Option 2: VM on Dedicated Hardware
While one of the key benefits of virtualization is the ability to run multiple operating systems simultaneously on the same physical hardware, it’s by no means a requirement that a Hyper-V machine have more than 1 child partition. In other words, it’s fully supported to run a Hyper-V system with only a single child. Why would you do this? If you want to have the manageability benefits of virtualization, but have workloads that can scale up and maximize an entire physical server, this approach is an effective model for getting the best of both worlds. Particularly when you use the Server Core option of Windows Server 2008 to run the parent partition, you have very minimal overhead incurred by doing so. In fact, key Microsoft web sites like TechNet and MSDN use this exact model in their production environments. When you think about this model for hosting IAG, the benefits are that you don’t have concerns about resource contention between VMs (though Hyper-V has resource management controls available) and you don’t have to worry about sharing the remote access gateway physical platform with any other workloads. Because Hyper-V supports the same huge catalog of server hardware that Windows Server 2008 does, you have great flexibility in what the physical layer looks like. Whether you prefer 1U, 2U, blades, and regardless of OEM, you’ll be able to easily integrate the Hyper-V host and its IAG child partition into your existing datacenter. Finally, because you can use whatever hardware you prefer, it’s easy to place the server wherever it needs to go within your network. For example, it is often easier to provision a new blade into the DMZ network to host IAG than it is to securely route traffic from the DMZ to a larger virtualization system in the internal network.
Pros: great choice in hardware; can use existing organization standards for hardware and operating system images; with Server Core, very low overhead for parent partition; great flexibility in network placement
Cons: may require greater setup effort to configure hardware and parent partition operating system
Option 3: VM on Existing Virtualization Environment
For customers that already have a Hyper-V environment, they may wish to simply add the IAG VM to the existing hosts. This is particularly true if a customer has already invested in building a highly reliable, well tuned hosting environment, using tools like Failover Clustering. In these cases, there’s no problem with running IAG in a child partition on an existing physical server already running other VMs. So long as the traffic is properly routed to the VM, IAG can function perfectly well in such a configuration. However, when sharing physical resources with other child partitions, it’s particularly important to allocate sufficient capability to the IAG VM. This should be done both by allocating enough memory and CPU capability to VM, as well as ensuring that Hyper-V prioritizes requests through the IAG VM appropriately. Additionally, there are significant performance and security benefits to dedicating physical network adapters solely to the IAG VM, rather than sharing them with other VMs. Having dedicated NICs ensures that IAG will not need to compete for network IO and simplifies the routing of remote access traffic to and from the VM.
Pros: efficiency of reusing existing investments in Hyper-V physical platform, such as Failover Clustering
Cons: more planning required to ensure sufficient resources for IAG child partition; potentially more complex network routing needs if the existing environment does not already receive traffic from internet hosts
Virtual appliances are all about customer choice; providing you with the right options for security and placement while allowing you to chose your own hardware platform or reuse one you already have. There’s no right choice that applies to all situations, so think about your environment and goals, and chose the option that fits your network best.