Virtual Machine Manager Completely Revamped for Beta 2

Often, software products don't change much between the first and second beta releases. They'll be tweaked and tinkered with to make them more stable or more secure. Not so with Microsoft's Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) beta 2, which is available today for download. The changes between the first and second betas are so drastic, it's nearly a new application.

"This is quantum leap in terms of the product," David Greschler, Microsoft's director of strategic virtualization. Developers, he said, "took a lot of feedback from beta 1 and incorporated it."

Edwin Yuen, VMM's technical product manager, agreed. "This is not a minor refresh. We've added all these new features."

There were about 10,000 downloads of beta 1, and voluminous feedback led to lots of changes. One of the first that beta 2 users will notice is a completely revamped interface.

"The interface with beta 2 is the same interface with System Center products across the board -- that 'Outlook'-ish interface," said Greschler. That should translate into a less steep learning curve for IT workers.

Another big change is the integration with other System Center management products, like Operations Manager 2007 (formerly Microsoft Operations Manager, or MOM). Leveraging the monitoring abilities of MOM within the VMM framework, for instance, will allow admins to check the health of their virtual servers in the same way they do with physical servers.

This integration, Greschler added, is one aspect that he believes separates VMM from Microsoft's chief virtualization rival, VMware, which he said doesn't offer the same abilities: "When you want to manage [virtual machines], monitor them, move them around, you should look at them as one [unit, not separate physical and virtual units]. You want to manage them from a central console."

With VMM, he went on, "You can know as much about a virtual machine as you know about a physical machine. VMM can tell you about the workload, what's working and not. You can start getting alerts, take information and be able to act on it."

However, if you use a non-Microsoft management program, you're out of luck, at least initially. No scheduled integration with third-party management apps is being developed, Greschler said. Will it in the future? "It's hard to say. We'll see what the interest is."

Another big change in VMM beta 2 is in "P2V," or physical-to-virtual conversion. In P2V, the physical assets of a server -- data, applications and so on -- are moved to a virtual state on another server.

Yuen said the P2V process has been dramatically enhanced over the first beta.

"It can do more than regular P2V. It can do 'live' P2V, [in which an admin] identifies a machine, and migrates P2V through a wizard. You don't have to turn the [source] machine off. It will migrate the machine without any downtime. And you don't have to premake an image."

Helping the P2V process is a new technology called "Intelligent Placement." Intelligent Placement analyzes server aspects like workload and processor and memory capacity, and offers advice as to which physical server is the best match for a given virtual machine.

Windows' new scripting environment, known as PowerShell, is also baked into VMM beta 2, making nearly every management function scriptable.

VMM, naturally, will work hand-in-hand with Microsoft's virtualization product, code-named Viridian. Viridian's public beta release date recently slipped from the first half of 2007 to the second half of the year.

When it's released, though, Greschler said VMM will be ready.

"When the beta of Viridian comes out, we'll be there with a beta version that supports Viridian within weeks. Viridian's going to be a game-changing piece, and you need to have management tied into that."

No information has been released yet on the possible cost of VMM. But testers, resellers and others can have confidence that the final version will look very much like beta 2. Yuen said it's "very close" to 100 percent feature complete, with a few, very minor features to be added.

Beta 2 can be downloaded here.

About the Author

Keith Ward is editor of Virtualization Review magazine. You can contact Keith at [email protected].