Entries Tagged as 'Virtualization'

Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008

Last week Microsoft released the FREE version of the Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008; this is a scaled down Server 2008 with Hyper-V install that allows you to run a light-weight virtualization host (much like many of the competitors in the virtualization world).

While there are some limits on this version — maxium 4 processors [don’t confuse that with cores; I think Microsoft counts physical processors not cores] and 32GB of memory.

You can get details on Hyper-V Server 2008 here:
http://www.microsoft.com/servers/hyper-v-server/default.mspx.

And you can download Hyper-V Server 2008 here:
http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyId=6067CB24-06CC-483A-AF92-B919F699C3A0&displaylang=en.

Originally posted 2008-10-16 11:08:09.

VMware Fusion

Last week I decide to upgrade my copy of VMware Fusion 1.1.3 (Build 94249) to Fusion 2 (it was free, and looked like a pretty compelling upgrade, and I already decided I wasn’t going to spend more money with Parallels).

I downloaded VMware Fusion 2.0.1 (Build 128865) and installed it on my Mac Pro and upgraded my Windows XP machine (following all the instructions).

Then I launched my Windows XP virtual machine, it seemed to run just fine, so I shut down — and my Mac rebooted.

I tried this a few more times; and yep, every time I shut down the virtual machine (that had been working perfectly for a very long time) it reboot my Mac Pro.

So I decided to give it a try on my MacBook Pro.  Well, at least it didn’t reboot my MacBook Pro — but on both the MacBook Pro and on the MacMini I got an error when I shutdown the virtual machine and ended up rebooting before I could run it again.

Four machines, all four of them exhibit problems that ten minutes of QA should have uncovered (of course I probably have run Fusion 2.0.1 on more machines that VMware has).

There is absolutely no excuse for publishing software like this… if I had actually paid for the upgrade I’d be looking for a refund.  Instead I’m just going to remove this crappy software from my Macs and go with a much better overall virtualization solution — VirtualBox.  And if I decide I want a commercial solution, I can always upgrade my copy of Parallels Desktop.

At least when software is FREE you stand a chance of getting what you pay for.

NOTE:

The only reason I was interested in trying Fusion 2.0.1 is that it includes “experimental” support for running OS-X as a guest.  But if it won’t run something that’s supported, I’m not sure I care to even try something “experimental” — glad I waited until it was out of BETA to take a look at it.

Originally posted 2009-02-05 01:00:17.

Virtualization Picks

Let me preface this by saying that I’m making recommendations for virtualization based on:

  • Cost
  • Robustness
  • Ease of use
  • Performance

You’ll note I put performance as the last item since it generally is not a huge differentiator for most virtualization needs.  However, you individual criteria may vary, and you should make your own decisions.

The “thumb nail” information below should help you in evaluating virtualization solutions; and the links at the bottom will help you locate solutions.

__________

If you need cross platform virtualization, and will move virtual machines from one host to another, the only realistic choice is VirtualBox.  While vmware and Parallels will run on most host operating systems.  While vmware offers some free solutions, I’ve found their new version of Fusion (for the Mac) could have used ten minutes of QA before shipping; on my MacBook Pro, my Mac Pro, and my Mac Minis it crashes when shutting down a virtual machine that used to work just fine under the previous version (yes it was converted), and even worse, it crashes OS-X on my MacPro.  Parallels is just too expensive, not only is the acquisition cost high, but he maintenance cost is high; it’s very nicely done, but simply not worth the investment.

__________

For Windows Server 2008 on both 32-bit and 64-bit the uncontested choice should be Hyper-V, unless you’re running on a processor/motherboard that lacks hardware virtualization (and even then I’d say you should upgrade your hardware).

For Windows Vista, Windows Server 2003, and Windows XP on both 32-bit and 64-bit the uncontested choice should be Virtual Server 2005 R2.  You should always use Virtual Server over Virtual PC.

For OS-X on an Intel machine you should use VirtualBox (if you feel you need to purchase a commercial product, choose Parallels over vmware; it works well, and has good performance and stability).

For Linux on an Intel machine you should use either VirtualBox, or if you’re a more savvy user Xen.

For BSD on an Intel machine you should use either VirtualBox, or if you’re a more savvy user Xen.

__________

There are other virtualization solutions, but they tend to be rather expensive.  And yes there are non-Intel virtualization solutions that allow you to run Intel guests on non-Intel hosts (other than older Macs, that’s probably not a very common requirement, and outside the scope of my recommendations; the only product I’ve ever used on a G4/G5 is Microsoft’s Virtual PC for Mac).

Hyper-V and Xen use a very modern approach to virtualization, and overall have the greatest potential for future growth.  The OpenSource version of Xen; however, needs a fair amount of polish before the average computer user (not to be confused with computer professional / geek) finds it very usable.

Companies like vmware and Parallels might have nice solutions for large deployments, but I see little advantage in smaller deployments; and for single machines why not use something that’s free and works (well).

__________

Originally posted 2009-02-10 01:00:22.

Computer Tid Bits

I haven’t sent one of these tid bit emails out in a long long time — this is just a collection of little points that you might find comes in handy.

Server 2008 is indeed out and available. I think I’m going to wait a few months (and I’m just about out of funds for MSFT store purchase, so doubtful I can get a copy for anyone else — I’ll probably do the MSDN OS subscription again). Hyper-V has not shipped as of yet.

Service Pack 1 for Vista can be downloaded or you’ll get it from Windows Update. If you’re updating more than a single machine, download the whole thing (Windows Update will swamp your connection). There are separate packs for 32-bit and 64-bit (you may need both if you have both machines). Also, copy the update file to the local disk (it will need elevated privileges to install).

Virtual Server 2005 R2 can be installed on XP, XP-64, Vista-32, or Vista-64. The management interface requires IIS, so that’s a little different with PWS version on non-server platforms. If you have VS installed on a server, you should be able to manage _all_ of your installations from one management interface (though Vista doesn’t make that easy).

Google GMail allows you to host your domains for email there for free… you basically get GMail accounts in your own domain. I’ve moved my mail services over there for the time being (I still archive all my email on my own server at home, but the active send/receive is done via GMail).

Parallels is coming out with a new server (64 & 32 bit) to compete with Hyper-V; I looked at the beta (definitely a beta, but useable), they may be able to get some of the market share — but my guess is they’ll get the share from VMware (I didn’t care for the Mac-ish look of the product on Windows).

2.5″ SATA disk drives continue to fall in price; Seagate 250GB drives were $104 @ Fry’s, and they still had some on the shelf on Monday!!!

Intel hasn’t release the most of the 45nm processor family yet; the older Core2 dual and quad processor continue to be a great buy. Remember that really none of the current Intel chip sets take advantage of the higher transfers the newer processors are capable of (well the X38, but that’s supposed to have major issues) — so you might want to wait for the next generation of Intel chips and motherboards to hit the market. FYI: Intel delayed the release because AMD missed their ship dates… their new cores had some rather serious flaws

Notebook and desktop memory are nearly on par with each other. You can purchase 2 x 2GB for under $100 (easily — even the really fast memory). $60 is actually the low price and $80 get’s you high quality with heat spreaders (notebook memory doesn’t have heat spreaders — no room). 2 x 1GB can be purchased for $40!!!

Originally posted 2008-04-01 12:58:23.

Windows 7 – Virtualization

So you’ve upgraded to Windows 7 and now your considering the options for running virtual machines…

If you have a PC that’s capable of hardware assisted virtualization (I-VT or AMD-V) and you’re running Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate the decision is fairly easy; use the virtualization technology from Microsoft that provides you with Virtual XP mode (as well as generalized virtualization).

However, if you don’t have a PC capable of hardware virtualization or you didn’t spring for the more expensive version of Windows you have some good (free) choices.

While Microsoft doesn’t officially support Virtual PC 2007 SP1 on Windows 7, since it was designed to run under Vista it will work.  The real downside is that you have fairly old virtualization technology emulating an antiquated hardware.

You could consider buying VMware or Parallels, but why spend money when there’s a better free alternative for personal use…

That would be – VirtualBox (yes, I’ve harped on VirtualBox for the Mac before, and now it’s time to harp on VirtualBox on the PC).

VirtualBox is a project sponsored by Sun Microsystems.  They’ve actually been working on virtualization technology for a very long time, and their virtualization technology is top notch. 

VirtualBox will run on several different operating system, you can even share the virtual machine files between operating systems if you like.  But one of the really nice things about VirtualBox is that it will support machines with or without hardware assisted virtualization and it emulates very modern hardware (which makes the paravirtualization of devices much more efficient).

Unless you have specific requirements that force you to choose other virtualization software, I would recommend you take a good look at VirtualBox.

VirtualBox

Originally posted 2009-11-14 01:00:43.

Virtualization Best Practices, Using UnDo

One of the most powerful features of virtualization is the ability to use undo disk (also called snapshots and checkpoints).

What this allows you to do is set the machine in a mode where you can decide at a later date whether or not you want to keep the changes — which is a great way test out new software in a virtual environment (NOTE:  Acronis TrueImage provides a similar capability in physical machines).

The penalty of using undo disks is that you have to commit all the changes or none of the changes; and the system will run slower.

An alternate to using the built in undo technology of the virtualization system is to copy the disk before you start the machine (it’s just a file on your hard drive), and restore it back afterwards.  Sometimes this is a better solution, particularly if you need the virtual machine to run as fast as possible and you’re not worried about the time it takes to make a copy of the disk before you run the virtual machine (NOTE:  you can simply delete the modified disk and move the copy into place when you’re done — that’s almost instantaneous).

One other thing you’ll want to be sure of is that you start the machine with undo disabled when you want to update the operating system and do maintenance.  You’ll also want to make sure that any checkpoints the operating system has created (Windows calls them “restore points”) are deleted before you complete your maintenance cycle; there’s certainly not any reason (generally) why you’d want multiple levels of “undo”.

I often use the “undo” feature to try out software I download from the internet.  I have a test machine setup with a virus scanner and I can monitor the changes the installation and running of the software attempt to make to the machine.  Plus I can try out the software and decide if it’s something valuable of not.  And there is the case where I will only need to run it once (or very rarely) and don’t want it polluting my real machine.

Developing the discipline of using virtualization with “undo” enabled can save you from a number of headaches, and is in itself a great reason to consider installing and using virtualization technology.

Originally posted 2009-01-14 12:00:42.

Hyper-V Server

With the release of Windows Server 2008 Microsoft made a huge step forward in releasing thin, high-performance hyper-visor for machine virtualization – Hyper-V.

Microsoft has also baited the market by offering a free version of Windows Server 2008 specifically designed to be a virtualization host; Hyper-V Server.

I decide to play with Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V and Hyper-V Server to get a feel for what it could do.

Installation is a snap; much the same as Vista.

With Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V everything goes very smoothly and just works.  You can use the Hyper-V manager to setup virtual machines, run them, stop them, etc.  But one thing you want to while you have Windows Server 2008 up and running is figure out everything you need to do to remotely connect to manage Hyper-V and Server 2008 from your workstation because Hyper-V server isn’t going to allow you to do much from the console.

To say it’s a little complicated to get remote Hyper-V management working is an understatement; after I figured it out I found a tool that can help automate the setup — makes like much easier.

The one thing I never got working from Vista x64 was remote management of Windows Server 2008 – and you really need that as well (remember you don’t get much capability from the console).  I’ll probably play with that a little more; and certainly I’ll get it working before I deploy any Hyper-V servers (it’s not a huge problem if you have a Windows Server 2008 machine already, remote management of other Windows Server 2008 boxes just works).

Now after the headache of getting everything configured properly it was time to put Hyper-V through it’s paces.

First task, migrate a machine over from Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP2… piece of cake — copy over the VHD files, create a machine, hookup the disks (back track since Hyper-V seems to have a fairly set directory format for machines and disks — so if you create a new machine on Hyper-V first you’ll see the layout).  Boot the machine, connect, remove the virtual machine additions, reboot, install the new virtual machine files — asks to update the HAL (say yes), reboot, and finally install the new virtual machine files, reboot, re-generate the SID and rename the machine (I still have the old one, and I don’t want confusion)… and everything works great.  Shutdown the machine, add a second processor, start it up… and a dual processor virtual machine is born.

I migrated over 32-bit XP Professional; did a test install of 64-bit Server 2003… and every thing worked just fine.

Don’t get carried away just yet.

There’s a couple gotchas with this.

  • To effectively use the free Hyper-V Server you either need a Windows Server 2008 (full install) or you need to get the remote tools working from your workstation; that’s non-trivial.
  • To run Hyper-V Server or Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V you need a machine with hardware virtualization and execute disable (which really isn’t that uncommon these days, just make sure your BIOS has those features enabled).
  • Once you migrate a machine to Hyper-V there’s no automated way to go back to Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP2 (sure you can probably do it — but it’s going to be a pain).
  • To get performance out of Hyper-V you really need to use SCSI virtual disks; right now Microsoft doesn’t support booting from SCSI disks in Hyper-V since they only support the para-virtualized SCSI interface.  So to get performance you have to have an IDE boot disk and run off SCSI disks (not exactly a common installation, so you probably won’t be converting any physical machines like that — and seems like it’s a nightmare just waiting to unfold).

Fortunately I’m not in a huge hurry to move to Hyper-V; I’m fairly certain since it’s a corner stone of Microsoft’s push to own the virtual infrastructure market I suspect we’ll see the issues that prevent it from being all that it can be resolved quickly.

And I’ll close with an up-note… WOW — the performance was very impressive… I really wish I had a test machine with lots of spindles to see what kind of load I could realistically put on it.

Originally posted 2008-11-15 08:00:52.

Virtualization Outside the Box

I’ve posted many an article on virtualization, but I felt it was a good time to post just an overview of the choices for virtualization along with a short blurb on each.

Obviously, the operating system you choose and the hardware you have will greatly limit the choices you have in making a virtualization decisions.  Also, you should consider how you intend to use virtualization (and for what).

Microsoft VirtualPC (Windows and a very outdated PowerPC Mac version) – it’s free, but that doesn’t really offset the fact that VirtualPC is aging technology, it’s slow, and it had been expected to die (but was used ad the basis for Windows 7 virtualization).

Microsoft Hyper-V (Windows Server 2008, “bare metal”) – you can get a free Hyper-V server distribution, but you’ll find it hard to use without a full Server 2008.  Hyper-V is greatly improved over VirtualPC, but it implements a rather dated set of virtual hardware, and it really doesn’t perform as well as many other choices and it will only run on hardware that supports hardware virtualization (I-VT or AMD-V).

VMware (Windows, Mac, Linux) – I’ll lump all of their product into one and just say it’s over-priced and held together by chewing gum and band-aids.  I’d recommend you avoid it — even the free versions.

VirtualBox (Windows, Mac, Linux, bare metal) – Sun (now Oracle) produces a commercial and open source (community) edition of an extremely good virtualization solution.  Primarily targeted at desktops it implements a reasonably modern virtual machine, and will run on most any hardware.

Parallels (Windows, Mac, Linux, bare metal) – a very good virtualization solution, but it’s expensive — and it will continue to cost you money over and over again (upgrades are essential and not free between versions).  You can do much better for much less (like free).

QEMU (Windows, Linux, etc) – this is one of the oldest of the open source projects, and the root of many.  It’s simple, it works, but it’s not a good solution for most users.

Kernel-based Virtual Machines (KVM — don’t confuse it with Keyboard/Video/Mouse switches, the TLA is way overloaded) – this is the solution that Ubuntu (and other Linux distributions) choose for virtualization (though Ubuntu recommends VirtualBox for desktop virtualization).  KVM makes is moderately complicated to setup guest machines, but there are GUI add-ons as well as other tools that greatly simplify the tasks.

Xen (Linux) – an extremely good hypervisor implementation (the architecture of Hyper-V and Xen share many of the same fundamental designs), it will run Xen enabled (modified) kernels efficiently on any hardware, but requires hardware assisted virtualization for non-modified kernels (like Windows).

XenSource (bare-metal [Linux]) – this is a commercial product (though now available at no cost) acquired by Citrix which also includes a number of enterprise tools.  All the comments of Xen (above) apply with the addition that this package is ready (and supported) for enterprise applications and is cost effective is large and small deployments.


My personal choice remains VirtualBox for desktop virtualization on Windows, Mac, and Linux, but if I were setting up a virtual server I’d make sure I evaluated (and would likely choose) XenSource (it’s definitely now a much better choice than building a Hyper-V based solution).

Originally posted 2010-05-03 02:00:58.

Internet Explorer 8

Microsoft released Internet Explorer 8 quite a while ago, and I’m not sure they fully realized how many web pages it would break.

Sure, they put a compatibility mode in it to allow some older sites to run; and they have the facility to “update” IE8 to configure it for more sites with know issues, and developers can add a header or a meta tag to their web pages to force IE8 into compatibility mode, and of course a user and select compatibility mode.

A truly sad thing is that in all this time Microsoft hasn’t issued a fix to Virtual Server 2005’s web management interface (the only way you can control Virtual Server 2005); and it requires compatibility mode to work (come on guys, how tough is it to just update the web pages to include the meta tag — or maybe you could actually fix what’s broken in the page).

My personal feeling is that we didn’t need another version of Internet Explorer; and we certainly didn’t need another version of any software rushed out the door riddled with severe bugs and deficiencies.

Why software companies spend so much time and energy making things worse (work on thing that are BROKEN) is beyond me…

Your potential. Our passion.

Maybe they should consider we could all achieve our potential if we didn’t have to waste so much time finding works around for their psychoses.

Originally posted 2009-08-26 01:00:09.

Thinking Inside the VirtualBox

Sun Microsystems used to be a major player in the computer world; and I guess since Java belongs to Sun they are still a a fairly major force…

There’s a number of open source or free projects that Sun sponsors:

And, of course, it’s VirtualBox that has inspired this post.

VirtualBox 2.0.4 released on 24 October 2008, and from my initial experiences with it, it’s a contender.

A fairly mature x86/x64 virtualization framework for x86/x64 platforms.  VirtualBox runs on Windows, OS-X, Linux, and of course Solaris.

What sets it apart — well it’s to my knowledge the only fairly mature cross-platform virtualization framework that’s FREE on all platforms.

In general it doesn’t require hardware virtualization support with the exception that to run a x64 guest you must be on an x64 host with hardware virtualization.

Going through the list of features and playing with it there’s really nothing I couldn’t find that it didn’t do (and in playing with it, it seemed to work well)… the one feature that VirtualBox supports that none of it’s competitors had last time I looked (and that Hyper-V is sorely missing) is SATA (AHCI – Advanced Host Controller Interface) support… that provides much more efficient emulation of disk channel connections to the guest (and thus much better performance — and if you recall from my post on Hyper-V the fact that Microsoft doesn’t have SCSI boot support or AHCI support at all is what prevents me from moving to Hyper-V).

VirtualBox does apparently support VMWare virtual disks, but not Microsoft virtual disks (both of them provide open specifications, so my only conclusion is that Sun’s anti-Microsoft bias is at play which is sad since VirtualPC, Virtual Server, and Hyper-V account for a fairly substantial segment of the market, and a growing segment).

Like any product, you really need to carefully evaluate it based on your needs, but my feeling is that certainly for Mac users this might be the choice if you don’t want to by Parallels Desktop… and for Windows desktops this looks to be a very good.

NOTES:

On Windows if you want to use this on a server host machine (ie one that doesn’t require users to control the virtual machine) VirtualBox doesn’t really provide any interface for controlling machines in this manner; however, you can launch a VirtualBox machine from the command line, so you can have your server start up VirtualBox sessions at boot… though there are no tools provided by VirtualBox for managing running instances started this way.  My recommendation is that the VirtualBox team add a tool to manage and launch instances in a server environment.

On Windows (and other OSs) the way VirtualBox handles host networking (the default is a NAT’d network through the host… which could have some performance impact) is buy using the TUN/TAP driver.  Certainly they way Microsoft handles virtualization of the network adapter is far slicker, and I found that using host networking is not as reliable as NAT; hopefully this is an area where there will be some improvement.

Lastly, I haven’t run any actual performance tests head-to-head with  Parallels, VMWare, VirtualPC, and Virtual Server… but I can tell you that guests “feel” substantially faster running under VirtualBox (I was quite impressed — and surprised).


VirtualBox

Originally posted 2008-12-08 12:00:55.