Friday, February 23, 2007

Virtual Server 2007 versus VMware Server

With the advent of the Core 2 Duo processors, it's finally possible to build a server for virtual machines without breaking the bank. I have three computers in my office that run various versions of Exchange Server for testing. Most of the time, these boxes are little more than space heaters, so I was looking forward to integrating everything into a single box.

I started by installing Windows Server 2003 x64, which is required for Exchange 2007. My plan was to run Exchange 2007 on the host x64 operating system and the older versions of Exchange in virtual machines.

The Microsoft solution for creating virtual servers is Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2. I had tried to install the software before the R2 version and I found it to be difficult to install and even more difficult to use. The documentation, while extensive, didn't have any Getting Started section that made any sense. My experience installing the R2 version was only slightly better and I spent several hours figuring out how to do things that should have been obvious.

The next step was to convert my physical servers into virtual servers (P2V). I spent almost a day researching how to do this and finally gave up. Microsoft's tools are immature and very difficult to use. The P2V conversion process relies on having a Domain Controller, Microsoft Operations Manager (the 32-bit version), and other requirements, none of which I had the time or inclination to set up. I uninstalled Virtual Server 2005 R2.

The alternative was VMware's product, VMware Server, which just recently became free. I found this software to be very easy to use. I installed it, opened the desktop icon labeled "VMware Server Console," and was able to immediately get started. This was a stark contrast to my experience with Microsoft's product. (Note that I've used Virtual PC since before Microsoft purchased it, so I have no shortage of experience with the technology that Microsoft Virtual Server is based on.)

Converting my physical servers to virtual servers was equally easy. I downloaded VMware Converter and followed the simple wizard. Once the conversion process was finished, I went back to VMware Console, added the new virtual machine, booted it, and it worked. The only caveat was that you have to power down the old physical computer before booting the virtual machine, or you end up with duplicate names. Also, if you've set your DHCP server to hand out a particular IP address to the MAC on your old server, you need to update your DHCP server.

It's also possible to run the VMware console on other computers by downloading the Client installer from the VMware downloads page. Although this works well when you are managing multiple servers, the sluggish screen update over the LAN can be annoying. I use Remote Desktop when I need to work with one of the virtual servers for any period of time.

I'm really impressed with VMware Server. It works well and has some impressive upgrades if I need better manageability than I have now.

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