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Old 2008-03-29, 09:47   Link #1
Danj
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Best virtualization product?

My dad is buying me some computer upgrades so that I can do some of my Microsoft course labwork at home. The lab exercises require a team of four virtual machines running Windows Server 2003. The courseware came with a 120-day trial of Windows Server 2003 which can be installed up to 5 times. At college they use the Workstation version of VMware, but this costs money, so I was wondering which free virtualization product would be best?

Here's a list of the ones I've found so far, but it's not clear what the strengths and weaknesses of each one are:
  • VMware Server
  • Microsoft Virtual PC 2007
  • Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2
  • Sun VirtualBox
  • QEMU
As for requirements, whichever product I end up going with needs to be able to run 4 machines simultaneously, with virtual networking between them, and it needs to be hostable on Windows XP Pro 32-bit and support Windows Server 2003 32-bit as a guest, and it needs to support an interactive mode (i.e. a mode where I can see the desktops on the virtual machines), and it needs to be fairly easy to switch between virtual machines. As for my computer, it should be up to the task - it already has an E6600 processor and after the upgrade it will have 4Gb RAM and a terabyte hard drive.
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Old 2008-03-29, 11:27   Link #2
Epyon9283
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I would go with VMWare server only because I'm already familiar with it. Don't use the beta though go with the current stable version.

I'm using VMware server at work to virtualize about 12 machines spread across two hosts. Haven't had any issues with it.
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Old 2008-03-29, 11:29   Link #3
Ledgem
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Wow, that's a neat course! I'm a big fan of virtualization.

I'd be hesitant to suggest Microsoft virtualization products at this point. You'll be virtualizing a Microsoft operating system so there isn't really a concern over how smoothly the OS will run, but to be running four OS instances at once... that could be pretty taxing. Virtual PC was definitely not made for that, and as far as I can tell they didn't develop it to be optimized for doing so. If you want to stick with Microsoft, I would go with Virtual Server.

I haven't used VMWare Server as much as I have VMWare Fusion (the not-free Mac version), but VMWare is wonderful. It looks like VMWare Server should fully support Windows Server 2003 (not a surprise), so you're fine there. VMWare does claim to have excellent memory management for running multiple VMs, so you'd be covered there (the product seems to be designed for it, at the very least). If you need to network them, VMWare has three networking modes - NAT (host acts like a router), Bridged (each VM takes on their own IP as if they were a physical machine), and Host-only (host acts like a proxy), which should cover you for however the VMs need to be networked.

As long as you don't run them in full screen mode, switching between the VMs should be as easy as clicking which instance you want on the taskbar. If you have a large enough screen and make the guest resolutions low enough you could theoretically view all four at once, even.

I'm a bit of a VMWare fanboy, so I do have a bit of bias (to my credit please take note, although the VMWare Fusion box even came with a "I <3 VMWare" bumpersticker, I didn't put it on anything - so I'm not that much of a fanboy ). I don't know much about Virtualbox or QEMU other than that they're open-source projects. Unless they talk about running multiple VMs at once I wouldn't use them for virtualizing more than one or two VMs at a time.

Either way, let us know what you choose and how it works for you. I'd be interested to hear how any one of those solutions holds up to virtualizing four machines. The most I've ever done simltaneously was three, and with VMWare Fusion and 3 GB of RAM there wasn't a performance hit at all (just a huge page file for a Mac OS X system).
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Old 2008-03-29, 14:20   Link #4
Danj
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ledgem View Post
Wow, that's a neat course! I'm a big fan of virtualization.
Well, the course material was actually created several years ago (it's Microsoft module 70-290), where it was expected that there would be an instructor machine and the students would be working in groups with lab partners. But the guy who is currently running the course felt that that meant some people could get left out of certain parts (since there are parts of the labs which have to be done by specific members of a lab group) so he set things up so that we all have our own virtual server team.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ledgem View Post
I haven't used VMWare Server as much as I have VMWare Fusion (the not-free Mac version), but VMWare is wonderful. It looks like VMWare Server should fully support Windows Server 2003 (not a surprise), so you're fine there. VMWare does claim to have excellent memory management for running multiple VMs, so you'd be covered there (the product seems to be designed for it, at the very least). If you need to network them, VMWare has three networking modes - NAT (host acts like a router), Bridged (each VM takes on their own IP as if they were a physical machine), and Host-only (host acts like a proxy), which should cover you for however the VMs need to be networked.
The VMs need to have their own private network, and there may also be a scenario where one of them also needs to be able to get out to the Internet for RRAS and WSUS purposes.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ledgem View Post
Either way, let us know what you choose and how it works for you. I'd be interested to hear how any one of those solutions holds up to virtualizing four machines. The most I've ever done simltaneously was three, and with VMWare Fusion and 3 GB of RAM there wasn't a performance hit at all (just a huge page file for a Mac OS X system).
I'm expecting the gear my dad ordered to arrive sometime around the middle of next week. It'll take a while to set things up but I'll post in here to say how it turns out.
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Old 2008-03-29, 15:14   Link #5
Ledgem
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Originally Posted by Danj View Post
The VMs need to have their own private network, and there may also be a scenario where one of them also needs to be able to get out to the Internet for RRAS and WSUS purposes.
If you put them in NAT mode I'd imagine that they should be able to see each other, but I'm not positive. As long as your host machine has net access, they will, too. If you have a router on your network and put them into Bridge mode then they'll receive their own IPs from the router and should view each other as physical machines behind the router; if there's no router they'll give themselves IPs (or you could specify them) and they should see each other based on those IPs.
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Old 2008-03-29, 17:03   Link #6
SeijiSensei
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I'm a big fan of static IP addressing in situations like this so you know precisely what's going on.

I've been a fan of VirtualBox for a while as a desktop virtualization method. I don't know how well it works in a server setting, though I can't imagine it would be that much different. The fact that VirtualBox is licensed under the GPL gives it a big leg up on other alternatives in my book. (Xen is, too, but it contains it own OS, a Linux version. I think it only supports Windows guests.)

Is this a class that specifically features Microsoft technologies, or do you spend some time with those of us who inhabit the "open" world? I ask because I'm curious how widely open-source solutions are being taught these days. I worry that instructors are behind the curve in this area and still stress proprietary solutions that appear, to me, less and less relevant over time.
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Old 2008-03-29, 17:06   Link #7
Danj
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SeijiSensei View Post
Is this a class that specifically features Microsoft technologies, or do you spend some time with those of us who inhabit the "open" world?
It's Microsoft certificate module number 70-290. So yes it does specifically focus on Microsoft technologies. Obviously if a Linux certification course became available I'd be interested in that, but at the moment it seems like a Microsoft one would open the most doors in terms of employment for me.
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Old 2008-03-29, 22:21   Link #8
Ledgem
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SeijiSensei, if you're familiar with VMWare, could you tell us how Virtualbox compares in your opinion? Their supported guest OS list seems relatively comparable to VMWare. How is it when working with them, though? VMWare installs a program to the guest OS that makes it run much more nicely (the two big ones are allowing the suspend/sleep of a guest OS, and allowing the resolution to automatically change to fit the resizing of a window). Without VMWare Tools installed the guest OS is still very workable, but it's not as nice to work with it while working outside of it.
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Old 2008-03-30, 01:46   Link #9
Epyon9283
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Guest Additions for Windows and Linux. VirtualBox has special software that can be installed inside Windows and Linux virtual machines to improve performance and make integration much more seamless. Among the features provided by these Guest Additions are mouse pointer integration and arbitrary screen solutions (e.g. by resizing the guest window).
Looks like they have vmware tools like software for the guest OSes.

It seems only the closed source version contains USB support. Weird.
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Old 2008-03-30, 02:10   Link #10
grey_moon
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Personal opinion here, in terms of freebies...

VirtualBox if you just need to fire up an instance and test something or to run a non supported app that is not a service. Far more light weight on the system then VMware Server

VMware Server if you want to run a server type application (ie web server) or any other always on or complicated network wise scenario (multiple boxes with different subnets etc)

So personally for your scenario I would go for VMware Server since you have 4 boxes you wish to virtualise (and I am guessing to interact with each other). I guess the only hard thing is to ensure your host can support them all without chugging too much.
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Old 2008-03-30, 07:57   Link #11
SeijiSensei
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I really can't compare VirtualBox and VMWare since I have no experience with the latter. grey_moon's advice makes sense to me, though.

Part of the reason I haven't spent much time looking into virtualization is that I often see it as a solution chasing after a problem. From a fault-tolerance perspective, which is pretty crucial when we're talking about 24/7 server availability, consolidating servers through virtualization doesn't make much sense to me. So now when the disk controller on that box with four operating systems fails, four of my servers fall over rather than one. With hardware as cheap as it is these days, I'd prefer to have more boxes and isolate potential failures. That may not be the "green" approach, but I hate having to bring servers back from hardware failures. Usually I have to drop everything else I'm working on (like making dinner for myself and my daughter) when a machine providing network services like email or web hosting falls over.

My only experience with virtualization is on the desktop where I've run Windows inside a VirtualBox VM on Linux. While Wine has made enormous strides in its ability to run most mainstream Windows applications, I still like having a complete Windows installation as well. Often I just want to see how a web site I'm working on looks under Internet Explorer, and while you can make IE run with Wine, there are issues about fonts, etc., that matter if you looking at page layouts.

Recently I've been having some problems getting the VB kernel module to compile correctly on Fedora. Fedora kernels update often so it can be hard for third-party software to keep up. (I'm impressed at how quickly Livna releases matching graphics drivers for instance.) If I were running a distribution with a more stable kernel (CentOS, Ubuntu LTS, etc.), VirtualBox would be ideal for my needs.
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Old 2008-03-30, 09:01   Link #12
grey_moon
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SeijiSensei View Post
From a fault-tolerance perspective, which is pretty crucial when we're talking about 24/7 server availability, consolidating servers through virtualization doesn't make much sense to me. So now when the disk controller on that box with four operating systems fails, four of my servers fall over rather than one. With hardware as cheap as it is these days, I'd prefer to have more boxes and isolate potential failures. That may not be the "green" approach, but I hate having to bring servers back from hardware failures. Usually I have to drop everything else I'm working on (like making dinner for myself and my daughter) when a machine providing network services like email or web hosting falls over.
Great point about server consolidation, and one that a lot of the upper management miss when they get bedazzled by virtualising. The best product to cover that is imho VMware ESX, but with Virtual Centre, which allows for the host to fail over the server/service to another cluster. So the fail over is monitored and performed at the virtual hardware layer instead of in the OS.

Now the big problem with that is cost. Virtualisation doesn't at first save money, that comes later with more efficient use of resources.

At the start you got to have clustered nodes on fault tolerated SANs and then have several clusters so that if the failure is more then just the guest OS, the system can move the broken server to a working cluster. So that also means that the network infrastructure needs to be correctly setup.

So its a great way for migration issues, a great way for testing, but for the big jobs it is only as good as the overall system has been set up. Basically it can get really expensive and that is where a lot of the upper management imho get caught out
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Old 2008-04-01, 15:23   Link #13
Danj
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OK, I got the new gear in today and installed it, and I've set up my VMs. I'm using VMware Server 1.0.5 and I have four machines running at the same time, set up to use 384Mb of RAM each. Performance seems pretty decent although the sort of exercises I am doing on them do not really put much load on.

The only minor issue I've come across is that there doesn't seem to be a way to reorder the VM tabs at the top of the VMware window. For some reason S4 got itself placed before S1, S2 and S3 which is annoying. I've tried looking at the vm-list file as suggested elsewhere on the internet but it's already in the correct order. So anyone know how to fix this?
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