Rein in VMs Using System Center Virtual Machine Manager

SCVMM helps IT manager Rick Webster maintain control over The Scooter Store's many VMs

Virtual machine (VM) products are making it almost absurdly easy for IT pros to consolidate servers. But the more you virtualize, the greater your challenge in managing that burgeoning virtual infrastructure. Last year, Microsoft answered administrators’ need for better VM management by releasing System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2007—SCVMM. (See “Let SCVMM 2008 Manage It All,” InstantDoc ID 99768, page 23, for an in-depth discussion of SCVMM.) The release was timely for The Scooter Store, a New Braunfels, Texas, supplier of scooters and power chairs for people with limited mobility. Rick Webster, The Scooter Store’s manager of systems and storage, had led efforts to move the company’s data center to a Microsoft Virtual Server 2005–based environment but found that managing all those VMs was getting increasingly complex. Rick spoke with Windows IT Pro about how The Scooter Store uses SCVMM to keep its 100 or so VMs under control and how the company has benefited from virtualization.

Q: How large is your IT environment?
A: To support our business—providing independence to people with limited mobility—we run 22 virtual servers: five physical hosts in production and 17 physical hosts in our integration environment, which is where we do application testing and development which is a near mirror copy of our production environment.

Q: Why did you decide to start using SCVMM?
A: One of the main reasons we decided to \[look at SCVMM\] was that we were challenged about how to manage virtualization. Customarily, we managed our physical server environment one box at a time. Implementing virtualization forced us to think in a more logical manner as compared with traditional \[server management\] methods. When Microsoft showed us what we’d be able to do by using SCVMM? to manage our data center, we jumped on the beta, then the release candidates, and started using SCVMM heavily in production once it was released.

Q: So how do you use SCVMM?
A: The main thing we use it for is to manage our virtual environment. In the past, before Virtual Server had matured, we had to do a lot of scripting and go through a lengthy process to perform physical-tovirtual (P2V) migration. You almost had to be a coder to write some of those scripts to make sure the migration went successfully. With SCVMM, the wizard walks you straight through the P2V migration.

We also use SCVMM to help us back up our virtual environment. SCVMM lets us take snapshots—almost like an undo for our virtual environment. If we were going to apply a patch, we could take a snapshot through SCVMM and create an undo-disk–type scenario, so that if the patch didn’t work with an application and we needed to roll back, we could do that.

SCVMM also tells us the best fit for boxes. When we deploy a new VM, we enter the expected resource requirements for an application— say, 2GB of memory, the Internet or LAN connections—and it gives us a star rating: “Out of all the hosts you have in your environment, this particular one meets all those requirements.” As an administrator, you’re probably already thinking where you want to put \[the VM\], but SCVMM might tell you that box doesn’t have quite enough memory to run \[the application\] or not enough hard-drive space is allocated. SCVMM takes a lot of the guesswork out of locating a VM.

Q: You’re planning to implement SCVMM with System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) to switch between virtual hard disks. How will that work?
A: With SCVMM and DPM in our virtual environment, we can do hostbased backups to provide consistent backup of all VMs. For instance, through SCVMM we can set DPM to run every 15 minutes to catch the deltas \[the data changes\] made in the host server. Then, if we need to do a restore, we can go back to the last 15 minutes, whereas before, we had to revert to last night’s capture. This is important to maintain accuracy and protect the privacy of our customers’ health information.

Q: Are you planning to test the SCVMM 2008 beta?
A: Yes, we’re testing it right now. We’re excited with Hyper-V being released and SCVMM 2008 letting us see inside and manage VMs hosted in our Hyper-V and Virtual Server 2005 environments.

Q: Will you eventually put everything on Hyper-V?
A: That’s currently the plan.

Q: Have you documented cost or time savings as a result of using SCVMM and VMs?
A: Yes. We’ve definitely seen cost savings using Virtual Server: power and cooling costs. And using SCVMM, the savings are in user manageability. We’ve been able to save \[the cost of\] at least one full-time employee—anywhere from $70,000 to $80,000 a year—using Virtual Server along with SCVMM.

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