SolutionBase: What's new in Virtual Server 2005 R2

Virtual servers can go a long way to maximizing the use of network resources. Here's what you'll find in Microsoft's latest refresh of Virtual Server.

This article is also available as a TechRepublic download.

Virtual Server 2005 R2 (VS2005 R2) gives network administrators an easy way of consolidating multiple servers and operating systems onto a single computer. Instead of using a dedicated server for every application and service you require, you can run the applications and services on virtual server instances. This allows you to continue to isolate applications and services while making better use of existing hardware.

VS2005 R2 is Microsoft's latest release of the virtualization software and includes new capabilities and enhancements over its predecessor. Here are just a few of the new things that you can look forward to seeing in the latest release of Virtual Server.

Host/guest operating system support

VS2005 R2 provides support for additional host and guest operating systems, and can be installed on several different OSs (or hosts). Along with the same hosts supported in the first version, VS2005 R2 includes support for:

  • Windows XP Pro SP2
  • Windows Server 2003 (SP1, R2)
  • Windows XP/Windows Server 2003 x64

The guest OSs are those that you can run inside a virtual machine. The guest OSs supported by R2 are the same as those supported in the previous version, and also include:

  • Windows XP Pro SP2
  • Windows Server 2003 (SP1/R2)
  • Linux (9x distro's)

X64 Host Support

Virtual Server 2005 R2 is able to run on x64-bit Windows host operating systems. This lets you take advantage of increased performance and provides greater memory scalability.

Virtual Server 2005 R2 is supported by the following 64-bit host operating systems:

  • Windows Server 2003 Standard x64 Edition
  • Windows Server 2003 Enterprise x64 Edition
  • Windows XP Professional x64 Edition

Processor support

VS2005 R2 comes in two different flavors: Standard edition and Enterprise edition. R2 Standard edition supports a maximum of four processors, whereas the Enterprise edition can be installed on servers with up to 32 physical processors.

Keep in mind that this does not mean your guest OSs can take advantage of multi-processors. It only means the Virtual Server application can run on multiple processors. Microsoft has not yet addressed the issue of processor use in VS2005 R2. Unlike VMWare's GSX and ESX offerings, guest OSs running inside a R2 virtual machine cannot use more than a single processor, effectively eliminating VS2005 for high-end use until this is addressed.

One of the biggest changes you will see in VS2005 R2 is in the price. Previous editions were priced at $499 and $999; now, it's available for free.

Virtual Disk Pre-Compactor

If you have used Virtual Server, you are likely aware of how large a dynamically expanding Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) can be. VS2005 R2 includes the Virtual Disk Pre-Compactor utility that is used to create smaller compacted VHDs. It does this by reclaiming space that the guest operating system is not actually using. The benefit is that you get a smaller VHD and better performance.

Note: A dynamically expanding virtual hard disk grows as data is written to it. This is the default disk type created in Virtual Server.

PXE booting

When setting up a physical server, administrators often perform network-based installations. The virtual machine network adapter in VS2005 R2 now supports Pre-boot Execution Environment (PXE) boot. This lets you perform network-based installations of guest operating systems as if you were setting up a physical server.

F6 Disk

VS2005 R2 includes a SCSI Shunt Driver.vfd (virtual floppy disk) for loading the SCSI emulated drivers during the installation of the guest OS. Using the virtual floppy disk can speed up the installation process when the VHD is attached to an emulated SCSI adapter.

Note: During the installation of the guest OS, press [F6] when prompted. You will need to capture the SCSI Shunt Drive.vfd. For more information, see the Virtual Server 2005 Administrator's guide.

Clustering enhancements

To provide high-availability and fault tolerance for mission critical servers, applications and services, businesses often implement clustering solutions. Clustering provides high availability by automatically detecting when an application or service fails. Downtime can be as little as a few seconds and can go completely unnoticed by users.

VS2005 R2 supports clustering of guest OSs and host computers. Clustering host computers offers a cost-effective means of increasing server availability, enabling migration and failover of virtual machines among the Virtual Server hosts in the cluster. Using Windows Server 2003, Microsoft Cluster Service and Virtual Server 2005 R2 businesses can create a cost-effective, high availability solution for virtual machines.

VS2005 R2 now makes it even more cost-effective for businesses that want to implement guest clustering. The availability of iSCSI in R2 eliminates the need to purchase the specialized hardware typically required in a cluster solution. The only additional hardware required is network adapters to connect the storage device to the cluster nodes.

Clustering options

VS2005 R2 offers three different clustering scenarios:

  • Virtual Machine Guest Clustering (iSCSI): Virtual Machines are clustered on different hosts.
  • Virtual Machine Guest Clustering (Shared SCSI): Virtual Machines are clustered on the same host.
  • Virtual Server Host Clustering: Virtual Servers are clustered on different hosts.

With Virtual Machine Guest Clustering, each Virtual Machine (VM) is a cluster node. Cluster-aware applications that are running inside a guest are considered resource groups. If an application within a resource group fails or if the guest fails, the VM containing the failure will automatically failover to another VM on the same host or on a different host. This protects against application failure.

Virtual Server Host Clustering, on the other hand, protects against host failure. Should a VS2005 R2 host fail, the VMs running on the failed host can be automatically migrated to another host in the cluster.

Additional language support

Microsoft has made VS2005 R2 accessible to more people by including support for additional languages. Along with English and Japanese, VS2005 R2 is also available in the following languages:

  • French
  • German
  • Spanish
  • Italian
  • Korean
  • Traditional Chinese
  • Simplified Chinese

Active Directory integration

Active Directory lets you group objects in a hierarchical fashion based on the logical organization of the network, making it easier to manage resources such as users and computers. Active Directory in Windows Server 2003 introduced many new and improved management features for managing physical computers. VS2005 R2 now integrates with Active Directory, and as a result, you can now use those management features to manage your VMs, as well as physical computers.

The integrations of VS2005 R2 with Active Directory enables delegated administration and authenticated guest access. You can achieve fine-grained administrative control over virtual machines with per-virtual machine Access Control Lists that can be managed from within Active Directory's Group Policy Management Console. Furthermore, event logs are now incorporated into Active Directory and Microsoft Management Consoles.

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