Virtual Server 2005 R2 Creates Profitable Services For Solution Providers

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Channel players have come to realize the benefits offered by virtualization, a technology that maximizes hardware value and brings portability to applications.

Virtualization brings extended opportunities to solution providers, the technology runs “guest” operating systems on a “host” machine and allows easy demos of products or tests of technologies or provides the foundation for transitioning from one operating system to another. But, both cost and remote access limitations have hobbled the technology at times.

Several software vendors are pitching their own products to the channel. Companies such as VMware, Parallels, XenSource and Virtual Iron have been battling for market share, while the 800 pound gorilla --Microsoft-- has watched from the sidelines, dabbling with virtualization products acquired with the purchase of Connectix.

As the virtualization market has heated up, Microsoft has steadily lowered the price of Virtual Server Enterprise Edition. Originally priced at $999, the price dropped in a matter of months to $199. With the release of Virtual Server Enterprise Edition R2, the price is now naught! Some may wonder why Microsoft would do such a thing, the simple answer is to gain market share and add value to Microsoft’s operating systems (still needed as the host OSes).

Now that Virtual Server R2 is available as a free download, all that is needed to get the product is a valid Microsoft Passport account. What’s more, Microsoft now offers support for Linux with Virtual Server Enterprise Edition R2 and is touting the products ability to consolidate hardware and operating systems.

What may seem like Microsoft’s embrace of the open-source movement is truly a shrewd marketing maneuver: First, dominate the market with a free product by squashing the competition and then generate demand for other Microsoft products.

But tactics aside, Virtual Server brings a great deal of leverage to channel players and can even be used as a tool to move users off of Microsoft’s operating systems.

CRN Test Center engineers put that theory to the test by setting up a Virtual Server system that runs non-Microsoft OSes.

Starting off with a Windows 2003 Server system, test center engineers installed and configured VSR2. In a virtual environment, speedy hardware is important so Test Center engineers selected a Dual Xeon (2.8Ghz) HP server with 4 Gbytes of RAM and a fast SCSI hard drive.

Solution providers looking to replicate virtual environments should make sure the hardware is up to snuff. A full 384Mbytes of RAM and roughly 1Ghz of processing power per Virtual Machine would be a good starting point. Test center engineers also configured Internet Information Server (IIS) to host the Virtual Server Management console and to provide a method for remote access to the virtual machines.

Solution providers will find the installation of Virtual Server R2 straight forward, the product auto configures IIS and integrates with Active Directory. Once the product is installed, administrators will manage and configure the virtual machines with Internet Explorer. The browser will be used to access a local Web page (or remote, if so configured) which offers the administration tools. They can enable everything from creating virtual machines to monitoring usage and changing configuration sessions. For local administrators, taking control of a virtual machine usually entails nothing more than clicking on an icon representing the virtual machine.
Test Center engineers quickly setup four virtual machines, two of those systems were configured to run Xandros Linux, while the other two were configured for Novell’s SuSE Linux 9.3.

While it was a snap to load and run the four virtual machines locally, the real value comes in the ability to run the virtual machines remotely. Simply put, when configured properly, all an end user needs is a recent copy of Internet Explorer and an Internet connection. Virtual machines are accessed remotely via an Active-X control, which installs the Microsoft VMRC client, an application that supports remote control of the virtual machine via Internet Explorer.

VMRC is what brings the real power to the Virtual Server product. With the combination of Linux support and remote access, Virtual Server 2005 R2 brings several paths to build services and solutions for integrators.

A solution provider could quickly setup a server that offers full security and then allow clients to run applications remotely via the Web: In other words the product brings an Instant MSP solution to the table.

What’s more, onsite deployments can allow those using Windows desktops to experience Linux via a reliable, remote session. And, virtual machines can be quickly duplicated on the server and are portable. All one has to do is copy the virtual machine's VHD file to another Virtual Server and voila, the virtual machine is available for use.

Those capabilities make it easy to scale up virtual machines, create full backups and offer control over a desktop environment. Test Center engineers were able to integrate other products to create what could be an ideal Virtual Server platform. For example, Acronis True Image Server was added to the mix to handle image-based backups, ensuring that the virtual machines, along with the host operating system were backed up. A security appliance was added to handle anti-virus, anti-spam and VPN chores, adding another level of security to the virtual environment.

Further experimentation allowed Test Center engineers to configure Virtual Windows XP Virtual Machines, which were then added to the Windows 2003 Server domain, create a fully managed client environment, secured by active directory and offering complete access to all network resources. What’s more, Windows group policies were configured for the virtual machines, allowing granular control of each virtual machine.

Simply put, Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 brings a plethora of options to solution providers looking to create new opportunities at a price that can’t be beat. All it takes is a little imagination and a little marketing to build a profitable service or solution based upon proven networking technologies.

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