Review: Microsoft's System Center Virtual Machine Manager

Every UI feature is extensible via PowerShell

On Tuesday, Microsoft released to manufacturing System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008. The final code will be shipped on Nov. 1. The company bills the software as one-stop organization, allowing administrators to set up and deploy new virtual machines and manage hosts and other virtual infrastructure elements from one console.

The 2008 version of SCVMM introduces a wide scope of virtual platform support, performance and resource optimization, and enhances support of high-availability host clusters, among other improvements. In testing RTM escrow code in my lab over the past month or so, I found SCVMM to be a competent and convenient place to manage virtual machines.

An overview

You'll notice immediately upon launching SCVMM that the interface is familiar -- it sports the common three-pane approach to the System Center family of products. What's especially nice is that the integration between SCVMM and the rest of System Center isn't just skin-deep; the product plays nicely in particular with System Center Operations Manager and Configuration Manager. It even goes to the level of being able to manage workloads running on discrete operating systems within virtual machines on a VMware host.

SCVMM supports all Windows products -- back to Windows 98 SE -- and some Linux. Centralized virtual machine deployment and management are provided across a range of popular virtual hosting and systems management software, including the suite of Microsoft and VMware products -- Virtual Server, Hyper-V, VMware Server, VMware ESX and VMware GSX. Xen is a possible later addition.

Many of the features of the previous version of SCVMM continue to do their jobs. This includes intelligent placement, which analyzes a set of virtual machine hosts that you have identified and, based on the resource needs of the individual virtual machine you are working with, intelligently selects the VM host that best has the available resources to support your desired configuration. Another previous feature is superb physical-to-virtual (P2V) and virtual-to-virtual (V2V) conversions that make it very simple to reconfigure your infrastructure as you need.

Also of note: One of the most powerful building blocks for SCVMM is its reliance on PowerShell. Every UI function in the system is built on PowerShell commands and management of any virtual machine is fully scriptable using a very well-documented set of cmdlets for PowerShell. For instance, everything from creating a VM to performing a P2V or V2V conversion -- or even starting aVMware Vmotion Live Migration (more on that in a bit) -- can be done either from the GUI or from a PowerShell cmdlet. That is powerful.

Finally, SCVMM 2008 leverages some of the improvements made to Windows Server 2008 in the clustering department. As you may know, Windows Server 2008 has made clustering something even the least experienced of administrators can handle. SCVMM automates the addition of a host cluster to support Hyper-V-based virtual machines and automatically detects when nodes are added to and removed from that cluster. And the intelligent placement algorithm works with a cluster too: SCVMM won't create VMs so that the cluster becomes overcommitted.

Architecture and interfaces

SCVMM was designed by Microsoft to be the premier front end for all of your virtual machine management needs, and in that sense, it supports managing VMs running on Microsoft's Hyper-V or Virtual Server 2005 R2, or VMware-hosted virtual machines as well. Indeed, among the smoothest features of SCVMM is its support for live-migrating a machine using VMware's Vmotion technology from one host to another.

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