Server Virtualization: It's All About the App

Virtual machines are just tablecloths; applications are the actual plates of slap-up nosh that businesses are interested in. That's the view of David Greschler, Microsoft's director of virtualization strategy. It's also a prosaic way of saying that "it's all about the app."

With System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 and Server App-V, Microsoft aims to simplify the bits and pieces needed to run a virtual infrastructure by virtualizing at the application level. Will it change the perception of server virtualization management?

Of course that's true, and it's why server application virtualization technology is so interesting to Microsoft. By packaging a server application up in a piece of virtual tupperware, you can then carry it around and dish it out anywhere: on a virtual machine in your server room, in a private cloud in your data center, or out in the public cloud -- as long as it's on Microsoft's virtualization infrastructure, of course.

Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) take on server application virtualization is called Server App-V, and last year the company explained how it intended to make it possible to package up legacy Windows Server 2008 apps using Server App-V technology and deploy them in the public cloud on Windows Azure. As for deploying virtualized apps to you own private cloud or server room, that will be possible using the company's System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM.) The functionality can be previewed now using the beta 2 of SCVMM 2012, which was made available for download last week.

SCVMM 2012 and Server App-V promises to simplify the bits and pieces needed to run a virtualized infrastructure. Instead of having to maintain a VM library with images for all kinds of server/app combos, you'll have to maintain, update and patch only a small number of standard OS images, "thereby reducing the associated administrative effort and expense," as Microsoft puts it.

When you want to run a particular app like Exchange you'll be able to check out a standard VM with the right OS from your library, fire it up, and then wheel out your Exchange image, which has been packaged up using Server App-V. It can then be "easily and efficiently deployed and started using Virtual Machine Manager 2012 without an installation process" is the official line. Or, as the inimitable Mr. Greschler describes it, "Instead of saying 'that's my Exchange VM', you can say 'I'm just going to take a generic VM with an operating system and I can plop the application into it in real time.'"

There's no denying it's an attractive proposition, especially when you consider that this "plopping" can all be accomplished without requiring changes to the application code, thus mitigating the need to rewrite or re-architect the application, according to the SystemCenterTeam blog.

Server App-V and SCVMM 2012 are not due out of beta until much later this year, but Microsoft has just released SCVMM 2008 R2 SP1, an update to the System Center virtual machine management tool. The update is arguably long overdue. Although it doesn't include Server App-V, it does add support for new features introduced with the Service Pack 1 release of Windows Server 2008 R2. The key ones are:
  • Dynamic memory: VMM 2008 R2 SP1 allows administrators to create and deploy VMs onto Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Hyper-V hosts and will report on the memory currently in use for those VMs where Dynamic Memory is enabled
  • Microsoft RemoteFX: VMM 2008 R2 SP1 allows administrators to create and deploy VMs with RemoteFX enabled to qualified Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Hyper-V hosts

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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This article was originally published on Apr 6, 2011
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