The introduction of new operating systems, new applications and even patches or fixes on your production network can pose its own kind of threat, if you don't know what the "unintended consequences" will be. Best practice is to first set up a test environment that emulates your production environment and run the new software there. Buying a lot of machines to do this can be prohibitively expensive, so many network administrators have turned to virtual machine software. In this article, we take a look at what's different in VPC and how to install and use it.
There are actually several different types of virtual machines. The term is commonly used to refer to software that allows an application to be used on different operating systems, because the application is isolated from the computer's OS environment. You've probably heard of the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) that allows Java code to run on different hardware and software platforms.
In this article, we're talking about virtualization software that emulates the computer hardware so that you can create separate environments for running multiple operating systems (or multiple instances of the same operating system) on a single computer, as if they were separate physical computers.
The ability to, for all intents and purposes, have several different computers all running on one piece of hardware saves money and space, so virtualization software has become very popular. The Gartner Group predicts that the use of such technologies will triple from 2003 to 2008
There are many uses for virtual machines. Server consolidation is one. You can install multiple VMs on one powerful computer and install server operating systems and server applications on each (for example, one VM might function as your Exchange mail server, another might function as your Web server, and a third might function as your file server. One of your VM servers could be running Windows Server 2003 while another is running Linux, all on the same hardware). A big advantage of this is that the VMs can be backed up easily and restored to different hardware if the physical server goes down.
Another important use for VMs is software testing and debugging. When computers are critical to the mission of the organization (as is true today in most organizations), a failed operating system upgrade or application deployment can create downtime that results in loss of productivity and money.
Best practice is to always test upgrades, patches and new applications in a non-production environment that emulates your production network as closely as possible. However, purchasing the hardware to create a parallel network can get expensive. It's much more cost effective to create your test network in VMs on one or a few physical computers. Each VM operates as a separate member of the network, with its own IP address. This article focuses on using Microsoft's Virtual PC (VPC) virtualization software to test software before deploying it on your production network.
You must ensure the Licensing of the operating system you are going to deploy on Virtual PC.
VMWare more or less cornered the market on virtualization software for years. It was introduced in 1999 and quickly became a hit with techies who wanted to run an operating system within an operating system (for instance, you could install a Windows 9x VM on your Windows 2000 computer to run games that weren't compatible with the Windows 2000 OS). A server version was introduced that lets multiple users run the VMs stored on the server through a "client piece" on their workstation. Network administrators soon realized the possibilities for consolidating servers and testing programs prior to deployment.
Another company that made virtualization software was Connectix; Microsoft bought Virtual PC from them in 2003. They then released Virtual PC 2004, which included a number of enhancements but dropped official support for non-Microsoft operating systems (Linux, NetWare and other non-Microsoft operating systems can still be installed and run fine on VPC, but Microsoft does not provide support for those scenarios). Now VMWare and VPC are the two leading PC virtualization programs.
There are also virtualization programs designed to run on Linux, such as Virtuozzo from SW-Soft (designed primarily for server consolidation), Bochs and Freemware.
Installing VPC was easy and wizard-driven. You can even install VPC using Remote Desktop (just note that when installation completes, it automatically ends your remote session and you'll have to wait a few moments and then reconnect). One caveat is to be sure the computer has enough RAM. VMs gobble up memory, and if you plan to run more than one VM at a time, we recommend you have at least a gigabyte of RAM.
The VPC interface has two parts. The VPC console is the starting point for creating, starting and changing the configuration settings for virtual machines. The VPC application window is where your VM runs when you start it.
Creating a new VM and installing a guest OS is easy, thanks to the New Virtual Machine Wizard (invoked by clicking the New button on the VPC console). The wizard gives you options to choose configurations to create a new VM, to create a new VM with default settings or to add an existing .vmc file (for example, one created on another host computer) to your VPC console.
Each separate VM is stored as a .vmc file, by default in a folder called My Virtual Machines in the My Documents folder of the user who installs it. You can name the VM whatever you want. You can also save it to a location other than the default. This is often a good idea if the partition that holds your My Documents folder doesn't have a lot of free space. You can store the .vmc files on a removable drive or network drive, but performance may not be as good. I like to create a special hard disk partition just for VMs. Next you're asked to select a guest OS.
Steps to install Virtual PC
- Support for Server 2003 is added by Service Pack 1. There is also a selection of "Other" if you want to install a non-Microsoft operating system. The wizard will recommend an amount of RAM to allocate for this VM based on the OS you selected, or you can adjust the amount to suit your needs (for example, if you are going to install a memory-intensive application). You can create a virtual hard disk or use one that already exists. Virtual hard disks are stored as .vhd files on your actual disk. You can create multiple disks for one VM.
- When the wizard is completed, the VM will show up in your console along with other VMs you've created.
- You can configure the settings for the VM by selecting it and clicking Settings. This allows you to change the name of the VM, change the memory allocation, add or change hard disk configurations, configure the CD/DVD drive, floppy and ports, configure network adapters, enable sound, use pointer integration (lets you move the mouse pointer from host to VM seamlessly), use shared folders to access information on the host computer, and control display settings.
- You can connect as many as four physical network adapters to the VM (assuming your host computer has that many). USB keyboards work fine, although some USB devices aren't supported (for example, my USB flash memory reader/writer isn't recognized in the VM).
- Once your VM is configured to your liking, just click Start and the machine boots up in a window (unless you've configured it to start in full screen mode in the Display section of the settings page).
Now Just deploy new operating System on your Microsoft Windows and use them.
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