How Microsoft IT Uses System Center Virtual Machine Manager to Manage the Private Cloud
Published: October 2010
Real-world scenarios on how Microsoft IT is utilizing System Center Virtual Machine Manager as a key component of its management strategy in support of the virtualized data center.
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The Microsoft IT Cloud team provides virtual machines to Microsoft IT’s internal customers. The team’s primary goal is to provide virtual machines in a timely fashion and built to their customers’ specifications. This article discusses how the IT Cloud team uses System Center Virtual Machine Manager to manage Microsoft IT’s private cloud infrastructure.
Microsoft IT Operations Environment
Microsoft IT has thousands of workloads running on virtual machines. The Microsoft IT environment is diverse in many ways:
- Networks. Virtual machines are spread across internal and external network segments.
- Platforms. Virtual machines in Microsoft IT facilities run on Virtual Server 2005, Hyper-V version 1, and Hyper-V R2, all the way up through the operating system on the virtual machine itself. The hardware layer that the virtual machines run on provides another level of diversity and complexity.
- Server Software. Microsoft IT has servers running server software from Windows Server 2003 through Windows Server 2008 R2.
- Business Applications. Microsoft IT deploys thousands of internal business applications on virtual machines. These applications vary greatly because they are developed in different groups and use different architectures. As a result, the virtual machines require a variety of different configurations.
- Geography. Microsoft IT facilities span the globe.
Microsoft IT’s customers also have various storage and performance needs. This huge amount of diversity makes for a very challenging environment. The IT Cloud team has to position hosts in such a way as to service all of these various needs and configurations.
History of System Center Virtual Machine Manager—Microsoft IT
The IT Cloud team saw immediate benefits after implementing the first version of System Center Virtual Machine Manager. Even though Microsoft IT had a fairly small virtualization deployment at the time, the team knew that as their service grew and as the number of hosts and guests grew, they would need a tool to provide broad management across the whole environment. With System Center Virtual Machine Manager, the team had a comprehensive view of the environment and could enact changes broadly across a large number of virtual machines or hosts as needed. As the service grew, Microsoft IT implemented newer versions of System Center Virtual Machine Manager in their production facilities. The team stayed very close to the product group along the way, giving feedback and driving changes into the product.
Efficiencies and Cost Reductions
With System Center Virtual Machine Manager, the IT Cloud team can design their build and management processes around a single tool and infrastructure. This has helped the team keep their headcount extremely low while managing thousands of hosts. The team can maintain clean and concise build processes that are easy for analysts and contingent staff to follow, which makes it easy to scale the service up as needed.
System Center Virtual Machine Manager was a vital part of a data center migration project that the IT Cloud team recently completed. The team moved several hundred servers, both virtual and physical, from an older data center facility in Dublin to a new facility. The migration included physical servers and virtual machines running on Virtual Server 2005 as well as Hyper-V version 1. The migration also included upgrading the underlying virtualization layer that the virtual machines were running on. The team used the virtual-to-virtual conversion feature in System Center Virtual Machine Manager to migrate machines out of the old data center directly onto the hosts in the new data center. System Center Virtual Machine Manager orchestrated all of the file-level copies, the removal of any old virtual machine additions, and the installation of the integration components required by Hyper-V R2.
For the physical effort, the team wanted to convert many physical machines that were running on older hardware to new virtual machines. The team also wanted to consolidate the overall physical footprint and decommission and repurpose older hardware. By using the physical-to-virtual conversion feature in System Center Virtual Machine Manager, it took just a few up-front steps to stream physical machines across the network into virtual machines in the new facility. System Center Virtual Machine Manager made it all possible, with just a small learning curve to get everyone on board.
Investing in Automation
The IT Cloud team’s primary goal is to provide virtual machines to their customers in a timely fashion and built to their customers’ required specifications. Consistency and accuracy in builds is therefore paramount. Historically, the build process involved a lot of human interaction as information was moved manually from one place to another. This left a lot of room for human error. To solve this problem, the team created a series of PowerShell scripts based on the System Center Virtual Machine Manager PowerShell cmdlets. This enabled the team to automate many of the up-front steps to do the virtual machine builds. The team takes advantage of System Center Virtual Machine Manager’s Intelligent Placement feature to place the builds on hosts. By reducing the number of manual steps and increasing accuracy, the team has decreased the overall build times and has also cut down on later rework that may occur. The team plans to make further automation investments to remove the potential for human error as much as possible. This will make processes even more efficient and will help to further reduce costs.
The team still wants to offer choice to their customers though. They don’t want to just create vanilla builds and force customers into using something they don’t want. So the team offers choices for memory configuration changes and processor configuration requests as well as for special storage and networking needs.
The team is also investing in the System Center suite in general and the integration that it provides. For example, the team wants to use System Center Operations Manager to evaluate the performance of a particular service and automatically deploy additional capacity and infrastructure on demand to relieve performance problems. Ultimately, the team wants their customers to be able to self-service their needs to get the capacity they want, when and how they want it, without impacting their ship schedules.
The Microsoft IT operations environment is very diverse and complex. System Center Virtual Machine Manager has enabled the Microsoft IT Cloud team to simplify their service of providing virtual machines to Microsoft IT’s internal customers.
The IT Cloud team uses PowerShell scripts to automate their environment, reducing the chance for human error. The team will continue to invest in automation, and will also continue to invest in the System Center Virtual Machine Manager platform by working closely with the product team and deploying any pre-release builds. This will make System Center Virtual Machine Manager a better product for Microsoft IT and for Microsoft’s customers. The IT Cloud team will also invest in other System Center products such as System Center Operations Manager to more fully automate processes and put power in the hands of their customers.
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