Do you have a demand for testing hardware to support new projects and updates? A virtual test lab could fit the bill.
Are you frustrated because your IT staffers are constantly demanding hardware for testing—hardware that you don’t have in your budget? Then you’re dealing with a problem that’s probably as old as IT itself.
Everybody talks about virtualization for datacenters, but what about virtualization for IT labs and development environments? Virtualization provides a significant degree of efficiency, flexibility and cost savings. It also reduces the friction between IT professionals and business unit leaders when the subject is additional funding for dedicated lab or development infrastructure.
Hardware is often purchased when there’s plenty of unused hardware still available. This is expensive and time-consuming for everyone involved. Another disadvantage is that you can’t move or transfer hardware or the tools and applications running on a particular dekstop or laptop, so there’s limited flexibility with that approach.
Another possibility for establishing a testing or development platform is to use laptop hardware with Virtual Server or Hyper-V installed. This is more flexible for moving the lab around to customers, but has many disadvantages as well:
You need a highly flexible, centralized lab infrastructure that everyone can use with the least amount of administrative effort. You don’t want to require staff dedicated to running the lab environment. Any virtual infrastructure has to include all needed components for self-service, without the need for technical or organizational routine tasks.
One of the more effective virtual solutions for developing and maintaining a virtual lab setting is built around a central infrastructure of Hyper-V hosts grouped by Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) and running VMM Self Service Portal 2.0 on top. This is what we used to set up our virtual test lab. The technologies include:
Two Hyper-V hosts have a minimum of two physical network adapters each (see Figure 1). One network adapter is connected to the corporate network. A second adapter serves the internal IT lab network, which is isolated from the production network. Both hosts are members of a VMM host group.
Figure 1 The physical base infrastructure of a virtual lab environment.
A third physical machine (that doesn’t even have to be that powerful) runs VMM and SQL Server 2008 R2, and hosts the Web server for the VMM Self Service Portal.
Inside the virtual IT lab, we built a minimum core infrastructure. This consists of an Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) domain controller (DC) that also acts as the WSUS server for the internal environment. There’s also a virtual SQL Server 2008 R2 two-node cluster and a VM acting as Forefront TMG 2010.
This virtual base infrastructure is convenient for someone who needs to create new VMs and wants them to join an existing domain without worrying about Windows Updates, installing Active Directory or installing SQL Server. It receives Windows Updates via the virtual WSUS server. There’s a domain policy in the virtual domain that configures all domain-joined machines to use this WSUS server automatically. The Forefront TMG 2010 server provides access to the Internet from the isolated internal network via the corporate network.
There’s a lengthy but straightforward list of initial tasks required to set up the lab:
There are some other preparation steps as well. You’ll have to prepare Sysprepped images for each type of VM you want to provide your users in the VMM Library (this is initially the most time-consuming part of the solution). Microsoft provides images for Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2.
There are different ways to do this step: One is to set up a VM with the base OS and run Sysprep from the VMM console. This basically prepares the image with Sysprep and moves it as a template to your VMM installation library. If you need to do a manual Sysprep within your VM, you can manually add the Sysprepped images as VM Templates to the VMM library.
You’ll also need to predefine hardware profiles for the VMs and configure them to use the virtual network. This is separate from the corporate network. You can also add additional software shares (for installing additional software on the VMs) to the library. You can allow access for your users with their corporate user accounts to these library parts, so these items are available in the Self Service Portal.
Configure a basic structure for the Self Service Portal in the form of a business unit, infrastructure, service and service roles. Here you have the flexibility to create a structure that’s the most useful one for your requirements.
The hierarchy in our solution looks like this:
This is just a simple setup for a basic separation of two different environments. One environment is for Microsoft services employees to create testing scenarios. The other is for Microsoft salespeople to create product demonstrations.
There are a variety of optional steps you can take to add additional features, depending on your needs:
This is only a sample configuration, done according to one organization’s requirements. You need to identify and address your needs and the capabilities of your underlying virtualization hardware.
The images in Figures 2, 3,4 and 5 should give you an impression of how the solution looks in real life.
Figure 2 A sample console view of the Self Service Portal with several VMs.
Figure 3 The standard form for creating a new VM with the VMM Self Service Portal.
Figure 4 A sample overview of configured infrastructures.
Figure 5 A sample overview of requests submitted through the Self Service Portal.
Using this solution to maintain a testing and development lab helps us with a lot of tasks. It also aids in decreasing the budget spent for hardware, as we use available hardware much more efficiently.
One of the really cool facts about our implementation is that we can access it from anywhere. We use the Direct Access Infrastructure of the Microsoft corporate network without needing a VPN connection.
We’re now working on extending this “basic private cloud” to the “premium version.” Microsoft Consulting Services has built a solution called “Datacenter Services Solution,” which provides extended workflows and the highest level of automated provisioning (utilizing System Center “Opalis,” System Center Configuration Manager, System Center VMM, System Center Operations Manager and a customizable Web portal). It also uses multinode clustering, and automated host patching provides high availability.
Thomas Vater joined Microsoft nearly 10 years ago and works as a senior consultant, focusing on infrastructure technologies for virtualization, identity and security. He holds a Microsoft Certified Master for Windows Server 2008 R2, Directory.
Andreas Rynes began his IT career at Microsoft as a software development consultant for .NET, SQL Server and BizTalk projects. He’s currently a solution architect responsible for datacenters and virtualization, where he focuses on Infrastructure as a Service and System Center projects.