Virtual Server 2005: first experiences
After attending TechEd Europe 2005 last week, I decided to give my free copy of Virtual Server 2005 a go on the development server at work. My initial impressions were very good, in fact, the whole system in general works much better than I had expected. I'm not familiar with any of the VMWare server offerings however, so I don't have any reference. What I was expecting though, was a server application to split my machine's resources into a bunch of virtual machines, install operating systems on them and then remotely access those, through remote desktop, filesharing, etc. The general interaction with the virtual machines however works much better: there's a web-based management interface installed on the server, where you can configure all machines (like put an ISO in their virtual diskdrive) and actually connect to them through the virtual server application. This connecting can be done either using a seperate client application or an ActiveX control in the browser (this requires IE though ofcourse). The ActiveX control works just as well as the client and is accessed by clicking on a virtual machine on the management website.
So far so good, I installed Windows XP Pro on my first virtual machine, ran a couple of WindowsUpdate cycles over it, installed the virtual machine additions package (which is similar to the one that comes with Virtual PC 2004) that mainly allows better integration with the mouse (you don't have to switch the mouse from real to virtual machine, it moves around seamlessly). After some very basic configuring I decided to copy this virtual machine to create another that would be used to install betas and ctps on for testing. Copying a virtual machine is simple as well: the .vmc file is an XML file that contains information about the virtual machine, the most important is the path to the accompanying .vhd file, a virtual harddisk. Just make a copy of both these files, change the path to the .vhd file and add the .vmc file to the virtual server using the management interface. The only error I got when booting the copied machine was that the computer's name already exists on the network, which is easily fixed.
After that things went downhill, because this morning I've been trying to install the July CTP of Visual Studio 2005 on it. I downloaded the ISO from MSDN subscriber downloads, put it in the virtual diskdrive and went to My Computer on the virtual machine. The first thing I noticed was that the DVD drive's icon was incorrect, double-clicking it was even stranger:
To which my first instinctive response was to think: "Ofcourse, I know that!", followed by some kind of surprise that it somehow misinterpreted the double-click. Actually just typing in D: in the address bar does display the contents of the disk, so it was not a big deal. The setup.exe and vs_setup.msi then also came up with weird and unexpected errors (the setup.exe does not appear to be a valid win32 executable either and the vs_setup.msi cannot be opened?) After that I figured that the ISO was probably corrupt, but the installer started up fine on my real machine.
So then I tried to copy the data to the virtual machine and then run the installer from a directory on its local disk, since there's probably something wrong (or at least incompatible) with the ISO file. Copying it over the network (from a directory on the machine running Virtual Server) caused the client connection to the virtual machine to close, the copying itself also failed with a cryptic error about a network name no longer being valid). Perhaps there is a normal cause for this since the virtual machine is not part of the domain of the server, although in real-world situations I do this stuff a lot and it normally works. It's a Windows 2003 server though, so perhaps this is some new secure quick timeout scheme.
The last thing I tried was copying the ISO contents from the server to the virtual machine. Unfortunately I'm not sure whether this was successful, because when it started to copy the files (very slowly) the virtual machine client got disconnected again and the remote desktop connection to the server itself as well! I can't restore either connection, so this looks like it ends in a trip to the server room.