Virtual machines, real users

In late January of this year, I took a trip into central London to visit the Microsoft offices in Cardinal Place, near Victoria station. This was an evening meeting organised by the Microsoft Virtualisation User Group (MVUG) that’s just getting off the ground, and it was the group’s first meeting of the year. Entrance was free and open to all interested parties, and the session ran from around 6pm until some time after 9pm. I didn’t take a head count, but several dozens of people were in attendance.

Virtual machines, real users

The evening was structured around two main talks – one about Hyper-V and the other on application virtualisation. During a break in the middle of the session, there were plenty of refreshments and even hot pizza to quell our rumbling tums. The first presentation was given by my old mate Simon Cleland of the Unisys consulting group, and covered in depth a project the company had just completed, which involved moving Slough Borough Council over onto Hyper-V. This was a no-holds-barred presentation that went into some detail about the pain of the migration and its successful outcome.

Pain? Well, it turns out that – not too surprisingly – the application management tools for Hyper-V are still in a somewhat primitive state, and you can do things with Hyper-V tools that you can’t do in System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM), and vice versa. Although it’s early days for these tools, and hopefully things will improve over the course of this year, it was fascinating to see the real-world results of this project, which is viewed by all sides as a considerable success. The Council’s server count has been slashed, power consumption is much reduced, the manageability of the system has been dramatically improved and its disaster recovery abilities have also been radically strengthened. The Q&A session was worthwhile too, and there was much discussion about how Hyper-V and its management tools seem to make a real dog’s breakfast of the port allocations on multisocket network cards in big servers. Much to learn from this experience, methinks.

The second event was an even deeper session, all about Microsoft’s application virtualisation tools, given by the ever-ebullient Justin Zarb from Microsoft UK. Like Simon, Justin is someone who clearly lives and breathes this technology, and his presentation offered an often amusing insight into the product, its strengths and inevitable foibles. Again, there was much to be learnt from this session.

It was good to see a significant Microsoft staff presence at the event, which allowed the attendees some valuable face-to-face time with Microsoft staff and the other attendees. Running events like this is hard work and takes significant planning and effort, so MVUG is to be congratulated for putting on a most excellent and informative evening. I hope that it does future events up to this same standard, and you can go and register your interest at

Low power servers

Are we going to see a real push this year to reduce the power consumption of servers? I certainly hope so, because I have some monsters in my server room that are 5 or 8U tall, and the lights in my house dim for a second whenever I start them up. It’s becoming increasingly clear that a static power consumption of one kilowatt simply won’t be acceptable in a low-carbon future, even if it does have eight Xeon cores, 32GB RAM and a bunch of hard disks to feed (plus the obligatory double power supplies for failover).

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