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October 1, 2008

Virtual Computing: Prepare for Your Exams with Virtualization


We’ve been discussing the use of Microsoft Virtualization applications to assist us in preparing for our certification exams.

Specifically, these applications are Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 and Microsoft Virtual Server 2005.

We explored the use of Virtual PC 2007 in my last article, and will be putting the emphasis on Virtual Server 2005 in this article.

I feel it’s important to state, once again, the focus of these articles. The objective here is to raise awareness that these applications exist, and can be used as effective and resourceful tools to prepare us for certification exams.

I am going to be staying strictly within the boundaries of that scope. As I was preparing this article, I had to be diligent in this, because it was too easy for me to wonder down a path of detail that lost the focus. Believe me … that was a challenge.

My inclination is to teach as much as I can, and often I digress to the point of over-saturation. Therefore, I want to strongly recommend the video training by Train Signal on Microsoft Virtualization.

This CBT is very thorough and complete in its detail and training. If I were to attempt to cover all the important points that are taught in that training, it would take, probably, 25 different articles.

My focus is, specifically, how to use these applications in a practical manner to assist in preparation for your certification exams. Therefore, it’s likely that you may have questions that won’t be answered. I‘ve used the Train Signal virtualization training
on this subject, and assure you that any of those unanswered questions are most likely dealt with in the CBT. I continue to use it today.

If you haven’t already read the previous two articles that focused on an introduction to Virtualization and Microsoft Virtual PC 2007, please select the following links to read them first:

Virtually a Reality — Virtualization in the IT World

Virtual Computing: Best Tools for Certification Preparation

Microsoft Virtual Server 2005

For those of you that have read the first two parts, let’s move onto the next phase of this discussion — Microsoft Virtual Server 2005.

If you’re ready and comfortable, then you can download a free version of this application from the Microsoft TechNet site: Microsoft Virtual Server 2005.

The perspective that we’re looking at this application from is how to set up a closed, isolated Virtual Network, complete with its own Domain Controller, DHCP Server and DNS Server, as well as any number of workstations.

As discussed in the last article, always remember that the resources available to these Virtual Machines (VMs) are entirely dependent upon the resources that are on your Host PC. This was discussed in more detail in the last article, so I won’t repeat myself here.

Suffice it to say, if you only have 2GB of RAM on your host PC, then you’re probably limited to 2 VMs running simultaneously on your host PC. But, in addition to the guidelines that were used for Virtual PC 2007, we also need to be aware of the demands on the host PC’s CPU while running Virtual Server 2005. If you have a Virtual Network (VN) running on your host PC, with 5 different VM’s … you need to take steps to ensure your host PC doesn’t crash because the CPU is over-burdened.

In my own experience with this process, that was probably the trickiest point to get my hands around. Again, this subject is covered in more detail in the video training I’ve already referenced above, so I won’t get bogged down on this point. Please, just be aware of it.

Utilizing Virtual Server 2005 in the Real World

While our attention is toward certification, let me give you a real-world scenario that may find it practical to use Virtual Server 2005.

Suppose you are a business owner, with 8 employees on staff. Your company is into internet marketing. Rather than paying a monthly fee to a web hosting company, and relying on their servers, you want to make an investment into maintaining more control over your own web site. Unfortunately, your current budget only allows you to buy one server, while maintaining a dedicated T1 line into your building.

A practical application of Virtual Server 2005 would be to install it on a buffed-out workstation that has multiple processors running a 64-bit Operating System (thus allowing for the utilization of more than 4GB of RAM on that machine). You could then install a dedicated Web Server within your Virtual Server 2005, isolating your website from the rest of your network, and protecting the rest of your resources from potential hacking.

This is a very simplified description, but it gives you an idea of the potential of this application.

Virtual Server 2005 is just that … an application designed for the purpose of running Virtual Servers on a machine. The merits of making such a decision are best discussed elsewhere, but I just wanted to give you an idea, or reference point to think about this from.

The Virtual Server in Action

Let’s take a look at what the application looks like once it is installed on your PC. Below is a picture of the Virtual Server 2005 Console as it will appear when you open the application.

Virtual Computing: Prepare for Your Exams with Virtualization - 1

By default, it will open up to the Master Status, as listed under the Navigation heading on the left side of the console.

You can see the additional subheadings of Virtual Machines, Virtual Disks, Virtual Networks and Virtual Server.

The right side of the console is similar to the Virtual PC 2007 Console, as depicted in the last article, and lists the various VM’s that have been created within Virtual Server.

You can see if they’re running, how long they’ve been running, as well as the CPU Usage of each respective VM. Also, the right side of the console will change as you select one of the respective options on the left side.

These VM’s and Virtual Hard Disks (VHDs) are created in pretty much the same manner as in Virtual PC 2007.

As first discussed in the article on Virtual PC 2007, this process creates two separate files with the same name base name, which you define at the time of creation. The VM file has an extension of .vmc, and the VHD has an extension of .vhd.

A major difference is the listing of the CPU Usage. This can be important if you find your Virtual Network (VN) bogging down, or more significantly, if you find your host PC getting bogged down.

Creating a Virtual Network

In order to use this application in preparation for some of the certifications like MCSA and MCSE, you’ll want to create a VN.

This is done by selecting the Create option under Virtual Networks, as depicted in the picture below.

Virtual Computing: Prepare for Your Exams with Virtualization - 2

When you select the Create option, the "New Virtual Network" Network Properties box appears to the right.

Virtual Computing: Prepare for Your Exams with Virtualization - 3

Here, you’ll assign the Virtual Network Name at the top. Just below that is an important designation I want to spend a few minutes on … Network adapter on physical computer.

By default, the "None (Guests Only)" option fills the selection box. For our purposes in setting up a VN to use in preparation for certification, this is exactly what we want.

But, considering that scenario described earlier, if you were actually setting up a Web Server in a Virtual Server environment, you would want to associate the Network Adapter to your actual physical adapter installed on your host PC. This will allow contact with the outside world.

As the "None (Guests Only)" implies, it is a closed, isolated network that is accessible by only the Guest systems, or the VM’s within Virtual Server.

Also, note the Disconnected Virtual Network Adapters. Any VM’s that have been created, but not yet joined to a VN, you can check the "connected" hot box and essentially join them all to that VN at the time you create it.

I would like to point out another important factor as it applies to your closed, isolated VN. When you roll your mouse over the Configure option, under Virtual Networks, you’ll see a listing of all the networks within Virtual Servers, as shown in the screenshot below.

Virtual Computing: Prepare for Your Exams with Virtualization - 4

In this picture, you can see two External Networks, one Internal Network (created by Virtual Server 2005) and another called Trip Enterprises (which I created for my own studies and preparation).

It’s the last two I want to take a look at. The following two screenshots are of the Internal Network, and Trip Enterprises, respectively.

The point I want to highlight will be defined by the settings listed at the bottom right side of each network, designated by DHCP Server.

Virtual Computing: Prepare for Your Exams with Virtualization - 5

Please note that Internal Network in the above image indicates, to the right of DHCP Server, that "the virtual DHCP server is enabled."

This is because Virtual Server 2005 installs a Virtual DHCP server by default, associated with this internal network. This allows you to set up a network without actually having to install a DHCP server in a VM.

Virtual Computing: Prepare for Your Exams with Virtualization - 6

Now if you look at the DHCP Server description for Trip Enterprises above, it shows that "the virtual DHCP server is disabled."

I’m including this picture to demonstrate that you have the ability to turn off the Virtual DHCP server that is installed with Virtual Server 2005, which is what I did.

Because if you go back up to the first picture I included, which shows the Master Status of the Virtual Server Console, you’ll see that one of the VMs in my network is specifically a DHCP server. I did this explicitly for the purpose of learning how to set up a DHCP Server.

Keeping in mind that we are focusing on preparing for certifications, part of the objectives for MCSE is the set up and management of DHCP servers. Therefore, I used this application to do just that.

Practical Application for Certification

Let us now explore the more practical application to our studies and preparations for MCSA and MCSE certifications, as well as gaining excellent real-time and real world practice and experience in a network environment.

To demonstrate that, let’s look a little deeper at what I did myself. Looking back at the Virtual Server Console picture below, you see that I have a network that includes two servers, and 4 workstations.

Virtual Computing: Prepare for Your Exams with Virtualization - 1

One workstation is Vista Ultimate and the others are Windows XP Pro. In reality, I seldom run them all simultaneously. This is because the demand on my RAM and CPU resources actually does bog down my host PC as well as the guest VMs.

I do run both the servers, because one is a Domain Controller and DNS Server, while the other is my DHCP server. When I was setting up the DHCP server, I had to designate the scope of internal IP address that it assigns to the respective workstations as they authenticate and log onto the domain that I created.

Now … here is my point.

Just reading through the description above … you can see how "real world" this gets.

Although the network is closed and isolated, it is a real, living, dynamic Domain. I had to set up Active Directory on the Domain Controller, and in a real-time network experience I manage User and Computer accounts, Group Policy Objects which I apply at the Domain and Group levels.

With some users that I created, I was able to push out a controlled, mandatory profile. With others, I am able to log onto the different workstations with their Roaming profiles, and get the changes to the desktop made on a different machine … just like in a real world environment.

And when I forgot a password, and locked one of the users out of the Domain, I used Active Directory to reset the password. These are just some of the experiences I’ve had in this Virtual Network.

As I went through the Test Preparation software and CBT’s that I’ve used, I was able to isolate the test objectives for the respective exams, and focus on the areas that I needed better understanding of.

This Virtual Computing is truly amazing, especially when we apply the technology to our studies toward certification.

I honestly don’t know what I would have done without it.

About the Author

(MCP, MCDST, A+, Network+, Security+) currently works as a Contractor Associate for a Computer Services company whose main focus is the small and medium business community in Albuquerque. He’s also working on a motion picture project called Damascus Road, of which he authored the screenplay, published a novel and released a soundtrack CD. Louis is a multitalented individual — an IT professional, a writer and a musician. Louis became a writer for Train Signal Training after winnning the Grand Prize in our Words for Training Contest.