Where in the world is VMware Server?

Over at PlanetVM Wil van Antwerpen posted The Future of VMware Server back in May 2010. Wil makes the argument that it seems like VMware is indeed abandoning VMware Server as a product, leaving us with VMware Workstation and VMware Player as the two Windows installable virtualization solutions from the company.

This has caused some reactions, including my own comment, where I question the smartness of abandoning what might just be one of the best virtualization “gateway drugs” VMware has to offer.

In my opinion, abandoning VMware Server would be a bad move, but re-reading the documentation from VMware and thinking more about the consequences this might have made me realize something;

What if VMware is working on a replacement product or management solution?

I seriously doubt VMware would want to abandon the use case that VMware Server has, even if they do indeed abandon the VMware Server product itself. I don’t have any inside knowledge about this, but lets say that VMware is working on a management framework for VMware Player?

Something that you can install, in addition to VMware Player, that lets you set auto-start parameters for VMs, let them run headless and remotely manage them? Wouldn’t that pretty much allow us to do the same with VMware Player, that we today use VMware Server for?

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense.

Using USB Pass-through in vSphere 4.1

Finally USB pass-through is possible on ESX hosts with the new vSphere 4.1 release! This feature ha been available in VMware Workstation/Fusion and Player for quite a while. The freshly added feature in vSphere 4.1 even works if you vMotion the guest from one host to another, which is in itself pretty amazing functionality!

In this post, I’ll show how to setup and use the new USB pass-through feature in vSphere 4.1.

Setting up USB pass-through in vSphere 4.1

First off, we need to add an USB controller to the VM we want the USB pass-through working on. This is done by firing up the vSphere Center Client and right-clicking the VM. Then select Edit Settings

Click on Add and find USB Controller from the list then click Next

Click Next and you’ll be presented with a list of the currently host-connected available USB devices. If none show up, make sure it’s actually connected to the host. If your device is indeed connected, but still not listed in the vSphere Center Client it’s not supported.

In my test setup I have a small APC UPS connected to the host, so I’ll add that to the VM. Also note that this is where you enable vMotion support! Find your device, and click on Next

Review your changes and click on Finish

This will return you to the Edit Settings window. Click on Ok to have the USB controller and device(s) added to your VM.

Connect to your VM and install the drivers, if needed, and you should be able to use your USB device directly inside the VM.

Usage Scenarios

What could you possibly use this new feature to accomplish? Well, for one you could use it to connect your UPS to your management software, without having to install any management software on the host itself. In general I would recommend using UPS vendors that offer direct vCenter integration instead, but for a lab environment this should work out nicely.

Another obvious usage pattern would be to connect USB dongles that some software require, either for security or for licensing purposes.

The one thing that springs to my mind, and one that would probably be the most useful in my environment, is to connect USB HDDs to the host and use those as a backup target for Veeam Backup and Recovery. Being able to directly connect some cheap storage to the host and then connecting it directly into the Veeam Backup and Recovery VM makes it easy to backup/replicate your VMs for manual off-site storage. Kendrick Coleman (kendrickcoleman.com) had the same idea, but unlike him I’ll try to make sure my HDDs are located off-site before the fire starts! :-)

I’m sure that there are other usage scenarios as well, like connecting scanners, cameras and whatnot, I’m just not sure I’d like all sorts of devices connected to my hosts.

Scheduling vCenter Backups

If you run your vCenter on SQL Server Express 2005, you are missing the ability to set up scheduled backup jobs with SQL Maintenance Plans, a feature available in the full version of SQL Server.

This might not be a problem if your backup software has SQL Server agents that you use to backup your vCenter databaser, but in smaller environments or even in your lab, you might not have that kind of backup scheme available to you, so what do you do? Thankfully there are ways of setting up the same kind of scheduled backups in SQL Server Express, without being a SQL Server Guru.

Creating a Backup Script

If you don’t have SQL Server Management Studio Express installed already, download and install it now.
Fire it up and log on with a user that has sufficient permissions to access the vCenter database

Find your vCenter database by expanding Databases and select VIM_VCDB

Right click on VIM_VCDB and select Tasks and then Back Up…

This opens the Back Up Database window, where you set your backup options. Set your options in a manner that fits your environment. You can set options like the backup file location, retention policy etc.

So far, this is all fine and dandy. You can create a manual backup this way, without much hassle. How can we turn that into a scheduled job?
The first bit is to turn your backup options into a SQL script that can be scheduled. You do this by finding the Script drop-down menu on the top of the Backup Database window. Select Script Action to New Query Window.

This opens the script window, where you can see the script and test it to make sure it works as intended.

The next step is to save the generated script, you do so my going to File and select Save … As. I’ve created a folder called c:\scripts\ that I use to store my SQL scripts in, so I’ll save the backup script there as FullBackupVCDB.sql.

Scheduling the Backup Script

Now that we have a working backup script, we need to be able to schedule it to run. As we can’t do that within the SQL Server Management Studio Express application, we need to find another way of scheduling it. Windows Server 2008 R2 (and other versions) include a scheduling tool, and that’s what we’ll use to create our schedule.

On my standard vCenter installation, the SQL Server is installed in the default location of C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft SQL Server\. This means that the actual command we need to schedule will be (be sure to replace the server-/instance-name and script name if your values differ from mine):

“C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft SQL Server\90\Tools\Binn\SQLCMD.EXE” -S [servername]\SQLEXP_VIM -i c:\scripts\FullBackupVCDB.sql

Go to the Control Panel and select Schedule Tasks. Click Create Basic Task, give it a name and set an appropriate schedule.

Select Start a program as the action for the task, and when it asks for Program/Script enter “C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft SQL Server\90\Tools\Binn\SQLCMD.EXE” -S [servername]\SQLEXP_VIM -i c:\scripts\FullBackupVCDB.sql.

Click next and check the box that says Open the Properties dialog for this task when I click Finish then click Finish. In the VCDB Backup properties, make sure the Run whether user is logged on or not option is selected, to make sure the schedule runs as planned.

Once you have verified that the schedule works as intended, make sure that you include the location for your vCenter database in your regular backup scheme, and you should we a lot safer than you were.

That’s it! Scheduled vCenter backups on SQL Server Express 2005.

Thanks to Chris Dearden over at J.F.V.I who helped me out with getting my sqlcmd.exe syntax corrected for the scheduled task!