In the evolving interlude of fast processors and the increased size of volatile memory (RAM) and the amplified concentration and vast sizes of hard disk storage the trends point to greater power systems than ever before. However server computers still cost a premium and are not easily approved for testing and DR purposes. This has given rise to the virtual PC era.
When the terminal computing phase of IT phased out, stand alone machines and micro computing server technologies boomed, and with this explosion many personal computers landed on people’s desks and sever computers in server rooms. These computers have been installed with many services and applications and often form part of an organizations critical information technology operation. With this in mind consolidation becomes a thought. One server running virtual PC with the correct configuration can be installed to consolidate and replace many computers, and could in effect simulate your entire active directory. This type of installation not only requires extensive planning but many hours of testing and configuration. Once an optimal system has been created and is running in a stable form it is recommended that a mirror image be made and coppiced onto an alternate bootable device for recovery purposes.
Possible uses for virtual PC
Test environments require hardware and software per computer that is installed, by using virtual PC you are able to install more than one version of the operating system on one machine running simultaneously as a window within the operating system. You are also able to switch from one operating system to another seamlessly. This solution helps the professional to minimize hardware requirements and consolidates the test solution onto one manageable unit. The configuration of such a server is also effective and the viability of such an operation increases. The virtual machine solution can also be configured to run on a workstation and with the speed of the processors, RAM and hard drives today the system performs comfortably with three servers on one modern workstation. Many IT professionals need to test patches and new software upgrades on systems before applying a critical change. The evidence of this is clear when investigating problems caused by patches that have been written incorrectly or have not been applied in the intended sequence or that react to the custom configuration within a unique environment. If the change is applied without testing the result can be crippling to the organization and this is why it is a good idea to apply the change to the virtual machine first and test for a predetermined duration and have a check list of functionality that the patches will need to pass before the patch is applied to the production environment.
Antivirus software and other more protective security software sometimes if installed on the fly can cause other software on the system to stop functioning. For this reason it is important that any software that is installed is first tested on a test virtual system. Making your production system more robust means that most risks are reduced thorough testing by using virtual systems. New solutions like arbitrary software can be installed on the test system while evaluating. Evaluation software can some times cause problems as it may conflict with software that is already installed or it can leave residual dlls and other files on the machines that cause problems and these are difficult to trace as the software is often removed or deleted and then it is not taken into account when troubleshooting. Installing evaluation software on live systems also breaks all best practice rules. Ever wanted to install software on a machine but been to afraid to because of unknown repercussions? With virtual PC replicating a system over and over is not a problem and this gives the IT professional flexibility and offer peace of mind though the organizations testing is performed “offline”.
The testing side of software installation is often overlooked and only highlighted once the changes have been made. Virtual PC makes the testing process a reality and assists the IT professional in making the testing of all software on the virtual system a viable option.
Honey pots are systems that are installed and positioned in vulnerable locations to deliberately allow intruders to gain access and to lure them away to a system that they perceive to be legitimate operational and live. By using this technique you are able to counter attacks as the intruders are attacking fake systems while the security professional is monitoring the intruder activity. The monitoring must be done in a discrete unconventional manner to avoid detection. You can use virtual PC to create a full network or what looks like a full network on one machine. By crating multiple interfaces on the client windows XP machine that you create you are able to assign multiple IP addresses virtually and this will give the attacker the impression that there are many machines connected together.
Software has been released that creates virtual services and computers on one machine specifically aimed at honeypots so that one machine emulates a few networked machines if you use this software in conjunction with Virtual PC you are able to create an interconnected WAN
Creating honey pots using windows and virtual PC article is being created and will be released soon.
Business continuity environments
Establishing a business continuity strategy is necessary for most security policies and IT and operational business units. These types of systems are most effective when they run concurrently with the live system so that all data is mirrored real time to the disaster recovery site machines. These configuration may require extensive hardware and for this reason you want to design a solution for disaster recovery that is cost effective easy to install and easy to bring up on one piece of hardware. This solution is cost effective as it does not require the demanding hardware specifications required by multiple system installations. It is far more cost effective to purchase a server and bump up its processor RAM and disk space than to buy a multitude of servers.
Some developers develop locally on their systems and sometimes they develop on development environments and some even want to develop live to avoid this risk development environments have been installed. These environments are not cost effective and to reduce TCO virtual PC can be installed on a system that has been highly specified. This opens new door as new systems can be reinstalled in minutes and mounted as different machines.
Installing virtual PC
Before installing virtual PC it is recommended that you backup your files to a remote location other that the machine that you will be installing on. It is also recommended that you cease any jobs applications or other installation processes. If you have previous versions of virtual PC it is recommended that you remove them from the computer. Note that virtual disks may not run on different versions of VPC. IT is recommended that you be at the console when installing virtual PC to avoid reconnection issues cause if you are using remote access when the TCP stack is rebuilt.
When designing a virtual PC system that will be integrated into a live environment it is vital that the network professional ensures that the Host machine resources are appropriately specified. The table below is Microsoft’s recommendation as of the 1st April 2004. Please note that recommendations are tested with specifications and with general environments in mind. What I recommend is that the basic specification be observed and improved upon as some specifications do not specifically cater for unique environments like those found in most organizations. These recommendations are guidelines that should be tested in the lab before going into a live environment. Remember to also allocate appropriate resources to your guest operating system as not doing so will result in your installed operating systems to suffer from low recourses.
Virtual PC supports up to 3.6 GB of RAM per virtual machine, up to a total of 4 GB of RAM on the physical machine.
Host operating system
Windows XP Professional
Windows XP Tablet PC Edition
Windows 2000 Professional
Guest operating system
Windows XP Professional.
Windows XP Home Edition.
Windows 2000 Professional
Windows NT Workstation 4.0,
Service Pack 6 or higher
Windows Millennium Edition.
OS/2 Warp 4 OS/2 Fixpack 15,
OS/2 Warp Convenience Pack 1
OS/2 Warp Convenience Pack 2
To install virtual PC double click the setup icon within the disc or insert the disc and the auto play function will start the installation automatically. Please note that a restart is required after the installation of Virtual PC.
Once you click install the screen above will be presented then click next.
Read the license agreement and then click I accept then click next.
Type in a user and organization and a serial number then ensure that anyone that uses this computer is selected then click next. IF you choose to install the virtual PC for only the user that is logged in be aware that the software will run in the context of the installation. It may be more secure but if it is installed as a user that has restrictive rights then access to certain resources may be denied and settings will not be inherited from profile to profile.
Select the location of where to install your virtual PC then click next remember that you will need to ensure that there is enough space on drive selected. It is recommended that the drive selected be quick and has redundancy be supplied and enabled. This will minimize risk in event of failure.
The virtual PC then takes some time to initialize and install and during this time you will be presented with a status screen that displays the progress of the installation if the bar freezes for a while it is recommended that you wait several minutes as some time initialization take a little while depending on the hardware you are installing the virtual PC on, if this condition persists cancel the installation, restart the machine and restart the installation. Click next to continue.
This screen is then presented next and it will require a restart click on the yes button if you would like the machine to restart, this is recommended.
Virtual PC is not only a great way to test software but also allows the organization to consolidate server environments and amalgamate trivial functions onto one system. The speed of hardware is now reaching new heights and as we read this faster processors and other hardware is being released. Day to day applications and server software typically does not utilize the hardware to its fullest and this affords the IT professional flexibility, and this hardware can be then put to better use. Other non critical environments can now be created with older hardware that has been discontinued and that is no longer supported.