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Setting Up Windows Server 2008 VMWare Virtual Machines For .Net Development

Posted by Keith Elder | Posted in .Net, PC Software, Visual Studio, Windows | Posted on 30-06-2008

The Freedom of Virtualization

For awhile now I have been enjoying the freedom of developing with virtual machines.  The biggest advantage it has given me lately is the freedom to do whatever I want to the laptop I use as a workstation.  What I mean by that is I don’t even blink twice if I want to try a new operating system anymore.  Maybe I want to run a version of Debian Linux or Ubuntu to keep my Unix skills polished up.   Or maybe I want to try running a 64bit version of Windows Server as my main operating system to see if all of my hardware works.  To consider doing this previously without virtualization would be almost unthinkable because of the amount of time it would take to get everything back up and running. 

All of this freedom of choice is made possible through virtualization, specifically with VMWare Workstation.  VMware runs on a variety of operating systems including Windows, Linux and Mac.  Once my operating system is installed along with the needed vitalization tools I can literally go back to work by just starting up a virtual machine where all of my tools are stored.  Compared to setting up a full blown development machine this is huge.  Not only that but virtualization allows developers like myself to try out alphas, CTPs, betas and more without harming the main development operating system.  This ability to test software is made possible through cloning and what is called snapshots within VMWare. 

I’m writing this article about virtualization for two reasons.  One because I’ve spent a lot of time tweaking my setup and I wanted to document it.  And two, I know there are others that can benefit from this information as well.  In this article I’m going to cover setting up a VM (virtual machine) from scratch.  Then how to configure the operating system specifically for development in VMWare.  The purpose of this setup is to configure Windows Server 2008 as a development platform using VMWare.  Let’s get going!

Creating Your Base Virtual Machine

When starting from scratch I always create what I call a base virtual machine (VM).  This VM serves as my base image for all of my needs and will be re-used for various setups.  There are few things you need to keep in mind when you create a base image.  I’ll mark these as we go along in the screen shots below.  For posterity sakes, note that I’m using VMWare Workstation 6. 

Once VMWare Workstation is installed click File->New Virtual Machine.

image

image

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Although VMWare supports Server 2008 as “experimental” I’ve found that choosing Windows Vista works just as well.  Once 2008 support is fully supported in a future release of Workstation this will not be hard to change.

image

You’ll notice below that I’m storing this VM on the F:\ drive not the C:\ drive.  To really get performance out of your virtual machines you need to separate them onto a different spindle or disk.  I use an external Western Digital 500GB MyBook which has a 7200RPM hard drive.  When I travel I sync my virtual machines with my portable 250GB passport drive.  This allows me to use a faster disk when I’m in the office which provides more speed and also provides a backup of the virtual machines. 

image

image

I have 4GBs of memory in my laptop of which 3.3GB is really accessible.  While I could give the VM 2GB of memory, I find that sticking between 1-1.5GB of memory seems to be the sweet spot.  If you use too much it slows the host machine down.

image

For networking I use bridge networking for some VMs and NAT for others.  As you’ll see later on I will create two different setups from this base image.  One will be for work, the other for presentations and speaking.  For work I use a bridge network since this allows me to separate the VPN connection from my host machine completely.  While I’m at home this allows me to access my local area network from my host machine (printers, home server, file storage, backups, etc).  For the other VM I use NAT.

image

Doing some reading and research the LSI Logic I/O adapter is supposedly the faster choice for SCSI adapters.

image

image

image

Disk capacity is something you really need to think about before setting this option.  I made the mistake of setting up a complete VM environment only to realize I needed more space.  While virtual machines can be resized using the disk manager utility, they cannot be resized if there are clones or snapshots tied to the VM.  For me this meant I had to blow away a lot of my work and go back to my base images (which is another reason why I do full cloning to start with as you’ll see later on). 

You’ll notice I didn’t choose “Allocate all disk space now”.  Essentially what this does is it reserves all of your hard drive space for your VM.  Think of it like formatting your VM image files.  As noted there is a performance gain.  However, this also means you are going to take up as much disk space as you enter in the field below.  In my case if this was checked, I’d eat up 50GB of disk space on the drive.  Not fun, especially when cloning full images (50GB + 50GB + 50GB).  Thus I do not check this option. I do however split the files into 2GB files.  The main reason is for defragmentation.  If you have one large image file you need twice the amount of space to defrag it.  With 2GB files you’ll only need an additional 2GB of space.

image

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That’s my notes or tips for setting up a base virtual machine.  After the virtual machine is setup be sure to check your settings and configure your monitors and other peripherals.

Setting Up Windows Server 2008 for VMWare Workstation

Once you get your settings tweaked launch the VM and get the Windows startup started.  I like using server as my development operating system (OS) because it is tuned for speed unlike Vista.  There is a big difference in developing on Vista and Server 2008.  Even comparing XP and Server 2003 there was a huge speed difference.  A lot of things are turned off in server that are enabled in Vista and this is what contributes to its speed.  This setup will walk through how to configure Server as a workstation along with some specific VMWare things you need to do as well. 

image

Once the operating system is installed, follow these simple steps to prepare the image.

Step 1 – Tools

The very first thing you need to do after the OS boots up is install VMWare Tools.  This will provide drivers for the OS to run smoother and help you keep your sanity.  Things like the mouse jumping around randomly for no apparent reason will be fixed once this is installed.  After installed, reboot.

Step 2 – Updates

Check for updates.  This is pretty much something you need to do on any operating system you install.   Install the updates and reboot. Note: at the time of this article there are 9 updates for Server 2008.

image

Step 3 – Time Zone

 

Using the “Initial Configuration Tasks” screen which should be on the screen after the reboot there are a few things you need to do.  For starters check your time zone.  Review the other options while you are in there and make sure your computer name is setup the way you want and other things.

image

Step 4 – Shutdown Tracker

If you are familiar with Server you know it annoyingly asks you why it was restarted after it reboots.  While this might be handy for *real* servers for a workstation used for development it is just annoying.  To disable this open Start->Run->gpedit.msc.  Find the “Display Shutdown Event Tracker” as shown below, right click properties and disable it. 
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Step 5 – IE Security

In order to use Server 2008 as a workstation within your VM you will need to remove the baked in security settings for IE.  From within Server Manager as show here select “Configure IE ESC”.

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Set both settings to OFF.

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Reboot.

Step 6 – Features

Within Server Manager you will also need to enable all the features you want. 

image

Here are the options I enable since I know this image is going to be primarily used for .Net development.

  • .NET Framework 3.0
  • Desktop Experience – This includes eye candy features from Vista as well as allows you to support the Vista Themes (we’ll enable this later on).
  • Remote Assistance
  • Powershell
  • Windows Process Activation Service

In the next screen you’ll be asked to configure IIS.  I always select a  minimal setup but feel free to select what you know you will need.

image

Restart to complete installation.

Step 7 – Roles

In order to get fast file searching and other features you’ll need to turn on the role for File Services as shown here.

image

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Since this is running in a VM depending on your usage you *could* leave this off.  I am basically going to be working day in and day out from this image so having the ability to search and find emails and files quickly is important.

Step 7 – Registry Settings (optional)

Open the registry editor by doing Start->Run->regedit

Add the following keys:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management\PrefetchParameters

Add a new DWORD by the name of EnablePrefetcher and assign is the value of 3
Add a new DWORD by the name of EnableSuperfetch and assign is the value of 3

image

What does this do?  It enables Windows to learn which programs you use so it can pre-load those applications before you run then.  It is a feature that was added in Vista.  You can also skip this step if you feel there is no value in this feature but it is *suppose* to speed things up down the road.

Step 8 – Services

There are several services we need to enable to get Server 2008 to behave more like a workstation.  These are disabled by default.

Within Server Manager select Configuration->Services.  Or you can do Start->Run-Services.msc. 

Enable the following services:

  1. Themes
  2. SuperFetch (only if you enabled the registry setting above)
  3. Windows Audio
  4. Windows Audio Endpoint Builder

Step 9 (optional) – Make it pretty

Totally optional and something you may or may not want to enable since this is running in a VM.  I’ve found that things are still pretty snappy but you may want to see how your mileage varies.  Right click on the desktop and select Theme.  Choose the Vista Theme in the drop down to get a Vista look and feel for your virtual machine.

Before:

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After:

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Step 10 – Setup Sound

When you install Server 2008 you’ll notice that sound doesn’t work.  Vista does the same thing so this will work in either case.  In order to get sound to work you have to install the Creative Labs PCI sound driver.  It is a pita to find so I am attaching it to this article so I can easily find it down the road as well as to ease your setup pains.

Download Sound Driver: Create Labs Driver

Step 11 – Activate Windows

We are going to be in the control panel tweaking some things next.  While we are here, go ahead and activate Windows.  Nothing is worse than forgetting to do this, then having to do it on every clone or snapshot down the line as you build up your VMs.

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Note:  If you are using a MSDN License, you will get a DNS error code while trying to activate after installing Windows.  This is because you need to change the product key and enter your *real* product key.

Step 12 – Performance Settings

Adjust the processor scheduling which is in Control Panel->System->Advanced Settings->Advanced.

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In the next tab, turn on DEP.

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Step 13 – Defragment

In order to make this the fastest VM we can, we need to defrag the drive.  Defragmenting the VM is the key to keeping things fast. 

 image

After I install a big product like Office, or Visual Studio I defrag the drive.  Also remember to defrag the drive the virtual machine is running from!  The more you defrag, the more performance you’ll get out of your VMs.

Step 14 – VM Optimizations

I’m not a VMWare expert but there are a few things I have found out that work well.  For one since I/O is important because the VMs will be run from an external drive, I disable page sharing.  Add this line to your .VMX configuration file.

sched.mem.pshare.enable = “FALSE”

Another option is memory trimming which doesn’t eat up host memory and then give it back when it needs it.

MemTrimRate = 0

Step 15 – Setup Your User Account

We’ve been logged into the VM as Administrator up until this point.  We need to create an account that we will use to login with and do work.  We want to create this account now because we want to set our desktop settings once and then each VM we clone from this base image we’ll already have everything setup.  Create your account in the control panel, I suggest setting the account as an administrator.  Once the account is created, log out of the administrator account and then setup that account.

Step 16 – Shrink Disk

Before moving forward we need to shrink our VM disk.  This reclaims unused space on the drive.  Note, we cannot shrink a disk if it has been cloned or has a snapshot.  We also can’t shrink a disk that has been pre-allocated.  If you followed the steps up to this point, none of this should be a concern.  There are several steps.  The first is VMWare tools prepares the image and then the second is where Workstation performs the actual shrinking.  Remember to defrag everything first!

To shrink the disk go into Control Panel->VMWare Tools.  Select the shrink tab and press the “Prepare to shrink” button.  Then wait.

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Once this process finishes you will be prompted with this dialog.  Click yes to begin the process.

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At this point we have a clean VM image to build other virtual machines from.  It has all the updates applied to it, is configured for workstation use, is defragged and has been shrunk.  The only thing in this virtual machine is the operating system.  This is what I call the base image.  Note:  My base image is 6.1GB after it has been shrunk.

Step 17 – Create Full Clone

Now that you have this image setup.  Create a full clone of it.  Using the clone, add your development tools like Visual Studio, SQL Server, etc.

UPnP Tip

If you are running Server 2008 on a private network and want to connect to UPnP devices and see them via network discovery then see this post which enables that.

 

Strategy For Cloning Virtual Machines

Once I get through the process above I split this base image off into two full clones.  It takes a long time to get this base image setup thus it isn’t something one wants to repeat often.  By using  a feature of VMWare Workstation called cloning we can create an exact clone of this base image to build other images. 

What I do is create two full clones of this base image.  I use one for work since it has to be bound to the domain.  The other I use for installing various pieces of software for personal use and for speaking engagements. 

For the VM at work I create one called work base.  This image will serve as my base image that I will install VPN software, Office 2007 and a few other utilities needed for work.  Once I get this image setup I create another clone of it that is a linked clone.  In this clone I install all of my development tools.  This gives me a hard restore / starting point where I can install or test software without development tools.  The reason I do all of this is it allows me to go back to points in time and try something different out without having to build everything from scratch.  For example let’s say a new version of Visual Studio comes out I need to test or something like that.  To play with that type of software it is important to start from a fairly clean machine.  Here is a chart I put together to show how I layout my virtual machines.

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You’ll notice there are no snapshots listed above (another feature VMWare supports).  Snapshots are really meant for temporary use, not to run for long periods of time.  This setup gives me really good flexibility.  At least to the point to where I haven’t needed to alter it much at all.  That’s pretty much it.  Once this setup is done I don’t touch the “Server Base” image except to start it up occasionally to apply updates.  The only thing I use it for moving forward is for cloning so I have an optimized image to start with no matter the scenario.

I hope this helps someone out.  I know I wish I’d had something like this to refer to when I started out playing with virtualization images for development.  As I find new tricks or things I’m sure I’ll update this over time thus I consider this article a moving target.  One thing that is for sure is the way you do things today will not be the way you do things tomorrow.  If you haven’t explored virtualizing your development give it a try.  Here are some Words of Wisdom ‘ll leave you with:

“When you virtualize your development or main body of work, it doesn’t matter which operating system you run to host it.” – The Elder

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  • jimlawhead

    Great stuff.  I am trying to setup a Windows Server 2008 Domain as opposed to creating the Server 2008 as a Workgroup Server.  It this possible?

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  • Imran

    Hi, Can anyone help me, i am trying but getting error “Operating system not found”, although i have followed the same step but i m using VM6.5 and winxp and MAC alrady running in virtual envirotment, but win 2008 R2 not able to installed. Pls. help

  • Abhijit_kiit

    very nicely explain here

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    Thanks for the superb information with images that makes it more powerful to understand. Only those who have registered for full windows MSDN key can make their own server.

  • Parkhe Nana

    This is very helpful artical . I was wondering that there is no option for Windows server 2008 in OS .Due this artical i got that we can install windows server 2008 as well as win 7 OS on VMware using vista option.

    Regards
    Nana Parkhe

  • Ravi

    It is very help for me..

  • Zek

    It’s a great help to my windows server 2008 module in school works.
    good job!

    more tuts pls… :)

  • John

    Do you not need to activate each clone’s  windows server 2008 licence? Can you work with multiple copies with one licence?

  • Manoj

    Very very helpfull info…. need little help here …… installed virtual server 2008 r2 and virtual windows 7 64bit  in my computer(Host). What network connection should I use between Host machine and virtual machines .

    Also created a domain in virtual server2008 and trying to connect virtual win 7 with dat domain but keep getting network path not found… both machine can ping.

    At the moment using bridge connection between Host and 2 virtual machines but when i enable DHCP on virtual 2008 server it disconnects from Host machine

    I am kind of stuck here nt sure wt i m doing wrong…………

  • Adamskijl

    Great article!

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  • marjanne

    Thank you so much for this article, it helped me a lot!!!

  • http://www.ceattyres.in/ Anonymous

    That is really very good article. I am glad to know. Thanks!

  • http://www.zitrooone.com/ Anonymous

    Good post, but have you thought about .Net Development before?

  • Anonymous

    Hi Keith,

    Your article is very helpful for VM newbies like me.

    I’ve followed your steps very closely. However, I just noticed that the cloned W2008 VMs on my desktop PC need to be activated (otherwise they’ll expire in 3 days).

    I wonder how you handle this problem. Or I shouldn’t get this activation problem?

    Best regards.

    David Fan

  • http://www.tucloud.com/ Anonymous

    Thats amazing, I found Freedom of Virtualization is something better than others.

  • http://www.tucloud.com/ Anonymous

    Whenever, i saw your blog really i knew VMWare Virtual Machines related new information.

  • http://www.tucloud.com/ Anonymous

    Good post, but have you thought about Virtual Machines before?

  • http://www.keithelder.net/ Anonymous

    i wan’t to setup the windows 2008 server for internet shareing can some budy suggest my how can i do this……………..

  • http://www.webtrafficroi.com/ Anonymous

    A standing complaint about Windows Server is its resource footprint. Those in IT just take as rote that it requires lots of memory, lots of CPU, and lots of disk to put any substantial services on the air with Windows Server 2003. I think it’s safe to say that the typical x86 rack server’s characteristics reflect the requirements of Windows Server. Microsoft’s big OS has always been designed under the presumption that it will have a full physical server to itself.

  • Anonymous

    Keith,

    Maybe my first question had too many words. I should have asked; After completing step 16 above, is it possible to fix the amount of disk space, in turn, improving performance for that VM?

    Never mind :P

  • http://keithelder.net/blog/Default.aspx Anonymous

    @Jesse

    1. I’m not sure you understood what I did. The VM is allocated to hold 50GB, but that doesn’t mean that much disk space is used at all.

    2. I haven’t used XP in years. Maybe someone else will chime in.

    -Keith

  • Anonymous

    I added sysprep to the routine so you get noce clean images :)

  • Anonymous

    Keith,

    Thanks for the post. This is a great tool for people starting out with virtualization and preventing attempts at reinventing the wheel. I have several questions that I will attempt to organize here so that hopefully I can learn more.

    1) When you created your Server Base image you did not allocate all the disk space, which, as you mentioned (50GB+50GB…) is a waste of space when cloning. Later you shrunk the Server Base VM to 6.1GB. What I am wondering is; after creating your “Server Base (work)” clone, are you able to allocate disk space to that VM? If so, would the said performance value of allocating disk space be returned to that VM, and what are the future consequences (linked cloning) of doing so?
    2) The Performance Best Practices and Benchmarking Guidelines from VMware highlight many XP tweaks, however there are some others that are not addressed in as much detail as I expected. For example, the processor performance settings, accessed by right clicking on: My Computer>Advanced Tab>Performance Settings button>Advanced Tab. Here you find Processor scheduling (programs vs. background services), Memory usage (programs vs. system cache), Virtual Memory (page file size). These are not addressed specifically in the Performance manual. Do you, or anyone else, have any recommendations in regard to these settings or any other XP tweaks?

    Best Regards,

    Jesse

  • Anonymous

    Hi

    Has anyone managed to get Server 2008 as host OS (my laptop has vista on it and dual booting to server 2003 was a pain) so i chose to partition and use Server 2008

    Server 2008 boots up ok and vmware 6.5 sort of works in that i can install an OS – but when I want to run something like a database client on vm with database on host I get issues (done the naming stuff/etc) and can ping host from client and client from host but not much else – tried all the netwok connection variants (host/bridged/etc)

    Any ideas

  • http://blog.evonet.com.au/ Anonymous

    Keith,

    Fantastic post – I’ve been building a number of web servers for .NET development with SQL 2008 and your document has helped greatly in setting up the virtualisation.

    I wrote a tutorial on how to install SQL Server 2008 and set it up for .NET websites here: http://blog.evonet.com.au/post/2008/08/24/Setting-up-SQL-Server-2008-for-an-ASPNET-website-on-IIS-70.aspx

    Cheers,
    Bartek

  • Anonymous

    David:

    My secrets are secret no longer!

    The only thing that still amazes me is that so many management-types still don’t see the advantages of doing development in VMs.

    Good post.

    Josh

  • http://www.opgenorth.net/ Anonymous

    @David
    I’ve been running VM’s on USB2 drives for almost a year now. I don’t find it that bad, performance wise

  • Anonymous

    I rebuilt with Windows Server 2003 profile, and SQL installed ok.

  • http://keithelder.net/blog/ Anonymous

    @Donal

    I’ve installed SQL Server 2005 on it but not 2008.

  • Anonymous

    Did you try to get MS SQL installed on top of this? I tried (but using server 2008 experimental) and was unable to.
    SQL 2995 complained of compataility issues for both hardware somethine else I can’t remember. When it got to the component selection dialog, all the server options are grayed out.
    I am now trying by selecting windows server 2003 as the base OS, but installing server 2008.

  • http://keithelder.net/ Anonymous

    Hi David,

    The drives I am using are USB 2.0. The thing is that it isn’t transferring data from the external drive to the computer it is plugged into. I’ve watched the lights on my notebook and the external drive and rarely does my notebook hard drive do much churning.

    I didn’t believe it either when I first heard about it awhile back but it does work!

  • http://www.davidedmiston.com/blog/ Anonymous

    Great article and I think I may end up trying this out with an evaluation copy of VMWare, just to see how I get along with it.

    One thing I’m curious about though — are those external drives you’re using for your virtual machines connected on USB or Firewire? Even USB2 seems like it would be a little sluggish for that…

  • http://www.opgenorth.net/ Anonymous

    Nice post.

    One other thing to mention: don’t try to “downgrade” your VM image to a VMware 5 image. I did so, and I lost the VMware network card (for good). After talking to VMware tech support, it turns out that Win2K8/Vista aren’t official supported on VMware Workstation 5, and I was SOL. Had to rebuild my image from scratch.

  • http://www.rachelappel.com/ Anonymous

    Keith,

    Great stuff! With more devs getting into virtualization this will be helpful to the masses. I can definitely use those settings for optimization too.

    <hint>Might this topic show up in your podcast soon?<hint/>

    -Rach