Sunday, June 05, 2005

How Microsoft is using Virtual Server

Many of you would like to know how Virtual Server is being used at Microsoft. Here's a response from Jeff Woolsey, Lead Program Manager for virtualization. Thanks Jeff!

Virtual Server is being used in a variety of ways at Microsoft, including for test and development and online training, such as Microsoft Learning.

Test and Development

Virtual Server is used by test teams throughout Microsoft, including Exchange, SQL, SBS, MOM, and many others. This is because Virtual Server allows you to rapidly deploy test servers within virtual machines while minimizing hardware requirements. Also, Virtual Server makes debugging easier. Debugging typically requires that a test computer is attached to a developer’s computer via a serial cable. With Virtual Server there's no need for this. The process is as follows:

  1. Testers reproduce the issue in a virtual machine.
  2. The virtual machine is saved at the point the issue occurs.
  3. The virtual machine is copied to the developer’s computer.
  4. The developer connects the virtual machine to a debugger though a named pipe (a virtual serial port) and debugs the issue in the development environment.

Production Use by Microsoft Learning

In the past year, Microsoft Learning has converted the majority of their online training from scripted Flash-type demos to live interactive training using Virtual Server. They started off slowly and have been ramping up with the increase in demand. Users log in and perform step-by-step interactive training with Virtual Server. On the back end, this is all done using virtual machines and Undo disks. When the customer logs in, an Undo disk is created for the session. When the user finished and logs out, the Undo disk is discarded and immediately the virtual machine is ready for the next user.


Microsoft Learning is servicing more customers than ever. This is a production environment in use everyday: 30,143 attendees in January (972 attendees daily) alone with a 206,390 YTD. Because of the huge success of this program, Microsoft Learning is adding more hardware to increase the number of available labs.

Here are a few of the positive results they’ve seen…

  • The 90-minute lab sessions are the most popular.
  • Lab session use has gone up.
  • Time spent in the lab has gone up (averaging 75 minutes per lab now).
  • Customer satisfaction is up (way up!).

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