How to Build a Virtual Test Environment for WSUS

So, you want to check out WSUS but don't have a real lab environment for testing? That’s OK - just virtualize. Don’t have virtualizaion software? No problem – trial versions of Virtual PC 2004, Virtual Server 2005, and VMware Workstation 5 are only a download away.

Introduction to Virtualization
Virtual machines enable users to run multiple operating systems concurrently on a single physical server, providing for much more effective utilization of the underlying hardware. Several virtualization software packages exist for the Windows platform. Without question, the two most popular desktop solutions are Microsoft Virtual PC 2004 and VMware Workstation 5. Another product, Microsoft Virtual Server 2005, is optimized to provide this capability on top of Microsoft Windows Server 2003. Given that Microsoft offers a 180-day evaluation of Virtual Server 2005, I will use it as the foundation for the remainder of this article. However, all the concepts should translate to Virtual PC 2004 or VMware Workstation.

Learn About Virtual Server 2005
To learn more about Virtual Server 2005, and how it can be used in a test environment, watch the following free webcast from Microsoft TechNet:
TechNet Webcast: Setting Up a Virtual Test and Development Environment

Evaluate Hardware Requirements
In order to run Virtual Server 2005, you need to meet some minimum hardware requirements. The following requirements are not absolute product minimums; however, they will provide adequate performance for real-world testing. You can load Virtual Server 2005 on your main desktop PC (as long as you run Windows XP Professional) or maybe you have an old server lying around that you can resurrect for testing.

Processor: Pentium III 1GHz minimum
Hard Disk: 40GB available (7200 or 10k RPM drives improve performance)
Memory: 1GB RAM (The more RAM, the more virtual machines)

As an example, a Pentium III, 1GHz desktop system with 1GB RAM can run 3 concurrent virtual machines. One of these machines would be the WSUS server, and the other two could be desktop systems (2000 or XP) or additional server systems (2000 or 2003). You will want to configure the WSUS virtual machine with 256MB RAM and give each of the other images 160MB RAM. This configuration will provide decent virtual machine performance while still allowing your host OS enough RAM to run day-to-day apps such as Outlook, IE, etc. Don't expect "snappy" performance -- but this will work. Obviously, a Pentium 4 or top-shelf AMD processor will help.

Register for Free 180-Day Virtual Server 2005 Trial
Microsoft offers a 180-day free trial of Virtual Server 2005 on its web site. Check the following page for all the details:
Virtual Server 2005 Evaluation Kit

As an added bonus, the Virtual Server 2005 Evaluation Kit also includes a 180-day trial version of Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition. Windows Server 2003 is not required for Virtual Server 2005 (it will run under Windows XP), but it is recommended.

Note: There is a known issue with Virtual Server 2005 running Windows Server 2003 SP1 guest virtual machines. Basically, performance stinks. You have a couple options. First, don’t upgrade your guest virtual machines to SP1 (you can still apply all the pre-SP1 security updates without incident). Second, register for the Virtual Server 2005 SP1 Beta program (link). Virtual Server 2005 SP1 includes code changes to deal with guest machines running Windows Server 2003 SP1. Your third and final choice is to wait until the end of June for Microsoft to release a hotfix for Virtual Server 2005 to fix this issue. You can read more about this issue on Megan Davis’ blog at http://blogs.technet.com/megand, or check the associated Microsoft Knowledge Base article.