Creating VM Clones in Microsoft Hyper-V

If you’re a virtual machine freak like me, then you’ve most likely upgraded to Windows 8 Pro already due to its awesome built in Hyper-V client! No longer do you need to install Windows Server 2012 or the standalone hypervisor operating system just to be able to build your virtual machine infrastructure on your home laptop or desktop. Sure, some of the features are missing in the client hypervisor in Windows 8 but for the most part, the base client hypervisor software is the same as the hypervisor used in Windows Server 2012, which of course is used in business and production environments around the world. The purpose of this article is to show you how you can save a ton of time by utilizing a feature known as virtual machine cloning. No doubt when you build virtual machines for your mini lab environment on your client Windows 8 system, you’d often find yourselves installing the same operating system over and over again because it’s highly likely that you’ll need more than one virtual machine with that same base operating system to complete your lab setup. Installing this base operating system over and over again wastes time and quite frankly it’s quite a bore! We’ve all done it a million times by now already and so do you really want to look at that same install screen yet again? Probably not. In VMware Workstation, you’re able to create what is known as Full Clones and Linked Clones. In Microsoft Hyper-V, you are also able to create these clone types albeit in a different way.

What are VM Clones?

We should all be familiar with the benefits of virtualization by now. By creating virtual machines, we are essentially creating a virtual operating system that can be moved around as we like within the infrastructure. The one other major benefit of a virtual machine is being able to quickly make a copy of it. Because an entire virtual machine consists of just a couple of configuration files and a base virtual hard disk, we can essentially create a clone by simply copying the virtual hard disk file and creating a new virtual machine attached to that file.

So why would you want to create a clone? Simple. To save time. When you think about cloning in a physical environment, you’d typically create a master or gold image. This image is basically your base operating system of choice along with all of the software you’d require already pre-installed. These can include anything from your typical software applications, Windows software updates to special configuration options. Once this is done, you’d would then roll out that image to multiple computers. Once installed, that system would then resemble and function exactly the same as the master image. As you can see, this saves a heck of a lot of time because you no longer have to manually configure each and every system. You just configure it once and that’s it. With VM clones, the same theory applies except you have a bit more flexibility.

Types of VM Clones

There are typically two types of clones you can create in Hyper-V: full and linked or differencing disk/clone. Which type of clone you create will definitely depend on what it is you are trying to create in your lab environment.

Full Clone

This type of clone is what users typically associate with a “clone” in that it is taking a single virtual machine and duplicating the entire thing so that we have a second, exact replica as the original source. This clone is completely independent of the source VM in that it does not share nor require anything from it. If the original VM gets deleted or corrupted, it will not in any way affect the clone. This independence from the source VM comes at a price, however. Because it is a full clone, the clone will originally take as much hard disk space as the source VM. If the original VM is 20GB in size, then the clone will also be 20GB in size.

Linked/Differencing Clone

I’m not entirely sure if Microsoft has an official name for this type of clone. In VMware, it is called a Linked Clone. With Microsoft’s Hyper-V platform, you’d create a “differencing disk” to be able to create the same type of clone. Another name for this type of clone is a Parent to Child clone. Basically you’d start with the same master or gold virtual machine that is configured to your liking. Whereas in a full clone where we make an exact duplicate, with a parent to child clone we create a differencing disk (the child) that is “linked” to the master (the parent). Any changes to the child clone is written to its own disk and does not in any way affect the parent. When you perform this kind of clone, the child VM is obviously dependent on the parent and so if anything bad were to happen to the parent such as its virtual hard disk being deleted, then the child VM will cease to function. The major advantage to using this type of clone over the full clone type is the amount of disk space you will save. Because only the changes to the child are written (the differences), you can save a whole lot of disk space if you will be needing to create many separate virtual machines based on the parent.

Dude, What About Snapshots?!

Snapshots are definitely useful and I’m sure that feature was what got so many users excited about using virtual machines in the first place. I know it did for me. However, snapshots aren’t really considered clones. Snapshots provide a point in time copy/restore for a single virtual machine. Keyword there is single. When you create a clone, you are essentially create a completely separate virtual machine that has its own computer name, IP address, user accounts, etc. With a snapshot, you’re still working with that one individual VM. You can go back and forth between snapshots but on the network, you still have just one VM.

With that being said though, snapshots do have a lot in common with a differencing disk clone. In fact, it actually works quite the same. When you create a snapshot, a differencing disk actually gets created just like when creating a linked clone. The base VM image actually freezes and goes into read-only mode. Any changes from then on gets written only on the newly created differencing disk in order to protect the VM. Therefore, creating snapshots is not the same as creating clones.

With that out of the way, let’s begin first by creating a full clone in Hyper-V since it is the more easier of the two to get up and running.

Creating a Full Clone VM in Hyper-V

For this demonstration, I have a simple Windows 8 operating system called “Win8_source” that I will be using for both the source of the full clone example here and as the parent for the differencing disk in the next section. There is nothing really special about this VM at the moment. As you can see, I have some basic applications installed and that’s basically it. The size for this VM is about 9.5-9.6GB.

Win8source

Before I clone the VM though, I should prepare it with the Sysprep utility. This awesome utility basically allows you to strip away specific security identifiers for the VM. This step is only necessary to perform if you will running multiple versions of this clone VM on the same network AND you want to join them to the same Active Directory domain. In a lab scenario, this is usually the case and so Sysprep’ing the VM is definitely something you should do to prevent any headaches later on. If this does not concern you as your virtual machines, both master and clones, will only be in Workgroups then you can usually skip this procedure. Prior to performing the Sysprep process, make sure that the VM is configured exactly to your liking! You generally don’t want to re-power back on the sysprepped image.

The Sysprep utility is included in most versions of Windows and can be found in:

C:\Windows\System32\Sysprep

Within the Sysprep folder, simply launch the sysprep utility. Although one can get extremely fancy with sysprep, all we need to do is select the ‘Out-of-box Experience’, enable the Generalize check box and have the system Shutdown once the process has completed. At the end, your source VM should have shut down and is completely ready to be cloned.

For the cloning process, there are actually two different ways to do it. The first and more correct way to do it is to perform an Export operation by right-clicking on the source VM within the Hyper-V manager. You specify a folder location to save the clone and you would then perform an Import operation. The second way to clone a VM is to simply just “copy” the source VM’s vhdx file, create a new virtual machine and finally, attaching the cloned virtual hard disk to it rather than creating a new one. I will be using the second method. An Export operation is great when you need to actually move virtual machines between different Hyper-V hosts and need to keep everything intact such as snapshots.

To begin, I simply head over to the location of my virtual hard disks and perform a copy/paste operation of the source VM. Here is the outcome. You can definitely rename the cloned VHD file to something else so you won’t get confused in the future. I renamed mine to ‘Win8_clone”.

Copy and Paste

Now that I have the cloned hard disk, it’s time to create a new VM for it. You’d go through the same usual process except when it comes to the part where it asks you about creating a VHD for the VM. On this page, you’d select the option of using an “existing virtual hard disk” rather than creating a new one. As expected, hit the Browse button and select the newly copied VHD file.

Use Existing VHD

With the clone virtual machine configured, I can now power it on. Because I chose to sysprep the machine, it will initially go through the entire setup screen again as if the system was newly installed. Once that has completed though, I can see that the new virtual machine has all of the applications I installed on the source VM and that everything is exactly as how it was. You can now clone as many VM’s as you want base on the master VM. Also, don’t forget that you DO NOT have to sysprep your source VM! However, if your Windows virtual machines are going to be joining a domain, then I would definitely recommend you doing so.

If you did not sysprep the source VM and power on both the source and clone together, you might get errors about having two computers on the same network with either the same IP address if the source was not configured with DHCP or more likely that both computers have the same machine name. Simply change the information on the clone or source to solve the problem.

Creating a Differencing Disk in Hyper-V

As mentioned earlier, creating a “differencing disk” in Hyper-V is similar to creating a Linked Clone in VMware’s parlance and it’s an awesome and quick way to spin up many similar yet different virtual machines all the while helping you save disk space as well. In this scenario, we do things just a bit differently because of the special parent-to-child relationship of the virtual machines.

To start off, I will be using the same VM I used above in the full clone tutorial as the parent for this one. The VM is a simple Windows 8 machine called Win8_source. Once again, I have properly ‘sysprepped’ the virtual machine and I highly recommend you to do so as well. When you create differencing disk clones, you normally should not power on or change anything within the parent VM. Basically, once the parent VM is finalized, it should be sysprepped and left alone. From that point on, you can spawn as many different child virtual machines from that parent as you’d like. Hey, if only creating a child in the real world was that easy eh?!

Another thing you can do to protect the parent VM is to change the permission of its VHDX file so that it is read-only. This should add an extra layer of protection on the parent VM so that no changes can be made on it. Simply open the Properties of the VHDX file for your parent VM and enable the Read-Only check box and hit OK.

Read Only

Next we create a new differencing disk in Hyper-V manager. In the Actions toolbar menu, select New –> Hard Disk and the wizard should appear. There are a couple pieces of information we need to specify and its important you get them right. When you select the option of either creating a VHD or VHDX disk, select the same type as the parent VM.

Disk Format Type

In the virtual disk type window, you’d want to select Differencing option.

Disk Type

Next, give your differencing disk a name and location.

Name and Location

Finally, you’ll need to specify the vhdx of the parent virtual machine. In my example, I am using Win8_source as the parent.

Parent

Now that the differencing disk as been created, it’s time to create a new VM and attach that disk to it. So, first create a virtual machine like always. When you get to the Connect Virtual Hard Disk page, we specify to attach an existing disk, similar to what we have done when we created our full clone. This time, however, we’ll obviously pick the differencing disk we’ve just created earlier. Do not pick the parent VM!

Differencing Disk Attach

And that’s it! Once you start your new VM, you’d go through the same process earlier in the full clone procedure if you’d taken the time to sysprep the machine. Once I’m back on the desktop and everything is running as it should be, you can see below the size difference between the parent VM and the child VM. From now on, every new change I make on the child VM is only written to the differencing disk and the parent virtual disk is left completely alone. To make more clones, I simply repeat the process of first creating a new differencing disk based on the parent disk, creating a new VM and finally, attaching the differencing disk to it. It’s that simple.

In the End…

You can see how easy creating VM clones is in Hyper-V. Quickly being able to spin up virtual machines is one of the main benefits of virtualization and it’s a godsend for users at home who need to quickly create a small lab environment. Rather than needing to sit through installation and installation of the same operating system installation, you can now install everything just once and mass deploy that image out onto new virtual machines within a few minutes. Granted, it does take a few more steps on Microsoft’s Hyper-V client platform than on VMware’s Workstation product but the outcome is relatively the same. Please take advantage of virtual cloning whenever possible to maximize its potential!

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The VDI Delusion Review

No matter if you are a seasoned administrator or just an up and coming IT professional, you’ve no doubt heard all the rage about this so called thing called “VDI” (virtual desktop infrastructure). I’m sure you have some general ideas of all the things it promises it can do for your company. These benefits range from saving your company a great deal of money, allowing the centralization of management and most important of all, allowing your users to practically connect to their virtual desktop no matter where they are and on what device they are using. The funny part is that I have to admit that I was one of those people who’ve drank the VDI Kool Aid. After having watched so many presentations and not to mention reading numerous white papers about this virtualization technology, I was sold for the most part. I mean when you look at the specs on paper, who wouldn’t want to deploy something as flexible as VDI? Everything sounds and looks great. That is until you read this book and actually take a step back to really analyze what is going on in the background. There’s always the popular saying that if something is too good to be true, then it usually isn’t. This is how the authors view this emerging technology because they spill the beans on many of the “gotchas” with VDI. However, the authors are anything but VDI haters and I’m glad because they generally are excited about this new direction enterprises are headed towards. It’s just that they make it super extra clear that VDI is not all that’s cracked up to be and only a small percentage of enterprises have deployed a successful VDI implementation. Key takeaway? VDI is not meant for everyone and this book will prove it to you.

I actually came across this book by accident and boy was I glad I did. Just like many folks out there, I’m a huge fan of virtualization but admit that while I’m not experienced in the area of VDI, I liked what I saw and read on paper. This book is absolutely perfect if you are actually planning on implementing VDI in your organization. In fact, I’m willing to go as far as saying that this book should be a mandatory read for IT professionals even having a remote thought on setting up a VDI. It would be really cool if a CIO in a company can actually force their virtualization administrators to read this book before/during the planning phase of a VDI deployment just to get rid of any doubts as to whether or not VDI is the actual solution they are seeking for. Some of the things I’ve learned from reading this book really opened my eyes and makes me think differently any time I now hear people talking about VDI.

The VDI DelusionFor the most part, I believe the author stayed fairly neutral on the subject. They did a good job at countering their own points from a user or customer perspective and then giving another answer as to why their first answer is correct. I like this because rather than just reading about the authors going off on why VDI is bad, here they actually try to view things from both sides of the fence. The first half of the book actually goes into the positives and negatives of VDI. Other chapters talk about why a particular VDI implementation would fail horribly while giving examples of others that succeed. This gives you an excellent idea of what you should and should not be doing. The second half of the book actually shy a bit away from VDI itself and instead goes into a discussion about the traditional desktop as we know it today and the other big thing which I’m sure you’ve all heard of called applications and apps! One of the biggest mistakes that people make is believing that VDI is just about moving the desktop away from the computers and onto the data center and thinking that their job is done. What they don’t take into consideration is that they can avoid the whole VDI mess in the first place is by actually virtualizing or streaming their applications to their users instead.

All in all, this book is spectacular and like I said earlier, an absolute must read for anyone in the virtualization sector. Quest Software actually offers a free electronic version of this book, which you can register and download from here.

Purchase here:

The VDI Delusion: Why Desktop Virtualization Failed to Live Up to the Hype, and What the Future Enterprise Desktop will Really Look Like

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Hyper-V in Windows 8

If you’re in the IT sector, I’m absolutely positive that you must have heard or read all about computer virtualization. This has been a hot topic for many years and the reason I’m writing an article about it here is because it’s still a hot topic today! Like how I would usually describe things, you can make virtualization as simple as you want it to be or you can make it as complicated as well. This means that computer virtualization is flexible in a sense. With Microsoft offering the Hyper-V platform in the upcoming Windows 8 Pro client operating system, virtualization technology can blossom to a whole new level. Never before has Microsoft offered a built-in platform for virtualization in their client operating systems. With their server lineup, it’s a whole different story but pretty soon, users of all type will be able to utilize one of today’s hottest technology right on their own computer. A lot of people keep saying that virtualization is the future but that remains to be seen. In today’s economy though, virtualization can definitely help businesses save a load of money if done right. So what does this have to do with you as a consumer? You’re not running a multi-million dollar company so what gives? I generally don’t like to suggest to regular users what they should or shouldn’t learn when it comes to computers but I’m breaking that norm here. You definitely should learn about computer virtualization. Chances could be that the operating system you use tomorrow in the office is located not on the computer under your desk but on a server located 10 floors above you!

I’ve written some articles on virtualization in the past so feel free to start there if you don’t have any idea on just what exactly this technology is about:

Why You Should Use Virtual Machines 

Using VirtualBox’s Snapshot Feature to Test Out Software!

Windows XP Mode in Windows 7

Virtual Hard Drives Makes Efficient Backups

To reiterate, computer virtualization comprises of virtual machines. A virtual machine works and looks exactly like a physical computer but of course, it’s virtualized. For example, you can have one physical computer loaded with resources such as a very powerful CPU, lots of hard disk space and a ton of RAM but what good is that computer if you never use it to its maximum potential? It doesn’t take a Harvard graduate to see that this situation is very bad for businesses and even for the casual home users. However, by utilizing computer virtualization, you can essentially “cram” additional operating systems onto that same physical machine to take on the burden of extra work. Each virtual machine can be considered a standalone “physical machine”. Therefore, if you create 10 virtual machines, then what you essentially have is an additional 10 “physical machine” all hosted within that one powerful computer. By spreading the workload this way, that one powerful machine can actually be used to its potential and businesses save money by not requiring to purchase additional physical servers or computers.

Virtualization does not just comprise of computers and operating systems. However, at the moment it is the most popular as many users are already familiar with virtual machines. Other virtualization technologies is starting to come to light and this includes network and storage virtualization. One such storage virtualization technology also offered in Windows 8 is Storage Spaces which I also wrote about here. The focus of this article is on computer virtulization so that’s what I’ll be sticking to. Always keep in mind that with virtualization, it usually allows you to do more with less. Although virtualization is all about saving money, there are many other advantages such as dealing with security concerns, multi-tenancy in hosting environments, ease of administration, etc. 

The Hyper-V Platform

Back in the early years when computer virtualization first got started, a company called VMware was considered the leader in this market. Of course, there were other players in the game but many users associated virtualization with VMware. In those days, Microsoft had a business model of letting other companies invest their own time and resources in developing certain technologies which will eventually be run under the Microsoft operating systems should a customer choose that product. Microsoft was not even considered a player in the virtualization field. Fast forward a bit though and we see a slight shift in change. Microsoft released some software to aid in the virtualization arena such as Virtual PC 2004 and Virtual Server 2005. Fast forward again and Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 and Windows XP Mode was available. At this point in time, while Microsoft got their feet wet in virtualization technology, they still weren’t considered a powerhouse. Fast forward one more time and now you’ve got the Hyper-V platform. This platform is Microsoft’s technology to finally make the industry realize that the company is not playing around and that it is serious in furthering the growth of the virtualization field.

With past virtualization products, both from Microsoft and VMware, they were considered a Type 2 hypervisor. This means that the guest operating system or the “virtual machine” is created and hosted by the host operating system. With a Type 1 hypervisor, the virtual machine can be run directly on the physical hardware of the host computer. Why does all this matter? Well, in the past, creating a virtual machine had many, many limitations due to the machine not running directly on top of the hardware. This ultimately made the virtual machine very slow. In a Type 2 hypervisor environment, think of the virtual machine not as its own operating system being hosted on its own physical box (even though it can be considered as such) but as “software” being hosted by the host operating system on the host machine. For example, lets say that I have one physical machine with Windows 7 installed as the host operating system. Now let’s say that I want to create a virtual machine. However I can’t do that natively in Windows 7 as Microsoft doesn’t include any built-in virtualization platform. Therefore we download and install Virtual PC 2007. Other free and popular virtualization utilities include VMware Player and Oracle’s Virtualbox. When installed, Windows 7 (our host) is now hosting the hypervisor. Finally, we create our virtual machines on top of that hypervisor. Those virtual machines are three levels above the actual hardware on our host computer and so many commands and inputs have to be translated many more times since it now has to move from the virtual machine to the hypervisor to the host operating system and finally on to the hardware. This limitation prevented users from doing many thing within those virtual machines because hardware had to be emulated. Even something as simple as watching a high definition movie inside the virtual machine was impossible. While the video would play, it would play out to something like a PowerPoint slideshow. Users can definitely forget about gaming on a virtual machines. Workers who needed to work with heavy graphical processing applications and software also found it difficult when working inside those virtual machines.

With the introduction of Microsoft’s Hyper-V platform in 2008, it brought with it a Type 1 hypervisor. You can think of the hypervisor as a thin code that sits above the hardware. With this hypervisor, it is now possible for virtual machines to be run directly above the host hardware. This gives administrators a lot more flexibility because there are much less limitations imposed on those virtual machines! With a Type 1 hypervisor, you still have a host operating system or “parent partition”. However, virtual machines you create do not run on top of this operating system like a Type 2 hypervisor. This is a very important distinction. This parent partition is used only to manage your virtualization environment (virtual machine creation and administration).

Just to be clear, although the virtual machines running on top of the hypervisor have much better access to the hardware, it is still not 100% running “directly” on the hardware like the parent partition. They hypervisor layer still manages the calls to the hardware from the virtual machines. However, this is a lot better than what we had earlier with a type 2 hypervisor. For more information on this, take a quick look at this Hyper-V Architecture Demo.

Here is a simple image that shall give you a much better understanding of how the two hypervisors work from a high level:

Hypervisor Comparison

You can get more information on Hyper-V in Windows 8 by going over this blog post from Microsoft.

So What’s the Point Again?

One point I failed to mention until now is that Microsoft’s Hyper-V platform was only available in their server operating system lineup. The keyword here is “was”. Starting with the Windows 8 Pro version, this virtualization platform will be completely built-in on the client operating system and ready to be utilized by just about anyone. In order to see the whole point of creating virtual machines, you need to realize the actual benefits that computer virtualization brings to the table. For that you should definitely read my past articles or do some research on your own.

Microsoft actually includes a free download of just the Hyper-V bits and parts. This product is called Microsoft’s Hyper-V Server 2008 and Microsoft’s Hyper-V Server 2012. You would install this as you would a normal operating system but it only includes the hypervisor components. Therefore, there is no Internet Explorer, Start Menu/Screen, etc. Basically, while it is a valid operating system, you can only use it to host virtual machines. In fact, there isn’t even a graphical interface! Administrators usually manage this server from a different computer. The advantage of this product is that businesses could buy a really powerful server, load the Hyper-V Server component on it and use it to host dozens and dozens of virtual machines while gaining all the benefits of the Hyper-V platform and all for free. The Hyper-V Server takes up very little resources as many of the graphical components are stripped away. This allows you to dedicate almost all of your resources to the virtual machines themselves.

VDIEarlier, I said that computer virtualization can be as as simple or as complicated depending on your situation. For many home users, creating a simple virtual machine is all they will ever need to do. From there, they can use that machine for software testing purposes, lab setup to even using it as their machine for online shopping and banking. One of the most useful features  of a virtual machine is that users can easily create a snapshot of their entire system. Once something goes wrong, they can revert back to that earlier snapshot with a click of their mouse and resume work on the virtual machine as if nothing has happened. Another compelling reason is for backwards compatibility. Users can install Windows 7 or a previous operating system in a virtual machine and have the best of both worlds. For enterprises though they need something more. For this, they have Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) so that they can create a pool of virtual machines and “serve” them to users. The advantage of doing so allows administrators to control the virtual machine images in the pool from a single point (the back-end servers). No longer do they have to worry about configuring and patching hundreds of individual physical machines in their environment. Once a user is done working on the virtual machine, the machine is returned to the pool and any changes the user have made will be erased.

VDI is especially interesting. Businesses are starting to realize the benefits of centrally dishing out virtual machines for their clients and customers. Users in their offices or cubicle gets a minimally configured computer. This type of device can also be called a thin client. By itself, it just provides an empty “shell” for the users. The user would connect over the network to stream a virtual machine from a configured pool located on a server control by IT personnel. All of the processing is done on the server and so that is why it doesn’t matter if the thin client is under powered. Sometimes I ask myself could this be possible in the future for home users as well? Many people will balk at this due to privacy issues but some might like it. No longer do they have to manage their PC. All of their data will be backed up automatically. And so on.

As it stands right now, I have made many users realize the benefit of virtual machines. Sometimes, it can get really frustrating when I have users that keep bugging me to help clean their computers due to malware infections or reconfiguration issues. By spending some time upfront teaching them about the usefulness of virtual machines, they are able to solve many problems by simply reverting to old snapshots. In many cases, Ubuntu is the operating system I would help install for them because it’s absolutely free to use. Once I install and configure the virtual machine to the user’s liking, I create a baseline snapshot of the system. From there the user can use the virtual machine however he/she sees fit. Once something goes wrong, they can revert the virtual machine back to that baseline image (or to another one that they created themselves) and begin afresh again! It truly is a huge time saver not only for myself but for the user as well! With the built-in Hyper-V platform in Windows 8, users will enjoy their virtual machines even more due to the increase in speed.

Getting Started

Unlike installing a Type 2 hypervisor such as Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 or VMware Player, a Type 1 hypervisor such as Hyper-V requires a little more from your system. However, if you have a recent computer system, I’m sure you’ll be able to pass the test. Here are the pre-requisites on getting the Hyper-V platform to install:

  1. Windows 8 Pro x64bit
  2. 4GB of RAM or more (more info in the error box below)
  3. Second Level Address Translation (SLAT) compatible CPU (more on this below)
  4. Hardware-assisted virtualization compatible CPU
  5. Hardware-enforced Data Execution Prevention (DEP)

That seems like a lot of stuff you would need to have but in my opinion, if you have a recent CPU, then consider checking off number 3, 4 and 5. In some cases, you’ll need to manually enable this features in the BIOS itself. Here is a picture of my BIOS. My CPU is not SLAT capable so you won’t see that option here. Many times, a feature labeled by Microsoft can be called something else in your BIOS. Hardware assisted virtualization is just called Virtualization Technology and Hardware enforced DEP is called No-Execute Memory Protect in my BIOS here.

BIOS

Another way to quickly check and see if your CPU meets the requirements is opening System Information within Windows 8. System Information can tell you a whole lot about your system both hardware and software wise. First head over to the Start Screen by pressing the Windows key on your keyboard. Next, simply type in msinfo32 and press Enter. The System Information window should appear and you will be taken to the System Summary section. Scroll all the way down and you should find the information you need as seen below:

Msinfo32

I know this is a bit ironic but the Hyper-V I am showing in this article is from the Windows Server 2012 build and not Windows 8 Pro. The reason being is that my CPU is not SLAT compatible. However, for some strange reason, a SLAT compatible CPU is not required when running the Hyper-V platform on a Windows Server 2012 computer/server. I honestly thought the reverse would be true where there would be stricter requirements on the server side than on the client side. Anyways, the Hyper-V platform should be the same for both operating systems. Also I only have equipped 2GB of RAM and not the required 4GB. Not sure if this is possible in Windows 8 Pro.

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How To Use Storage Spaces in Windows 8 for Backup Purposes

One of the coolest new features in Windows 8 has got to be Storage Spaces. However, to novices and casual users, this new technology might be a bit confusing at first. However, once explained at a high level, I can assure you that it’s not that difficult to understand at all. The good news is that Microsoft has made sure that this new technology just works without you having to read a 50 page technical whitepaper, unless of course you’re a geek like me and you like that sort of thing. But alas, if you’ve read any of my previous articles before, you know that I usually do not like to just jump into the procedures. As with other things, a fairly good understanding of the actual technology itself goes a long way. So here, I’m going explain a little of just what Storage Spaces is and how it can help you. I’m then going to go into how you can easily build your own Storage Space solution to help mirror your data. Again, don’t feel intimated if what I’ve just said sounds scary! By the end of the article, I’m sure you’ll still have a completely functional computer and that nothing will have blown up in your face.

What is Storage Spaces?

Storage Spaces is Microsoft’s new storage technology built into the Windows 8 client and Server platform. At it’s core, Storage Spaces allows you to pool together a bunch of physical hard disks and then carve a piece of that storage out to serve to the operating system. That ‘piece’ of carved storage space, while it may seem to the operating system as just a physical hard disk in of itself, in the background though it is being protected and monitored through the Storage Spaces technology. Another way to think of Storage Spaces is to think of it as storage virtualization. So what’s the benefits? Why should you even care about this technology and what’s wrong with just sticking to the old model of just plugging in a hard disk and be done with it? With Storage Spaces, you actually have a very inexpensive way of providing data backup due to the redundancy features built-in. Looking at it from a different angle, for users who are still not confident in storing their most confidential data and files to the cloud, Storage Spaces is a very viable solution because your data never leaves your hard drives. To better understand Storage Spaces, here is a more high level breakdown:

  1. You have a bunch of physical disks connected to the computer with Windows 8 installed.
  2. You create a storage pool consisting of those empty disks.
  3. You carve out storage space(s) out of that storage pool while configuring redundancy features, if any.
  4. The result is of that storage space is a virtual hard disk file.
  5. You present the VHD to your computer and use it as a normal hard disk. Storage Spaces works in the background.

If some of this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. To many, Storage Spaces sounds a lot like RAID technology. In many ways, it actually does resemble RAID. However, Storage Spaces is a lot more flexible. You can actually use hard disks connected to your system via USB, which is what many home users use today. If not, Storage Spaces works equally well with SATA hard disks connected internally as well. Once you create a storage pool, all those hard disks work as one unit.

For a more thorough explanation on Storage Spaces, please read this Building Windows 8 blog post going over this specific topic.

Redundancy Features

One of the main purposes of Storage Spaces is to help protect your data by using commodity (a.k.a cheap) hard disks. By incorporating redundancy features, you can create virtual hard disks out of a storage pool and know that your data is being protected in the background all without you having to really do anything. Storage Spaces actually provide you with three different methods of dealing with a storage space that you create:

Simple: This mode does not provide any redundancy features. What Storage Spaces will do is stripe your data across multiple drives. The advantage of doing this is that you have more physical disks working in the background to read and write your data which should equate to faster I/O operations. Again, there is no redundancy feature in Simple mode. It is purely a performance gain.

Mirroring: This is the mode that most users will take advantage of on their home computers. With this mode, Storage Spaces will keep two or three copies of your data. For example, if you create a two way mirror, any data that you write will be duplicated on another drive. Therefore, if the first drive fails, you can continue right on working by using the mirrored drive.

Striping with Parity: This mode is similar to Simple mode but Storage Spaces will also write parity information across the drives. While this parity data does take extra space, you are able to rebuild an entire physical disk should it fail by using the parity information. With Simple mode, a single hard disk failure will cause the entire storage space to fail.

Requirements

  • Windows 8 client operating system
  • Two physical hard disks to create a two way mirror or three hard disks for three way mirroring/parity mode
  • Drives must be blank and unformatted
  • Drives must be at least 10GB in size
  • Drives can be attached via SATA, SCSI, iSCSI, SAS or USB

The beauty with Storage Spaces is that once you create your storage pool, you can easily add more physical hard disks to the pool at anytime to increase the storage.

Storage Spaces cannot be used to protect your main operating system drive. It can be used for data storage only.

How to Configure a Two-Way Mirror with Storage Spaces

In this simple demo, I have a Windows 8 machine. I will go over how to create a two way mirror with Storage Spaces. Once completed, the result would be a virtual hard disk presented to Windows 8, which will view it as a ‘physical hard disk’. Data I create in this storage space will be mirrored or duplicated.

Microsoft suggestion is that you should not treat Storage Spaces as a replacement for traditional data backup and that it cannot be treated as a data recovery solution as well. This can be a little confusing because isn’t that the whole point for some users? If a drive fails in a two way mirror, doesn’t retrieving files from the mirrored drive count as data recovery? If my data is duplicated on another drive, why can’t that count as a backup? If I perform a traditional backup, aren’t I doing the same thing by making a copy of the original data on drive A and placing it on drive B? The main argument where the backup issue is concerned is due to the fact that the disks that comprise of your Storage Pool are all usually located within your system. A stolen computer or a computer that has been destroyed by a natural disaster in most cases will also destroy all data across all drives in the Storage Pool.

With Storage Spaces, everything you need is already built-in to Windows 8. There is no additional features to install or add. There is no additional download required from the Internet. The requirements are those I’ve listed above. Mainly, you will need two completely unformatted drives connected to your system. That means no existing data or volumes should exist within them. Once you’ve gotten this prerequisite down, you can begin to create a storage pool.

For the purposes of this article, I am showing you how to simply get set up with Storage Spaces with a two way mirror so that you can use the storage space as a data drive. By creating this two way mirror, any data that you create inside this storage space will be automatically written to twice: one on each hard drive. This can be considered as a backup for your data because you as the user do not have to worry about creating a backup schedule. In fact, once configured, you don’t have to do anything at all and yet your data is still being protected. However, do realize that there isn’t any extraneous features in Storage Spaces that you would get from third party backup solutions such as file history/revision (although Windows 8 does have the File History feature), snapshots which you can revert back to, etc. Basically if you want just a 1:1 backup of your most precious data, Storage Spaces is definitely something you should look into.

Please do also realize the disadvantages of using Storage Spaces. For example, you will lose all of your data if the computer you’ve configured Storage Spaces on is stolen or has been completely damaged and you haven’t backed up that data to another location.

Creating a Storage Pool and Space

Here I have two disks connected to my machine, each with about 12GB of storage. There are different ways of configuring Storage Spaces but for most consumers, they would want to use the Storage Spaces control panel applet as it provides a nice graphical user interface so that’s what I’ll do here. When you open the Storage Spaces applet, click on the link to create a storage pool. Here, Storage Spaces will present any available disks that is available that meets the requirements of creating a storage pool:

Available Disks

I want both disks to be in the storage pool so both drives are checked. Next, we carve out our storage space and configure the settings for it. We give the storage space (drive) a name, a drive letter, resiliency type, and size. What is interesting about storage spaces is that you can actually specify more disk space that what you actually have available. This is called thin provisioning. For example, I could specify to create a storage space here of 100GB even though I obviously don’t have that much actual space to begin with in the storage pool. As my data grows, Storage Spaces will notify me that I’m running out of disk space and I can then easily add more storage to the pool to continue right where I left off.

Creating Storage Space

Once completed, Storage Spaces will proceed to create the storage space for us. Remember, the result of this will be a VHD file. But shhh…Windows 8 doesn’t have to know that.

Creating

Back at the Storage Spaces applet, we can now see that our storage space have been completed. We also see some pretty basic information about our storage pool.

Info

That’s it! Hard to believe it right? With just a couple of clicks, I have successfully created a two way mirror drive all without having to mess with complex RAID settings, drivers, disk configuration, etc. This is the beauty with Storage Spaces. Anyone and I mean anyone can do it. When I head over to Disk Management, I can see that the storage space have been formatted with the NTFS file system (drive letter E:). As you can see, the computer thinks that I actually have a 100GB physical disk installed when in fact that’s far from the truth!

Disk Management

In File Explorer, you can see that the drive is ready for use just like any other drive.

File Explorer

Testing Storage Spaces

Now that I’ve got my simple two way mirrored drive configured and ready to go, I’ll want to now test the configuration. Besides, what good is a resiliency system if we’re not going to test it out to see if it actually works?! For this very simple test, I’ve already created some pictures and Word documents in the mirrored drive. I did this when everything was working correctly. To simulate a hard drive error, I’m just going to completely disconnect one of the disks. If you remember from earlier, my storage pool consists of just two 12GB disks. Well, one of them will be disconnected here to simulate a failed hard drive. In the picture below is a screenshot of my Windows 8 virtual machine settings. You can see that ‘Hard Disk 1’ has been removed. Both Hard Disk 1 and Hard Disk 2 were the disks used for my storage pool. With it removed, I will proceed to reboot back in to Windows 8 and see what will happen.

Hard Disk Removed

Well, as you can see below, my files are indeed intact even after the removal/failure of one of the hard drive!

Restored

Of course, I also get a warning within the Action Center and within the Storage Spaces control panel applet that something is wrong.

Notification

This leads us to our final question. How do we remove/add drives from our current storage pool? The answer is simple: with a couple of clicks! Every basic task can be accomplished right in the Storage Spaces applet within control panel and it’s completely intuitive. Before I can remove the failed drive, I will first have to add additional drives to the storage pool to replace it. Here I will add an additional two extra 15GB disk by clicking on the ‘Add drives’ link in the storage pool configuration. You can see the additional drives added to the storage pool below. I can now proceed remove the failed drive by clicking on the ‘Remove’ link next to the appropriate drive.

Additional Drives

What is so awesome about all this? Storage Spaces will take care of all the background tasks for us. Everything is pretty much automatic. If I carve out another storage space out of my existing storage pool, everything will be managed for me behind the scenes. As long as I have the actual hard drive space for it, I’m good to go. Remember, the resulting storage space acts like a ‘real’ physical hard disk. You would use it like how you would with any other hard drives. Heck, you can even choose to enable Bitlocker on the storage space for extra protection!

Recovery

The other beneficial reason for using Storage Spaces is perhaps due to its self-healing feature. Basically, Storage Spaces on Windows 8 should be smart enough to recover from any errors that it might encounter. If it should find something not to its liking, it will give you a notice and you can then act on it. One very good question brought up is what happens to your storage pool/spaces when you migrate to a new Windows 8 computer or rebuild your current machine. Fortunately, there isn’t really anything that you need to do. If you are migrating to a new Windows 8 machine, plugging in the drives that consists of your storage pool will automatically allow Windows 8 to acknowledge the configuration. Of course, for this to happen, at least two requirements are required. One is that your machine is loaded with the Windows 8 operating system. Earlier operating systems will not recognize the special partitions created by the Storage Spaces feature. The other requirement is that you must have the minimum disks connected for your Storage Space configuration. For example, if you’ve configured a two-way mirror, then you must have both drives connected for it to meet the minimum requirements. For other configurations that deal with additional hard disks, you can reconnect them at a later time.

When you perform a reformat of Windows 8 or invoke either the Reset or Refresh feature, your storage pool and spaces will be preserved as well without you really having to do anything. In a simple test I conducted, my two-way mirror storage space configuration was immediately recognized in my newly built Windows 8 machine as soon as I reconnected the two hard disks. Windows 8 picked up the configuration and my Storage Space was immediately available within File Explorer.

The bad news for some is that in most scenarios, Windows 8 should self-heal itself and that minimal reconfiguration is necessary as stated above. However, some users might encounter more problematic errors due to their system configuration. If this does happen, then more advance troubleshooting is necessary and for this, Windows 8 now relies on the more advance Powershell integration. Think of Powershell as the traditional command line interface but on steroids. Hopefully you won’t ever have to deal with this situation if you intend to work with Storage Spaces in the future.

In the End…

You just saw how easy it was for me to create a simple two way mirror Storage Space. In no time at all, I got two physical drives pooled together into a storage pool and immediately thereafter, created a storage space to actually use. All of this is great but I’m still willing to assume that not much users will actually use this feature, let alone even knowing about it. It’s not like Windows 8 actually comes with a manual of some kind talking about some of the newest features it includes. Even if it did, most users wouldn’t even bother to read it! The good news is that for businesses of all sizes, Storage Spaces is definitely a money saver. By being able to use cheaply purchased commodity drives, they are still able to utilize some type of resiliency for data backup and storage. This is huge, especially for smaller businesses, because no longer is purchasing an expensive SAN array necessary. Storage Spaces is free of charge to use and best part of all, it can work with hard disks connected to your system in a myriad of ways.

Personally, I see Storage Spaces as one of the biggest features in Windows 8. Many would most likely argue that Storage Spaces is the same as RAID, which could be configured in previous versions of Windows as well. However, even if assuming that they are the same, you can’t argue how much simpler Storage Spaces is. Commodity drives will no doubt become cheaper and bigger as years go by. Storage Spaces makes a lot of sense right now. Just gather up a bunch of drives, throw them in a pool and then carve out the space that you need. Windows 8 will take care of the rest. Best of all, Storage Spaces is definitely attractive for users who just really don’t care about backing up their data. I’ve spent countless hours going over many different backup methods for different users. Everyone is different and so I usually try to approach the problem from their perspective. Many times in the end though, they just ending up not caring. If I can just teach them about Storage Spaces (or better yet, just do it for them and save some breath!), they just have to configure it once and not have to worry about it. It’s so much more simple!

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Virtual Hard Drives Makes Efficient Backups!

Prior to working on a client’s computer, one of the first thing I always like to do is to make a complete backup of the system. By doing so, I don’t have to worry about whether or not if something “bad” is going to happen and somehow destroy the data. Let’s face it. Reinstalling an operating system is a piece of cake and with Windows 7, it doesn’t even take that long. Reinstalling programs? Well, that might take a while but that’s just time consuming, not complicated work at all. Migrating user data files back? Sure, just ask the original user to connect his external hard drive and drag and drop all of his backup data onto the freshly installed operating system. Oh wait. Do you see a problem with the last step? That’s right. The user in most cases will have no idea what the “external hard drive” or “backup data” you are referring to. Why is that? Well, it’s very simple: users do not create backups of their data! Therefore, before working on any computer, make sure you create that backup! Doing exactly that is a piece of cake with Sysinternal’s free utility, Disk2vhd.

Some of you reading might think that creating a full computer backup prior to operating on it is a complete overkill. In some cases, however, I totally agree. Would you really want to backup 500GB of data prior to installing a new video card into the system? The answer is most likely no. However, this is something that you as the technician have to figure out yourself. When would be the right time to create a full backup? For me, I usually do so when the computer I’m working on is heavily infested with malware and the user have important data (duh!) that he or she didn’t know how or were just too lazy to backup themselves and are now crying to you for help. I’ve certainly fully backed up a computer in much less drastic scenarios than that but it’s only because I’m a careful person. I try to make it a habit to be as careful as possible when working on any system no matter how trivial the task is.

Here are some reasons why I think that creating a full computer backup is so important as a computer technician:

    • Users are forgetful.DoH! A user may like to think that they know their computer best (since it is their computer after all) and that they have most of their important data backed up elsewhere. However, it isn’t till after the fact that you have completely rebuilt the computer that they come running back telling you how they forgot to backup a special folder. Of course, it’s too late now since the hard drive is reformatted and I haven’t made a backup myself as the user told me they have already done so prior to giving me the computer. By having a full hard drive virtual copy, you can easily help the user recover any data post-installation.
    • Liability.Own Risk This is one issue I am particularly afraid of. It doesn’t matter how nice you treat your customer or how nice of a job you’ve done on their computer. As a technician, you have to remember one golden rule: when a user hands over their computer, you are now the sole person responsible for whatever happens to that computer. Sure, you can make the user sign an agreement detailing what you are or are not responsible for but it doesn’t matter. If the user somehow “believes” that you wiped out some of their data even though you obviously haven’t, you just lost the case. With a virtual hard drive copy on hand, you can prove to the user that you have not accidentally or purposefully deleted their data because that copy was created prior to you doing work on the computer. Of course, whether they believe you or not is another story but at least you have some proof to back you up. In scenarios like these, it is always best to personally let the client know that you will be doing this backup before any work will be done on the computer so they can’t haunt you down afterwards and put the blame on you.
    • Professionalism.Professional I don’t earn my main income solely as a computer technician. It’s more of a side job for me. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have to be professional about it. Believe me, if you go out of your way to service a customer, chances are good that they will remember your courtesy and professionalism and return the next time around. Even better, they might help spread the word around about you and earn you even more customers! Simply by informing your customer that you will be creating a virtual hard drive copy of the hard drive, they can have a peace of mind that their data is in a safe place and can be restored at anytime should the repair operation go awry. Also, because all personal data can be considered private, I usually inform them that I will delete the copy once I return the computer and when they give me the confirmation that they are satisfied with everything. At other times, I usually inform them that I will hold the copy for them for about a week or so. At the end of that time line, I will personally call the client to make sure everything is in working order and that all data is still in place. Once I have the confirmation, I will then delete the virtual copy.

Creating Virtual Hard Drive Copies

If by now you’re a computer technician that don’t know exactly what virtualization is and how it can help your business or organization, consider yourself a sinner! Sysinternal’s Disk2vhd allows any user to easily create a virtual copy of their operating system and all the data and programs within it to be used in a virtual machine. However, for the purpose of this article, we don’t really care about virtual machines. All we care about is data! Because Disk2vhd creates a full virtual copy of your current hard drive state, you can be sure that every single piece of file and data will also be included in that virtual backup. Then, by mounting that virtual copy on any Windows machine, we can easily browse through its contents and recover any piece of data we need. We can do all this without spending a single penny.

Download Sysinternal’s Disk2vhd from here.

As with almost all other Sysinternal utilities, Disk2vhd is very small in size and is a self-executable so no installation is necessary. Simply download, unpack and run. Two awesome features of Disk2vhd is that it allows you to select exactly which partition you want to backup and that the virtual copy can also be saved on the same hard drive/partition Disk2vhd is creating a virtual copy of (although speeds won’t be that great). The former feature is great because you don’t have to backup unwanted partitions created on a physical hard drive. For example, Window 7’s own Backup and Restore utility does not allow you pick which partition to include or exclude from a full system image backup. If you want to backup one partition and that one partition alone, you have no choice but to include all the other partitions on that same hard drive as well. In other words, your only option is to backup the entire hard drive. With Disk2vhd, you can see below that this is not evidently so. I unchecked the System Reserved partition because I have no important user data stored there. Everything is stored on my C: partition, which I have check marked and will be backing up. For the purpose of this article, I simply stored the virtual copy right back on my C: drive but this can definitely be anywhere else. In most cases, you’ll want to store it on another physical disk such as an USB external hard disk.

Main

Once you have made your choices, hit the Create button and you have just completed the process! Disk2vhd will begin creating the virtual copy. At this time, you can continue to use the computer while Disk2vhd is working in the background but my recommendation is to just leave it alone. At the very least, try not to perform a lot of disk intensive operations on it until the process is completed. How long it takes for Disk2vhd to complete the process is completely dependent on how much data is occupied on the partition you are backing up.

Creating
I believe there is a small bug in Disk2vhd that gets itself stuck after the virtual disk creation has completed. The process meter indicates that the virtual disk creation is finished but Disk2vhd seems to just freeze at that point. Luckily though, your virtual disk is not corrupted from what I understand. The only way to close Disk2vhd is to hit the Cancel button. However, if you browse to the location where you stored the virtual disk, it will still be there and from my testing, everything came out alright even after experiencing the bug.

Recovering Data from the Virtual Copy

Once the process has completed, you should now have a full virtual copy of the hard drive or partition at the location you have specified earlier. The good news is that this virtual copy is just one big massive file with the .vhd extension. The bad news about that huge file is that you don’t really just open that file and start browsing through it. Before being able to do that, we actually need to mount that .vhd file. Don’t worry. I know what you’re thinking. Fear not because mounting the .vhd file has nothing to do with creating virtual machines at all. Under Windows 7, the ability to mount a virtual hard drive is already built-in. Under Windows XP and Vista, more work needs to be done before being able to do so.

Under Windows 7, open the Computer Management MMC snap-in by right clicking on Computer within your Start Menu and selecting Manage.

Manage

Now select Disk Management on the left column. Then select the Action file menu on top and select “Attach VHD”.

Attach

Browse to the .VHD file you created with Disk2vhd. If you want to open a Read-Only copy of the virtual hard disk, be sure to enable that option. Doing so prevents you from writing new files to the virtual hard disk.

Locate

The first time you attach the virtual hard disk, you’ll have to manually tell it to be “online”. Without doing so, you won’t see the drive within Windows Explorer. So, under Disk Management, find the newly attached virtual disk (depicted with a little red arrow pointing down), right-click on the drive section itself (not on the partition) and select the Online option.

Online

Once done so, the virtual disk should now be accessible withing Windows Explorer. Close any windows that might appear afterward. Press the Start button and select Computer. The virtual disk should now be mounted. It would seem like you have just attached another physical hard drive to the system.

Online 2

With the drive mounted, you can now freely browse through its content just like how you could with a regular hard drive. If this was one of my client’s hard drive, I would just browse to the location of the files that need to be recovered and simply drag them over. It’s that simple! As you can see in the picture below, I’m browsing the virtual disk and it looks exactly as the original:

Browse

Once you have recovered what is needed from the virtual disk, it is time to detach it from the system. Once again, it’s dead simple. Head back over to Disk Management, right-click on the virtual disk and select the Detach VHD option. That’s it.

Detach

In the End…

You can probably already guess the many benefits and uses of virtualization. In this scenario, I use a simple and free utility to create a virtual hard disk from a physical disk to use as a backup for my clients. Are there other ways to accomplish what I just did here? Sure, of course. But whatever method you use, just make sure that it works and that you are comfortable performing it.
Just remember, you can always reinstall/upgrade the operating system. You can always re-download and reinstall programs and applications. You can always replace a malfunctioning piece of hardware. However, you can never, ever replace lost data. Honestly speaking, if the technician or company working on your computer does not treat your data with care, they don’t deserve your money. It’s that simple.

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Windows XP Mode in Windows 7

Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate users have a awesome privilege: they are allowed to run the new Windows XP Mode. Essentially, they get to enjoy the best of both worlds. Let’s face it, Windows XP is one of Microsoft’s most beloved operating system in history. Users loved it so much that Microsoft had to actually extend its life by continuing to provide security patches for it long before they initially planned on doing so. But anyways, the main advantage of being able to run a virtualized Windows XP machine in Windows 7 is to provide backwards compatibility with your older programs. If the developer of your favorite application still has not (or don’t intend to) release a Windows 7 version, than utilizing Windows XP Mode is the easiest way to continue using the application. As you’ll see, Windows XP Mode is really easy to implement. Depending on your situation and needs, Windows XP Mode can be a godsend.

If you have already upgraded to Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate, then I’m hoping that you already know about Windows XP Mode (I mean, you did research on the extra features you’ll be getting with these higher editions right?). If however you are still debating on which edition to upgrade to, Windows XP might be the icing on the cake. Although Windows XP Mode is meant mainly for businesses that still need support for important legacy applications and hardware, home users can enjoy that leisure as well. The good news is that Windows XP Mode doesn’t just have to support older applications. What I mean is that with Windows XP Mode, you have a full fledged virtual machine awaiting your commands. That means you now have a second system to play with! You can use this virtual system to test out new software before unloading them onto your windows 7 side. Although both operating systems operate very differently from each other, you’ll at least get a feel for how the application looks like and behavior in general before using it on your production machine.

Important Notes

Before we begin, there are some important notes you need to go over. There has been some confusion as to how Windows XP Mode will work in Windows 7 along with other requirements and prerequisites.

– By utilizing Windows XP Mode, you should be aware that by running XP mode, you now have two operating systems running at the same time! Therefore, more resources will be needed in order to keep both operating systems happy. However, do know that Windows XP Mode won’t be running every time you turn on Windows 7 as well. Windows XP Mode will kick in once you manually start the virtual operating system or once you start an application installed in XP Mode under Windows 7 (seamless mode). My personal recommendation is that you should at the very least have a dual core CPU with at least 2GB of RAM. Remember that you will need to share other resources with the virtual XP operating system as well. You don’t really need a beefy system but it shouldn’t be a slouch either.

– In order to successfully install Windows XP Mode, your computer’s CPU must support a feature called hardware-assisted virtualiztion. You don’t really have to understand all the technical jargon. You just need to know whether your CPU supports it or not. Microsoft has included a tool to help you identify whether this feature is supported or not on your system. Download the tool from here and run it.

Update: You now do not need a HAV capable CPU in order to run Windows XP Mode under Windows 7! You’ll just have to install a third update in order to proceed! Awesome stuff!

HAV Utility

– Here is another important note to remember: you do NOT have to purchase anything extra in order to begin using Windows XP Mode. The only requirement is that you need to be using Windows 7 Professional or higher along with the support for hardware-assisted virtualization on your CPU. To be more specific, you do not have to purchase a separate XP license to use Windows XP Mode. As you’ll read later on, there are only two pieces of software you need to download. These two download is all that is needed to use Windows XP Mode. Nothing else is required. With that being said, if you will be installing Windows XP inside Virtual PC under Windows 7 Home Premium with VMware or other similar third party software, then yes, you will need to purchase a full retail license of Windows XP. So, if you think you’ll need Windows XP support on your computer system, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor by installing Windows 7 Professional or higher.

– You need to understand that by using Windows XP, you also need to secure that operating system. Remember, this is a complete operating system. Therefore, the same security vulnerabilities that affect a physical stand-alone XP system can also affect a virtual system. You should still continue to patch and update the operating system to make sure it is as secure as possible. So, that means applying Windows Update patches, installing a anti-virus package, updating applications to their latest version etc.

– There will be limitations with what you can do with a virtual machine. For example, I don’t think you’ll want to use this to run high resolution and graphic intensive games.

Windows XP Mode

1. Like mentioned earlier, all you need to begin utilizing Windows XP Mode are two downloads from Microsoft. First is the actual XP virtual machine itself. I believe it’s a VHD file packed inside a convenient executable file. This download weighs in at around 470MB. Not bad but if you have a really slow connection, download it from a friend’s network instead. The second piece you need is Microsoft’s Virtual PC. This is what allows you to install VHD files inside Windows. Both pieces can be downloaded at Microsoft”s Windows XP Mode website.

2. As mentioned on the website, we should install Windows XP Mode first before proceeding with the Virtual PC install. So, go ahead and do that first. The installation is like any other software install you’ve come across in the past. Therefore, it’s super easy and you really can’t mess it up. Just keep hitting Next to accept the default.

XP Mode Install

Next up is Virtual PC. One again, the install is pretty much mess-free. You’re basically installing a stand-alone Windows Update. Once installed, restart your computer for the changes to take effect. Windows Virtual PC is now installed as evident in your Start Menu.

VPC Update
Installed

As a side note, once Windows Virtual PC is installed, you can install other virtual operating systems in it as well. Its use is not limited to only Windows XP Mode. For example, many users tend to install Linux inside Virtual PC. However, Seamless Mode (you will read about this later) will not take effect here. In this scenario, licensing and product keys do come into play if you plan on installing other versions of Windows in Virtual PC.

3. Once both installation has completed, you have now successfully installed Windows XP Mode! See, that was pretty easy wasn’t it? Now, we can fire it up to begin using it. Under the Windows Virtual PC folder in your Start Menu, select Windows XP Mode. You’ll immediately be greeted with the License Agreement. Accept it and hit Next.

License Agreement

Next up, you get to specify a location to hold your XP virtual machine files. If you don’t like the default folder, you can change it here. You’ll also be creating a password for your user account. By default, your user name is XPMUser. If you want Windows to automatically log you in when you start the virtual machine, select the Remember Credentials checkbox. For more information on this, click on the link at the bottom.

Installation Folder

Automatic Update options is next up to bat. Like I said earlier, Windows XP Mode is a full fledged operating system. Just because it’s virtualized doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t worry about its security state. Therefore, you need to take caution and keep it as secure as possible.

Windows Update

The next screen will present you information about drive sharing between Windows 7 (the host) and Windows XP Mode (the guest). I recommend you read this through thoroughly. Also, click on the link to get even more useful information. Sharing drives between operating systems is not just about security but rather it has a lot to do with how your Windows 7 application behaves as well.

Sharing Drives
Host Drive Information

Well, that’s all there is to it! Windows XP Mode will then begin creating the actual virtual machine. During the install, it presents you with pictures and other information on how to start and use Windows XP Mode. The main thing it is trying to tell you is that you can install applications in Windows XP just like how you could with any other operating system. Those applications can then be published in your Windows 7 Start Menu.

VM Installation

4. Once the installation is finished (shouldn’t take very long), Windows XP will then load! As you can see, this is a barebones version of Windows XP SP3. No extra software is pre-loaded. From here, you’re basically free to do whatever you wish to with the virtual operating system. I recommend installing the latest updates and downloading and installing a anti-virus package. Because you must share computer resources with the virtual machine, I recommend getting a light weight virus protection package and so Microsoft Security Essential is an excellent choice in this scenario.

XP Mode Installed

Utilizing XP Mode’s Seamless Mode

One of the coolest feature of Windows XP Mode is the ability to install applications in the virtual machine and being able to publish it to your Windows 7 host machine. Back then with Virtual PC 2007 or other virtualization software, you typically had to turn on the full virtual operating system and then be able to access whatever application you use inside of it. For example, if you needed to run Internet Explorer 6 (I’m not going to even ask why), you had to first start the virtual machine and then start Internet Explorer 6 within the virtual operating system. That was a pretty big hassle. Well, that’s a thing of the past now. Third party virtualization software such as Parallels and VMware began allowing users to start and use applications installed in their virtual machines directly inside their host system. The trick is that the actual virtual operating system is operating in the background. Because of this cool feature, legacy applications you run inside the virtual machine actually feels as if they were installed and being run on the host sytem!

While Microsoft have been late to the game with this feature, they have nonetheless provided this seamless application integration technology in Windows XP Mode. Let’s take a look at how this actually works.

Publishing applications installed inside your virtual machine to Windows 7 is as easy as just installing the application itself! Honestly, just install the legacy application in XP just as how you would if it was a stand-alone machine. In this example, I’ll use our favorite past time game, Solitaire as an example.
Once you have installed the application, simply browse back to your Windows 7 Start Menu under the Windows Virtual PC folder. You should now see a folder labeled Windows XP Mode Applications. Within this folder, applications you installed should then appear.

Here is a important note: if the application does not appear in this folder, than simply place the executable shortcut in the All Users Start Menu shortcut under Windows XP. To do so, right click on the Start Menu button in XP and select Open All Users. Drag the shortcut here. Wait a few seconds and the application should then appear in Windows 7.

Open All Users
All Users Folder

Now and henceforth, you can run the application directly from the Windows XP Mode Applications folder in your Windows 7 Start Menu. However, this works only if your XP virtual machine isn’t already up and running. If you do try to start the application while your XP machine is up, you will see this message:

Seamless Mode Message

As the message indicates, hitting Continue will turn off your XP virtual machine and start the desired application. This will enter XP’s Seamless Mode as seen in the screenshot below. As you can see, I have both operating system’s version of Solitaire running side by side.

Seamless Mode

Another thing you should be aware of is that files in your host operating system can actually bound themselves to applications installed in your XP virtual system! For example, if you installed Microsoft Word in XP and published it to Windows 7, you can then open .DOC files. By doing so each time, Windows XP Mode will kick in, and start up Microsoft Word in Seamless Mode and you can work with your documents just as if you were working on them in Windows 7.

XP Mode’s Other Configuration Options

Windows XP Mode has other features and options as well. One such feature is the ability to use and attach devices you connect to your machine. By default, devices will be shared to both operating systems, if possible. In this example, my FreeAgent external hard drive can be used in both my host and guest operating system as soon as I plug it in.

Sharing Devices

If a device doesn’t automatically share itself with Windows XP, you can manually take control of it. In the USB toolbar menu on top, it will display devices that can be attached to Windows XP. Simply find the device and click on it to attach it. In this example, I want to access my USB thumb drive so I’ll click on the U3 Cruzer Micro option.

Device Redirection

In the Action menu, you can switch Windows XP Mode to fullscreen. This is helpful if you are going to be working in the virtual system for an extended amount of time.

Full Screen

In the Tools menu, it is here you will get to set the majority of options for Windows XP. First up is the Enable/Disable Integration option. This is turned on by default. As mentioned above, drives you connect to your host machine will automatically be shared with your guest, if possible. By disabling this feature, you will have to manually attach devices via the USB menu.

Integration Features

Next up is the Settings menu. Here you can configure Windows XP Mode’s main options and settings. You can set how much amount of RAM (memory) you want to dedicate to Windows XP. By default, it allocated around 256MB to my virtual machine. If you find that inadequate, you can certainly bump it up to allow for a smoother XP experience. If you want to add additional virtual hard disk to your virtual machine, you can certainly do so as well by configuring the Hard Disk option.

Under Networking, you can configure how Windows XP connects to the network through your host adapter as well as changing which adapter to use. Generally, if everything is working fine (meaning your XP machine can connect to the Internet and whatnot), then leave everything alone.

Under Integration Features, you can select what gets automatically connected. For example, if you don’t want to share out your C: drive, than disable that here and restart the guest operating system for the changes to take effect.

Some of the options don’t allow you to change them while the virtual machine is running. Therefore, shut it down and then configure them from within the Virtual PC folder as seen below.

VM Settings
Settings Button

The last file menu setting is the Ctrl+Alt+Delete button. That keyboard combination is reserved and can only be used by your host operating system and no other application may use it. Therefore, if you press that combination in Windows XP, it’s actually going to apply it to your host operating system. To apply the keyboard combination to your virtual XP, click this button instead.

Ctrl Alt Delete

Now that you’ve taken a quick glimpse at how Windows XP Mode works, I hope you really get something out of it. Windows 7 is the new XP and it will only be time before people realize it. With Windows XP Mode, you are allowed to use both operating systems. But to be honest, once you try Windows 7, going back to XP just doesn’t feel right anymore. Whatever the case, you get the best of both worlds.

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Mounting a Virtual Hard Disk in Windows 7

In the last article, we went over how to easily create system image backups inside Windows 7. With image backups, you don’t have to worry or decide what gets backed up because a full system image will include everything. The downside to this method of course, is that it takes up a lot of storage space. Anyways, with system images, you typically use them whenever your system completely crashes. This way, your entire computer gets restored up to the point the image backup was last created. However, what if you don’t want to restore your entire computer but instead want to just grab some files you accidentally deleted the other day that you’re sure is in the image backup? Because the image file is in VHD format, you can’t just double click on the image to open it and then browse for the files to recover (at least not by default). Instead, you have to actually mount the VHD first before being able to browse its contents. Don’t worry, it’s a really simple procedure!

To make things a bit easier on yourself, just imagine a VHD file as a ‘virtual’ representation of your physical computer. If you have some understanding of virtualization technology, than I’m sure you’ll have no problem picking this up. If not, then I got you covered as well. I’ve written some basic articles detailing virtualization which you can glance over here and here.

To get back on topic, the VHD file stored in your external hard disk represents your computer as a whole. Windows 7 Home Premium edition and higher allows you to easily create system image backups in case one day your computer gets so funky, you have no choice but to reinstall. But as mentioned earlier, there might be times when you don’t need or want to completely restore your computer but rather be able to grab some files stored in the VHD instead. For this to be possible, we will need to mount the image so that Windows will see it as just another ‘physical’ hard drive connected to your computer system. In reality, the hard disk is virtualized. Luckily, Windows 7 allows you this capability of mounting VHD files. It’s so simple, a caveman can do it, literally.

How to Mount VHD Image Files in Windows 7

1. To mount a VHD image file, we simply head into Disk Management. This built-in Windows utility is what we use to manage our hard disks on a system. You can shrink hard disk space, extend a partition, format and delete partitions, change drive letters etc. One really cool feature of course, is the ability to mount the images we created earlier with Windows Backup.

To get into Disk Management, right click on your Computer icon in the Start Menu and choose Manage from the context menu. Once Computer Management is opened, under the Storage section, click on Disk Management. Windows will then scan your system for all available disk drives.

Disk Management

As you can see, my laptop is fairly generic. I have one physical disk installed. The FreeAgent drive is my external USB hard disk which holds the image files I will mount in the next step.

2. Next, simply click on the Action menu on the toolbar and select Attach VHD. In the resulting dialog box, simply browse for the VHD file. For users who want to attach a VHD created from the system image created earlier, the VHD file is in a folder called ‘WindowsImageBackup’ at the root of the drive. Within in, there will be a subfolder with your computer name as the label. The actual VHD file(s) is in another sub-folder labeled Backup XXXX with XXX being the date you last did a system image backup along with what seems to be some random number. If you want the mounted drive to be read-only (meaning you can’t add any information to the image), then go ahead and check the Read-only option box and hit Next.

Attach VHD
VHD Files
Disk Location

3. If you this your first time mounting a VHD image file, Windows will automatically begin installing a driver on your system. Once that is done, you VHD image backup file is now properly mounted! Back in Disk Management, you can clearly see a new drive has been attached to my system.

VHD Install Driver
Attached VHD Disk

How do you access your content you ask? Very simple. Simply head over to Computer and you will then see the newly mounted disk. Just browse through it like how you would any other drive. All of your files at the time you created the last image backup should be there. For example, if you need a file that was located on the Desktop, simply browse to UsersyourusernameDesktop. Highlight the file of interest and simply just drag it over to your actual Desktop or location of choice. That’s it!

4. When you are done working with the VHD, you can then detach it. Return back to Disk Management. In the bottom portion, find the VHD drive and right click on the left side of the drive. In the resulting menu, select Detach VHD. Job done!

Detach VHD

If you want an even easier way to attach and detach VHD’s, check out the free utility, VHD Attach. Once installed, this little utility will then include 2 options on your right-click menu, labeled Attach and Detach. So, simply browse to the locations of your VHDs, right click and select the appropriate option to mount it. Select the Detach option when you are finish. Very handy indeed if you will be working with VHDs a lot. You can download the free utility at this website.

VHD Context Menu

Pretty easy wasn’t it?

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