Interest in Microsoft's Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) format is heating up as Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 move out into the marketplace. So here's some VHD news you can use in the form of pointers to two free online user guides.
Although VHD is closely intertwined with virtualization, it's also being widely used as a stand-alone tool because Windows 7 adds support for Native VHD, which means you can use it without virtualization in place.
VHDs are widely used as storehouses for hard disk images you intend to deploy out to clients. For example, you can keep different images, for different types of users, in the form of separate VHDs and then just deploy the ones you need to whomever they need to go to.
I should note that the VHD format is not new -- it has been freely available since 2005, when Microsoft began offering it royalty-free to third parties. For example, Citrix and VMWare support VHD, though for VMWare it's not the prime format. However, it's clear that interest in VHD is gathering steam amid the launch of Windows 7.
If you want a formal definition, this is how Microsoft puts it: The Microsoft VHD file format specifies a virtual machine hard disk that can reside on a native host file system encapsulated within a single file.
What is VHD good for? Again, according to Microsoft, it can be used for moving files between a VHD and the host file system; backup and recovery; antivirus and security; Image management and patching; disk conversion (physical to virtual, and so on); life-cycle management and provisioning.
It strikes me that there's a fairly steep learning curve between someone who can create basic VHD partitions and a knowledgeable user capable of exploiting all the scenarios listed in the above paragraph.
I definitely fall into the first (newbie) category. To help me -- and you, too -- buttress those basic smarts and learn more about the full feature set, I've come across two really helpful docs, which give lie to the truism that all documentation stinks.
The first download I recommend is a 61-page word doc from Microsoft, entitled "VHD Getting Started Guide." It's here.
This guide discusses creating the deployable images that I mentioned above, as well as server provision and managing virtual desktop infrastructures. It also goes through the command sequences for many different VHD scenarios.
Microsoft blogger Michael Waterman offers up the second valuable and interesting piece of documentation I'd like to point you to today. It's a pdf doc called "Native VHD Boot Deployment Scenarios." The file can be accessed at the bottom of this post. As the title indicates, it focuses on using the native boot capability to create deployable images. This lets you manage your organizational image-deployment strategy.
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