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Couple of questions on setting up a hypervisor server

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
I am wanting to set up a single machine to act as a server in my home. I'm hoping some of you smart folks can help me think it through. The primary needs it should fulfill are as follows:
  • Development servers (web server, database server, etc.) - each in their own virtual machine to emulate a production environment
  • Home file server for network access to pictures, movies, etc.
  • Low(ish) demand game servers
  • Potential 24/7 folding

My first thought was a Linux-based Xen server, primarily because licensing considerations and the fact that I have an ongoing fascination with Linux. However, I recently discovered that Microsoft's Hyper-V is free now (though I believe it limits you to 4 guests?). I know even less about ESXi, so I don't know if it should even be a consideration. I plan to purchase a Perc 5i raid card and start with a couple of large drives in RAID1, which would basically house all network-accessible files and virtual machines (yes, I'll have a separate backup solution).

One question I have is what would be the best way to set up that storage? Could I format the various partitions as EXT4 and use the file server VM to provide access to it for Windows clients using Samba and Linux clients natively?

Also, when setting up a Linux-based Xen server, my understanding is that a base server installation is performed first. Then Xen support is installed (or included in the base install) and the Xen-enabled kernel is then booted to, magically running Xen. I realize this process may vary from one distro to the next, but would that generally be correct?
post #2 of 8
@OP
Quote:
Also, when setting up a Linux-based Xen server, my understanding is that a base server installation is performed first. Then Xen support is installed (or included in the base install) and the Xen-enabled kernel is then booted to, magically running Xen. I realize this process may vary from one distro to the next, but would that generally be correct?

I believe this to be the process, yes.

Another option is KVM. I've recently set up a server (it's actually running Mint 13 XFCE) with KVM, Webmin and Cloudmin. Cloudmin is really geared towards setting up Linux instances (it will actually mount the VM image and modify the config files during the creation process), but I don't doubt you could set up Windows on KVM too (in fact I know you can). Additionally, there's a Cloudmin version for Xen. smile.gif
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post #3 of 8
ESXi is absolutely the best way to do this IMO. Run ESXi (now called vSphere) off a USB stick (it doesn't affect performance whatsoever, it loads into RAM). Everything is administered remotely with a management client for the vsphere box, or by SSHing into the individual VMs.

I'd put the storage on something like an unraid VM providing iscsi targets - if you have vt-d you can pass the storage straight through to the unraid server so it sees it as though it were directly attached, then the other VMs can access that for their own storage (their boot disks). For the shared storage, I'd just use a samba share, either provided directly from unraid or via a second fileserver VM doing samba from an iscsi target on the unraid.
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post #4 of 8
I think best in this context is subjective. I too use ESXi and think it is great, but would be hesitant to say it would be best for the OP. In terms of using XEN my only exposure has been Oracle VM Server, which I believe is a XEN variant and I was not really impressed with the Management interface ... also developed by Oracle.

Back on topic, I run a storage server running Openmediavault with a perc 6i and find that it suits my needs nicely. Currently with 8 WD RE4 1TB drives in RAID6. With SMB/CIFS shares for my local network and iscsi targets for my 2 ESXi box datastores, this fits my needs nicely and is similar to the setup that OP is wanting.

I have a test Oracle R12 EBS instance, web server, database server, and a couple more running and it is able to handle the load very well. I am often able to saturate my GB link to the storage server through SMB and iSCSI at the same time. But I am sure that XEN would be able to perform quite similarly, though I wouldn't be able to help with configuration in this area.
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post #5 of 8
Thread Starter 
Hmm. Up til now my virtualization experience has all been with Microsoft Virtual PC and Oracle VirtualBox. In both of those cases, the virtual machines consisted of a configuration/host file and a virtual hard drive. I could drop the VHD's anywhere and run them from there. Is this how Xen, ESXi and the like operate as well? I was thinking along the lines of a /boot partition, a root partition, one partition for all the VM's and the rest partitioned for network storage. Am I going to be looking at a different way of doing it here?

I'm not averse to research...really. Just thought I'd get a better idea of where to direct my efforts.
post #6 of 8
I have the ESXi vSphere hypervisor running off a USB stick ... the hosts themselves have no local storage to speak of. Instead the mount iscsi targets from my storage server for that purpose. For ESXi (the free version) most configuration is done through a Windows utility which will connect to the server's hypervisor and allow you to create/manage VM's / networking and storage etc.

As for XEN, as said I've only played with Oracle VM Server which is a variant, so not sure how true it is to pure XEN. In this case you install Oracle VM server onto an HDD inside the VM Host. On another separate machine you install Oracle Enterprise Linux + Oracle VM Manager software which you connect to through a web browser. THe Oracle VM Manager software does much of the same as the vSphere management software and will allow configuration of VM's/networking/storage etc.

I know in both instances it IS possible to SSH to the machines or drop into a root console, but in most cases it isn't needed nor recommended, and if possible configuration should be done through the interfaces.
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Felix
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Dexter
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Intel Core i7 3770 3.40 GHz 8M LGA1155 Processor Intel DQ77MK Intel HD4000 integrated gpu STRONTIUM 8GB 1600MHz DDR3 Dimm Single Module P... 
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post #7 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by Quasimojo View Post

Hmm. Up til now my virtualization experience has all been with Microsoft Virtual PC and Oracle VirtualBox. In both of those cases, the virtual machines consisted of a configuration/host file and a virtual hard drive. I could drop the VHD's anywhere and run them from there. Is this how Xen, ESXi and the like operate as well? I was thinking along the lines of a /boot partition, a root partition, one partition for all the VM's and the rest partitioned for network storage. Am I going to be looking at a different way of doing it here?

I'm not averse to research...really. Just thought I'd get a better idea of where to direct my efforts.

If you go the esxi route, there are no partitions as such (well, there are as the host itself is linux-like, but you basically never see them because you don't admin it like a linux box). You do all the administration at the host level (eg. configuring the "hardware" of new VMs, modifying the "hardware" of existing ones, installing an OS on a VM) through the administration client running on a windows box - I believe in the latest vsphere they've made it a web interface instead. Then, once you've got the VM up and running, you just treat it like a physical machine - ie. admin it via ssh or whatever.

There are still vhds (vmdks), and if you want to think of it in a simple way, you could have a vsphere install on a usb stick, then a single hdd (or hardware raid) as the datastore, and create the vmdks directly on it - not sure what format vsphere uses for the datastore, probably ext3 or ext4, but unless you go digging it's hidden from you.

In that sense, it's the same as what you're used to. Everything is much the same behind the scenes, it's just that the esxi philosophy kind of isolates you from it, by putting everything in an admin client and making the host an exceedingly thin hypervisor (if you actually ssh into one, there's not much there at all - it's a very stripped down, bare bones thing).

For simplicity, it might be best to ignore what I said before about using iscsi targets, if you're doing it all on one machine I think that was a bad suggestion and I take it back. For one thing, it adds the complication that you'd need somewhere (a small HDD for example) to boot the unraid (or whatever) from, since everything else would be booting off the iscsi targets, so bootstrapping would be like: 1. esxi boots from usb, 2. unraid boots from plain datastore on little hdd, 3. all the other VMs boot from iscsi targets on the unraid.

Depending on your resources though, iscsi does have merits, like that if you want to be able to move VMs between two different esxi hosts, you'll want their storage to be separated from the VMs themselves to allow that, so a 2 box solution with an iscsi server and an esxi host is very flexible, but not at all necessary, and like I said I probably shouldn't have mentioned iscsi at all since you specified a single box in the OP.

One cool thing for testbeds on esxi is all the virtual network stuff it does so nicely, so it's easy to have vswiches and virtual subnets, or bridge physical VLANs with vswitches etc.

For backup purposes, may I suggest if you go esxi that you look at ghettovcb - it's a little daunting at first, but once you get used to it, it works very nicely.
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post #8 of 8
Thread Starter 
A lot of good insight here. I really appreciate everyone taking the time.

I guess I just expected more of an interest in Xen, it being open source and all (read: not subject to the marketing- and revenue-based whims of some major corporation like Microsoft or Oracle). Clearly ESXi is pretty popular, though. I'm going to have to look into that option.
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