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Building a Home Virtual Host Server

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Recently in our groovy Community Forum, goLfie (one of our groovy readers) asked a .  Over time the discussion turned to questions about building a Virtual Server.  As I was typing my response to the thread, I figured this topic was worth a front-pager so without further ado…

 

Server Case and Hard Drives/IO

The first thing you need to do is find a nice tower case.  The primary reason for this is drive space.  Now granted, if your planning to use an eSata drive enclosure full of drives, this probably isn’t as important.

 

One of the most common problems I’ve seen in Corporate America when building out a Virtual Farm is they buy the biggest server with tons of CPU and Memory and then throw only a few drives on the box.  Guess what happens?  Yup, Disk IO constraints.  Trust me, skimp on the disk, and it will QUICKLY become your bottleneck guaranteed!

 

A friend of mine did this recently by building a nice Home Server with tons of CPU and Memory.  He then bought a single 1TB drive and partitioned it 80Gigs for OS and the balance for his Virtual Machines.  After installing just 4 VMs on the box, the performance was awful on the host and VMs.  Just imagine five servers all trying to pull from a single drive spindle. Ouch.

 

SO, be sure you don’t skimp on the disk.  I honestly believe it’s one of the of the most important factors (second only to memory) when building a Virtual Server Host.  Try to put as many Drives into the box as your case will hold.  The more Drive Spindles, the better.  After all, for a few hundred bucks you should be able to get 5-6 500 Gig drives.  You can find em on NewEgg for ~$50 each.  Optimal config would be a Mirror of the System drive and a Raid 10 (if you have a lot of disk) or good ole Raid 5 for the Volume holding your VMs.  If you’re low on disk, just Stripe all the disks into a Raid 5 and build away.

 

Server CPU

To run any of the Hypervisors out there, you need to ensure you buy a Processor which supports On-Chip Virtualization.  Intel calls this Intel VT and AMD, .  Microsoft’s Hyper-V Server 2008, for instance, won’t even run or install on a Server 2008 box without the VT or AMD-V CPUs.

 

Additionally, since this is a home system and you probably won’t be buying a motherboard with four sockets, be sure your CPU has at least two cores (preferably four.)  That way if you go two sockets and w/4 cores each, you should be good to go from a CPU standpoint.

 

Server Memory

The heart of any Virtual Server Host is its Memory.  Without enough memory, you lose all the gains of being able to host multiple Servers and Desktops on a single Server.  Memory is inexpensive these days. Therefore my recommendation is to install 8 Gigs at a minimum.  That should give you enough RAM to host up to 8 – 10 Mid-Sized Virtual Machines.

 

Motherboard

Make sure your motherboard supports multiple CPUs (sockets) up to 16 Gigs or more of RAM (that way you can grow the box as needed), plenty of SATA, eSATA connections, and a built-in raid is also a plus.

 

If you can, get Video onboard.  Don’t waste your money buying a big fancy video card for your Virtual Server host.  After all, in most cases, after you build your host you will probably NEVER need to login locally again.  A lot of people think you need a big fancy Video card to do things like Aero over an RDP connection.  That’s plain wrong.  ALL my virtual hosts are headless (no monitor attached) and sitting on a rack in my garage, and I have no problems running my Virtual Vista boxes with Aero Theme via RDP (and trust me, the video cards in my servers are uuuuugggllly.)

 

Hyper-Visor Software

For centuries (well not that long) VMWare was the ruling king with the ESX product line and management suite… and you paid for it.  On the average, it was $5k a CPU.  With the added pressure from Microsoft, Citrix, SUN, and Oracle (yeah, Oracle has a VM product) the King is starting to feel the heat from the pack.  That’s good news for us!

 

The pressure started with Microsoft releasing .  Although not free at first, Microsoft quickly reduced the price to $0.  VMWare responded with the release of .  Microsoft then bundled it’s latest Virtual Server called Hyper-V with the .  About six months later they released a free stand-alone Hyper-Visor called Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 a direct response to the Stand-Alone Free release of its ESX product line called .

 

And that brings us to NOW.  Personally, I run a little of EVERYTHING.  My home lab contains one or more of EACH the products I mentioned above MAINLY because many of my older boxes don’t have the Hardware Requirements.  As far as MY recommendation, here’s what I would suggest in order:

  1. ESXi – Free, latest technology, easy install.  Just be sure to read up on all the HW Requirements.  Important to note Intel-VT or AMD-V is not required unless you want to run 64Bit VMs.  I would highly recommend it however for performance reasons.
  2. Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 – Free, great technology, easy to running Virtual Server 2005 R2.  Should note – Intel-VT and AMD-V Processors are required.
  3. Windows Server 2008 W/Hyper-V – This allows you to host the VMs you need AND, use the Host to do other things as well.  My primary Hyper-V server, for instance, is also my Primary Domain controls with all my FSMO roles on it.  Backup Domain Controller is Virtual of course. 😉

 

AND… that’s about it.

 

What did I forget?  Anyone have any further suggestions?

 

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13 Responses to Building a Home Virtual Host Server

  1. Germaine February 6, 2009 at 11:36 am #

    Hey would I need a Video card in my box if I wanted to host a video game server? Like say a Local world of warcraft server, or something similar?

    And with virtual operating systems, is all the video virtualized so that the card in the box you are RD’ing in from is generating all the video?

  2. MrGroove February 6, 2009 at 2:06 pm #

    1) You will need a Video Card in order to setup the box originally. Any Vid. card will do. You should be able to get one built onto the motherboard or go grab a cheap card ar Fry’s. In regards to hosting a service like RunUO or a WOW Game Server, most of them just run as an application in a cmd window or service. No video card necessary. All the Video is client side.

    2) Yes. The Virtual Guest system is using a Virtual Video card. All the Aero graphics for example is based on the Client initiating the RDP connection. I personally did some testing running a Vista Pro. Desktop on a Windows Server 2005 R2 box on a P3 system. I was able to get Aero enabled dispite the 8 meg video card on the server. It’s ALL ON THE CLIENT SIDE.

    Hope that helps!

  3. lazertag March 7, 2009 at 1:17 pm #

    I tried to install esxi but I had to many problems getting it to work on my hardware. Downloaded hyper-v server 2008 and it installed the first try with no issues. thanks for the write-up.

    • MrGroove March 11, 2009 at 9:09 am #

      @lazertag, Yup – ESXi I beleive is a superior product to Microsoft Hyper-V (Today) however it has much more restrictive hardware requirements. Glad to hear the Hyper-V route worked out for ya.

  4. Jeff March 11, 2009 at 8:53 am #

    Great article. Exactly what I was after. Thanks!

  5. highjumpman March 21, 2009 at 1:14 pm #

    Hi, nice article. One question on the comment concerning the video card though. I set up Server 2008 and it’s running fine, but now I want to take out the power hungry video card (and use RDP to manage the server). I already configured the BIOS to continue booting, but how do I configure the OS to ignore the fact that the card is missing? Is it enough to disable the video driver in the device manager? Thanks!

    • MrGroove March 23, 2009 at 11:03 pm #

      @highjumpman – Hmm… Personally I would recommend going to the store and buying a cheapo Vid card for 10-20 bucks. Honestly, although it might take a few years, there will be a time one day when you will need to login to the computer with console access.

      Anyway, to answer your question, what I would do is go into Device manager, find the video card and uninstall the driver. Then shutdown the box, pull the card and you should be fine. Just store it in the desk somewhere so you can retrieve it when needed. 😉


      Hope that helps out. Oh BTW – Welcome to the site HighJump!

      • highjumpman March 24, 2009 at 9:46 am #

        @MrGroove,
        yes, disabling the driver was indeed enough! The server boots up just fine with the card removed and I get the usual GUI via the RDP connection. The problem that some people get, with it only working once before the next boot, didn’t turn up in my case. Thanks again for the advice!

        • MrGroove March 24, 2009 at 11:53 pm #

          @highjumpman, Excellent! Thanks for the update and I’m glad it worked out for you!

  6. Pascal April 3, 2009 at 9:22 am #

    Hi,
    I’m putting up together a machine to run ESXi. I’ve bought an ASUS P5N-D motherboard, a Q6600 proc, and 8 GB of DDR2 memory, but I would like some help with the video card, due to VMWare ESXi hardware’s restriction. I live in Brazil, and there’s not a whole of choice on what to buy. Could you give a few choices, or basic specs that should work?
    Thanks
    Pascal

  7. Mitchell Tafreshi June 5, 2010 at 1:05 pm #

    I liked your writingson this and you surely wouldn’t believe how much I had to search Bing to get good information like this! I am studying in uni on this and didn’t quite understand a few things that are in metext books (god I hate those) and thankfully your information was straight to the point. Just like I like it!!

    I will be checking your blog out again in the future!!

  8. AJSD34 October 12, 2010 at 9:05 am #

    Has anyone tried XenServer from Citrix? If so what is your take compared to ESXi and Hyper-V?

    Thanks

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