back to article DIY virtual machines: Rigging up at home

A brief look at virtual machines for home use resulted in several requests for system specifications and configuration details. It seems some of you would like to take a go at replicating my setup. The hardware is simple. The motherboard is an ASUS P8H67-I Deluxe, with an Intel Core i5 2500 CPU, two 8GB Corsair SODIMMS and an …

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I am running a whitebox VMWare ESXi Server, 8Gb RAM, connected to a Netgear ReadyNAS NFS & iSCSI datastores. This runs my Windows ThinPC machine, Zimbra & a core DC for my testing server.

Another whitebox running what ever virtualisation platform I am playing with at the moment it is running proxmox at the moment. (this machine isn't a 24/7 machine)

I also have a HP MicroServer (also with 8Gb) which is running 2008 R2 as a DC / Fileserver, I would have moved this over but I like it for out putting films and things.

I will also be adding a raspberry pi when they launch! :)

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I currently have several virtual systems running on a tiny Atom computer. However that is _slow_. It's alright however if you just want to have a mailserver.

I'm going to switch that over to some AMD Athlon II with 16 Gigs of EEC RAM which will also hold my main RAID.

I used to have my virtual machines running on my VDR machine, however that isn't quite stable enough, and after one crash when I was away several hundred kilometers, I decided to get the Atom.

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Anonymous Coward

I'm not alone!

Currently have two OSs running on a Shuttle XS35 (little passively cooled Atom dual core job). It's SLOW but sips power and gets the job done.

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Anonymous Coward

Virtual on virtual

MacBook Pro with 8GB and an SSD... runs VMware Fusion with multiple VMs, including multiple ESXi VMs (yes, VMs) and an NFS/iSCSI appliance as a shared virtual SAN. Allows me to play with, break and document lots of new tech when designing/demoing/learning. The disk was/is the KEY bottleneck - that is beautifully removed via the SSD.

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Never mind

I was originally looking to re-purpose an old Shuttle XPC box I have. It's a nice size for hiding somewhere, gigabit lan etc but has the unfortunate issue of being a late Pentium IV machine. This comes with multiple pain points including: too much heat created (with associated fan noise); too much power use even on standby; and lack of VT on the chip. I'm guessing this will end up as a charitable dump to a relative or actual charity as I can't replace the custom Shuttle motherboard because they won't sell them.

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Virtual on virtual

I went with the MacBook Pro Core i7 with 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD... Two ESXi Servers with a number of VMs plus W2K8 Server for Virtual Center and a W7 Desktop.

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AMD64 multicore and 8TB of green disk

running roughly 30 virtual servers as well as serving HD video and music files via samba etc.

Current status is...

top - 01:46:33 up 46 days, 13:36, 5 users, load average: 0.05, 0.08, 0.02

Tasks: 346 total, 1 running, 345 sleeping, 0 stopped, 0 zombie

Cpu(s): 2.6%us, 3.0%sy, 1.3%ni, 93.1%id, 0.0%wa, 0.0%hi, 0.0%si, 0.0%st

Mem: 4033108k total, 4004636k used, 28472k free, 684948k buffers

Swap: 3866616k total, 224k used, 3866392k free, 1924488k cached

I telework and replicate vz images from work systems (16+core servers), run them on this

box amend then replicate the changes back via rsync.

OpenVZ is cjeap and simply brillinat now you have checkpint replication and backups/restore.

SImply ideal for replicable test platforms.

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Licensing workaround

This is a bit above most people's home level, but for a small/medium business it's quite handy.

If you buy Win 2008R2 Datacenter for a machine, then you are licensed to run an unlimited number of 2008R2 VMs.

Of course, Datacenter is much more expensive than the standard version, but it means we can create servers without worrying about licensing.

Quite how the licensing works when we migrate a VM between the two hosts (each of which has their own Datacenter license) I'm not sure though.

Not running any VMs at home, although I am using my old gaming rig as a file server. Why yes, that is a watercooled Semperon :)

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Meh

Still to be persuaded

I use VirtualBox on Linux and run VMs for a few tasks that require a degree of isolation or experimentation with the OS (the ability to roll back to earlier states is very useful). I have considered a home virtualisation setup several times, but a number of problems always deter me:

1) Windows licences: why would I want to pay for these to run on my VM when I can use Wine to run the few legacy apps that are still windows-specific? When buying a new machine, you get a free windows licence (well, not free, but it's usually hard not to pay for it anyway), so why not use that on the machine it was bought with if you really need windows?

2) You still need to keep all your VM-installed software up to date. At a basic level this is for security, but in practice also for compatibility with external stuff that keeps on changing. The more VMs you have, the more hassle that entails (except possibly if they all use identical software). Eventually, the OS installed on a VM needs upgrading because support stops. That's a whole new load of hassle too. If you installed it to run legacy apps, you may find they don't run after the upgrade, negating the whole point of using the VM in the first place.

3) The guest tools that provide integration with the host often don't run on old or obscure guest OSes so, again, VMs aren't an ideal solution for running really old software.

4) Historically, virtualisation software has had its fair share of bugs. Compatibility between old VMs and new versions of the virtualisation server hasn't always been 100%. Some older OSes won't run on certain versions of certain VMs. Integration between host and guest can break when versions change. Sometimes you can live with the consequences (although they're less acceptable to family members who aren't so computer-savvy), but sometimes they are show-stoppers too.

5) Access to hardware from VMs, as others have noted, is usually fairly pitiful, typically with serious performance issues. Even if your chosen VM allows direct access to devices, this will remove the isolation that the VM provides, so you'll have issues when the hardware changes (and that was what the VM was supposed to prevent).

I think the goal of separating the OS, the personal work environment and the hardware is a laudable one, but I'm not sure that virtualisation really pays off in a home environment.

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Virtualising helps with maintenance

For me the main benefit of virtualising my home setup was separating out the different functions. I originally had a single server running everything (DC, email, proxy, file server, etc) and as more and more things got added the performance and stability took a nose-dive. I found that putting ESXi on to the same box, and the moving all those functions onto individual VMs made everything more resilient, and allowed me to work on, upgrade, patch, and even replace, them individually without disturbing the others.

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WTF?

Proxmox...

If you want a home VM setup, try Proxmox...

Installation is trivial, pretty much choose your hdd and hit go (but do consider, its designed as a standalone install and not to dual boot, so it will remove anything else already on that drive)...

You can do full virtualised images of pretty much any os, linux, bsd, windows, solaris etc and there's also the option to do paravirtualization of linux images with considerably less overhead via openvz.

Proxmox has considerably lower overheads than vmware or hyper-v (especially when running openvz instances), and can be managed using a standard browser, ssh or vnc client (some other systems require proprietary clients thus limiting what you can use to manage them)...

You also get advanced features like live migration, shared storage, clustering etc although i doubt these will be used much in a home environment.

Also funny you should mention remotefx, X11 has had the ability to do remote opengl for many years... Still, if you want to play games remotely you can install a windows image within proxmox and then allocate a physical videocard to it.

And proxmox is free, including things like live migration that vmware charge a fortune for.

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My setup

A generic tower PC in the cupboard under the stairs: Athlon X3, 8GB RAM, 2 x 250GB 2.5" hard drives, VMware ESXi 4.1. It runs almost silently.

On this I run a five Windows VMs: domain controller, file/proxy/Tor server, Exchange 2010, and a BES to feed my Blackberry, and the occasional extra box or two for trying stuff out. None of them will break any speed records, but it does all tick along nicely and gives me the freedom to run my own email MY way. Plus it's a good practice environment for the day job!

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Anonymous Coward

I've got a i3 530, Asus mobo, 12gig ram and a LSI 8708ELP (3x 2TB Raid5 & 4x 1TB Raid5) running esxi 5.0 on a usb stick. It runs a firewall vm, AD DC, exchange 2010, linux vm and another win 08R2 which does mssql and is my nas box.

I did have several different boxes but they were taking up too much space to i managed to consolidate down to one - thanks to esxi 5 increasing RDM/VMDK sizes above 2TB. NAS has the 3x 2TB raid attached as an RDM drive. performance is great but i do need to watch out for disk I/O, even with a proper raid the sata drives don't really cut it if i reboot all VM's at once.

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Unhappy

For the love of god why?!?

My head hurts from reading all of these posts. Not from the specs and stuff because at work I have built and operate 3 ESX/vSphere servers running 25 guests, 3 hyper-v boxes running who knows how many guests (it's the dev teams junk), two XenCloud hosts and one KVM host. In addition we are building an OpenStack cloud with KVM and XEN hypervisors.

And yet i have absolutely ZERO desire to do anything like this at home. My MacBook Pro (albeit with Virtualbox and VMWare Fusion installed but rarely used), my wife's MacBook, the den's super old lampshade iMac and the AppleTVs do everything I'll ever need. I guess I like to do other things when I'm not at work like garden, take the kids to the park, scouting (boy and girl), drink beer with the neighbors around the fire pit, shoot off fireworks, hunt and fish, etc. But that's just me apparently.

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Some us are just BOFH's by day and geeks by night...

I enjoy sitting at home on an RDP session dicking around with 2k8 or whatever the mood takes.. Even after a day spent dealing with silly request like can someone install Angry Birds or have the wifi key for their iPhone even though they signed the corporate IT policy agreement stating that this is strictly prohibited even if you are a Director or whatever....

I do however write for a motorsport club and do press/pr for a race series as well which means that 6 weekends of the year I am off out and about camping and listening to race cars...

As an avid F1 fan I also loose 20 Saturday and Sunday mornings a year to that...

I was a Scout as a youngun and once me and wife decide to procreate I will ensure they are to and I will take it up with them...(it really is a worthwhile thing in my opinion and taught me a great deal as a youngun, my Uncle is the head honcho for his local Sea Scout group and I take a week out once a year to take them sailing and Kayaking)

In short I do this stuff at home because I enjoy it, I can and perhaps just as importantly i have the time. If it means i can extend my career, earn a better living to provide a better life for my spouse and offspring then its almost critical that I do!

Plus as i never learned a trade and skipped Uni (in order to do more drinking than the average student) my chances of the wife and I's dream of emigrating the UK to the US or Canada will never come to fruition unless I can qualify myself up to the hilt with MS certs etc to make me a viable candidate for a foreign employer, so that's an extra reason for a bonus point too :)

I do however totally get where you are coming from and there are days when it just isn't worth gnawing through the straps!

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I do something similar

Shuttle XPC something or other (about 6 months old XPC SG41... i think)

Core i5

16GB DDR3

320 WD Raptor

Win 2k8 R2 with HyperV

The HV host does all file server type stuff using partitioned NAS storage, Win 7 VM for all my streaming/extender needs for the Xbox etc, 1 VM for "tinkering/dicking around" be that loading Win 8, Linux etc. 2 2k8 R2 VM's for working through my MCITP In Server 2k8 Enterprise Administration!

Jubbly!, does exactly what I need it to with Drop box on them all for backing up docs etc etc...

The only thing I am yet to do is get a decent backup schedule put together that pushes it all to the NAS... Recs welcome on that...

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Disinformation?

Joe Montana, from what I can see, ProxMox uses KVM, which according to this page:

http://www.linux-kvm.org/page/How_to_assign_devices_with_VT-d_in_KVM

doesn't do physical video adapters, so how have you managed it?

Sometimes it's just easier to accept that Microsoft have done a good job. Horses for courses.

My favourite configuration is Hyper-V core (though I quite like ESXi too) with an R2 guest running AD and iSCSI target and Asterisk, Windows 7, Arch (I'm getting ready for RasPi), VortexBox, Mythbuntu whatever other guest I might be wanting to tinker with at the time

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Go

SmartOS and KVM

The author writes, "If you don't have the money – but have the time for something a bit more fiddly – check out CentOS and KVM. This combo is free, but lacks RemoteFX."

If you don't have the money – but have the time for something a bit more fiddly – check out SmartOS and KVM. This combo is free, and allows you to move VM's into the cloud.

http://www.joyent.com/products/smartos/

No one does cloud analytics better - best part about it, it works for multiple operating systems.

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Trollface

IT for salary and enjoyment

I think that the author's combo would work great. I am lucky enough to also have the time and need to setup a small host system to provide different services to my family.

I'm running an older Intel DQ965 desktop rig with a Core2Quad and 8GB RAM. The mATX motherboard is equiped with the Intel host assisted raid controller (ICH8 DO) which gives decent performance. The machine is equped with 6 x 2TB WD Green drives boasting 64MB cache, arrayed into a RAID5 resource pool. There is also an orphaned-from-work Intel SAS card and two 500G 10k SAS drives in a RAID1 configuration for the host OS. This config sips power from an APC 1000XL UPS. It averages a low powerdraw with underclocking, HDD power saving and an efficient 88% PSU. I'm lucky enough to posses a separate shed to house this away from living areas, linked to a gigabit switch and AP in the home - which is cabled in CAT6.

The host OS is Server 2008R2 SP1, which runs a few services, VPN, some programs for me and backup. The Hyper-V guests include a Server 2008R2SP1 DC which runs DNS, DHCP, DFS, AD GP, WDS, WSUS, MSSQL, IIS7, NPS and recently DPM. There is two each of XP and 7 client machines to test GP changes, SQL apps and WDS imaging etc. They may not all operate at the same time but have done a few times with good performance - unless large file transfers are running.

This setup allows me to host a very efficient, small domain for my userbase of 15 or so, some remote. The licensing allows the one extra copy of Server 2008R2 to be run in Hyper-V. Client machines include 3 gaming rigs, a netbook, 3 laptops, phones, guest devices, 2 x HTPC (one remote) and 3 workstations (two remote). My machines can be imaged from PXE booting to WDS (locally), apps are deployed and updated by the DC, users have offline files for laptops and redirected profiles/homefolders and I have a familiar administrative interface to tie it all together.

On my gaming machine, I have ample space to accomodate further VMs if needed for trying out new distros and betas. This is an Intel i7 950 on an EVGA 4waySLI Classified, 12GB 2000MHz RAM and 3 x nVidia GTX 480 cards. There is room for VMs and other data on a fast array of 5x1TB 7200 WD Black disks in RAID5, along with the OS on a single 120GB SSD. VMware Workstation provides excellent performance on Win 7 64bit host OS.

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