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Hyper-V vs. VMware vs. XenServer

Last response: in Business Computing
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January 2, 2013 5:39:24 PM

I currently am running Server 2003 for my own website and email. It currently runs on an AM2 3000+ with onboard RAID1, 2GB RAM, and then Shadowprotect makes an image and stores it on a NAS just in case. The downfall is that the downtime is longer than necessary when hosting emails/sites where restoring the NAS image to a backup server just isn't worth the time when a fix can take an hour or two. Another downfall is that this requires *now* time where other clients can be handled but instead I'm messing with this stuff.

The objective is to setup an environment where I can create a virtual image of my current server and then use two identical virtual servers where one simply does a nightly copy of the virtual image to the second backup virtual server. The theory is that if and when the main server is down the backup server can be mounted and used with minimal efforts and the problem can be fixed later that day when time permits.

I have two AM3 965s but I also have a 1100t if strongly preferred. I also have 8GB of RAM in each box and am running an onboard RAID1 because I believe a RAID5 would create enough overhead to require a dedicated card which would of course add to the expense.

So my big question is, which virtual server software in a bare metal environment? I prefer to only run one OS as these are not i7's... But I can load Windows Server 2008 as a host OS on the Virtual Servers if that is indeed the best solution given the hardware listed. The goals:

1) Make nightly copies of the virtual image to a backup virtual server

2) Easy Web Interface Management

THANK YOU!


UPDATE:

From what I have gathered so far, Hyper-V still requires 2008 Server Core installed...don't know exactly how that would work. The XenServer though sounds like at least a good test. I downloaded 6.1 and if I'm correct, the free license lasts only for 12 months and has to be renewed but it is always free. I'm going to attempted XenServer and see if the virtual copy environment works. I found everRun HA software for the more expensive XenServer versions however technically mine can dismount the image, copy, and then auto mount. My whole purpose is to simply have a backup server just in case of something with easy of copying images from one server to the other. Please advise if this sounds like a viable solution or if another product offers a better solution.

More about : hyper vmware xenserver

January 2, 2013 11:00:13 PM

It sounds like what you are wanting to do is a basic or manual version of server clustering. The description you gave is a little confusing to me, but I am trying to follow along.

First off, if you are storing business critical data on this server, you really should be running a hardware RAID controller. I can't tell you how many times I've been burned (or seen customers burned) by having a software onboard RAID 1 array fail and the system would not boot at all and have even lost data. Especially if you are planning to implement a new server box, make the purchase of a RAID controller it is worth it not just in security but in reliability and performance as well.

I think for what you are wanting to accomplish it's best to actually have two physical machines set up with similar if not identical hardware configuration. Your virtualization host (whichever you may choose, I personally use Hyper-V) will be installed on both physical systems. Your primary virtual machine will run on your "main" server and will be backed up as well to your NAS. In the even that your "main" server goes down you just load up the backed up image file of your virtual machine from your NAS onto the "backup" server and start it up and you are going again.

For the greatest performance and automation you'd set up an actual cluster, using both of your physical machines as the two nodes in a cluster created within your virtualization host, and the computers and network automatically manage the startup of your backup server in the event of your main server failing so you have literally no downtime. This can be more complex to configure, however.

What is your budget for implementing this whole project?
January 3, 2013 2:26:29 AM

choucove said:
First off, if you are storing business critical data on this server, you really should be running a hardware RAID controller.

Recommended models... I guess you'd suggest RAID5 then too...
choucove said:
I think for what you are wanting to accomplish it's best to actually have two physical machines set up with similar if not identical hardware configuration. Your virtualization host (whichever you may choose, I personally use Hyper-V) will be installed on both physical systems. Your primary virtual machine will run on your "main" server and will be backed up as well to your NAS. In the even that your "main" server goes down you just load up the backed up image file of your virtual machine from your NAS onto the "backup" server and start it up and you are going again.

Right. The primary server will copy the virtual image to the NAS and to the backup server so that it is ready upon demand. So you'd suggest Hyper-V...I have no problems with that as long as it gets the job done. I'm a little hazy with it though as I'm not sure how to actually implement it. Are there two versions of it, bare metal and within Win 2008?
choucove said:
What is your budget for implementing this whole project?

Well this isn't a major money maker so I'd prefer to keep the investment low... What I do have are the following specs:

AM3 965 or 1100t
8GB DDR3 RAM
ASUS Motherboard
500GB SATA2 HDD (x2 for RAID1)

If my backup box is to have identical then I'll need just additional drives and the suggested RAID card(s).
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January 3, 2013 3:03:19 AM

I don't know about Hyper-V, but with VMware in order to use clustering with High Availability, you need some sort of shared storage, like a SAN. You could probably use a 3rd box and run something like freenas and connect your hypervisors using iSCSI, but that might be overkill.

You can setup Hyper-V on the server core install of Windows Server or on a full install. If you do go with the Hyper-V route, I'd recommend Server 2012 because there are some significant improvements over 2008R2, especially with Hyper-V.

If uptime is really important, why not just go with a hosted provider? You might be able to do much better with cost and uptime using something like Windows Azure or Amazon.

January 3, 2013 3:18:42 AM

I suggest getting real server parts and doing it right from the ground up using VMware and enterprise class hard drives in RAID5. If you want a server you can spin up in the event of a failure, use something like a CharTec BDR (physical hardware + cloud).

You cannot call the cobbled together parts you have a server. Repurposing a desktop computer does not make it a true server. You are begging for a failure using consumer grade parts for a server with critical data.

If you can't do the job right, go with what others have mentioned, a hosted solution with a good SLA.
January 3, 2013 3:55:58 PM

Actually I would not recommend RAID 5 really, even though yes I do recommend a dedicated RAID controller. RAID 5 can be more difficult to recover data from in the event of some kind of failure. I recommend RAID 1.

In the event that your server goes down and you have to move data or recover data from your RAID 5 array, you HAVE to have that server functioning with the array configured and plug in a new drive to rebuild the data. If the server goes down and you have a RAID 1 array, you can access all of the original data on the drive from either of the hard drives or replace the drive if one fails with no rebuild time really. I've had this happen before with customers, being able to just pull a drive from their server, plug it in to a different computer, and have access to all of their files instantly can be a huge recovery relief.

The reason why I stated Hyper-V is simply that is my preference. I know my way around it better and it seems to have a little less learning curve than VMWare, but I know that VMWare can be very powerful and very common. I also know that it can be incredibly expensive to purchase with clustering and High Availability which comes as a standard feature including in the Windows Server 2012 Standard licensing and features without any additional cost.

Technically to set up an automated high availability cluster you have to have shared storage like a SAN as rusabus mentioned above. However, this can be incredibly complex and expensive to implement. The cheap way is, as you are describing it, keeping a backup disk image of the original VHD saved onto a shared storage location which can simply be pulled onto the backup server and turned on. I guess one way you can do it is set up a program to automatically backup the VHD or VHDX file of your primary virtual machine onto a shared folder on the backup server daily. You can then have that VHD or VHDX file already set up as the hard drive for a virtual machine on the backup computer so that the configuration of the virtual machines is identical on each computer. If your first server goes down, you just turn on the virtual machine on your second server and it will pick up from the last backup.
January 3, 2013 5:33:04 PM

choucove said:
Actually I would not recommend RAID 5 really, even though yes I do recommend a dedicated RAID controller. RAID 5 can be more difficult to recover data from in the event of some kind of failure. I recommend RAID 1.


That is what BDRs and backups are for.... :pt1cable: 
January 3, 2013 8:18:21 PM

True, you should always be keeping backups, but for quick recovery I've found this method to work much faster than waiting for a replacement hard drive to ship in, installing the new drive, and rebuilding the array.

Most of the work we do at my office is for small businesses which definitely cannot afford failover clustering, backup servers, spare hardware, etc. One place in particular that we went in to help with their server completely crashed and the RAID array (software onboard controller of course) would not boot up to the OS even though one hard drive still was in operating condition. It had corrupted the OS during the array failure. However, I was able to simply pull the good hard drive, put it into an external SATA enclosure, and plug it back into any other computer in the office with USB and they had all their files and were back up and going again in a half hour. If the original server had been in RAID 5 that wouldn't have worked.

Again, granted, they should have had a full backup completely separate from that RAID anyways, but it hadn't been running for nearly a month and they didn't know until the crash occurred.
January 7, 2013 3:32:05 PM

choucove said:
Actually I would not recommend RAID 5 really, even though yes I do recommend a dedicated RAID controller. RAID 5 can be more difficult to recover data from in the event of some kind of failure. I recommend RAID 1.

In the event that your server goes down and you have to move data or recover data from your RAID 5 array, you HAVE to have that server functioning with the array configured and plug in a new drive to rebuild the data. If the server goes down and you have a RAID 1 array, you can access all of the original data on the drive from either of the hard drives or replace the drive if one fails with no rebuild time really. I've had this happen before with customers, being able to just pull a drive from their server, plug it in to a different computer, and have access to all of their files instantly can be a huge recovery relief.

The reason why I stated Hyper-V is simply that is my preference.


Thank you for the information! I went ahead with the RAID 1 idea and I installed Windows Hyper-V Server Core 2008 R2 SP1 x64. I found a coreconfig gui which helped with the basics and I was able to get the ethernet drivers installed as well.

However looking at the Hyper-V settings seems to be a little vague... Looks like Start / Stop is all I can do. Now technically all I need to do is image my current server 2003 into Hyper-V and then start / stop as needed. I may need to tweak the virtual settings but I don't see where I can do that. I have been reading about this all weekend long and really am looking for a manual on Hyper-V Server Core 2008.

With that said, how else do I configure Hyper-V and get virtual images up and running on here?

UPDATE:
Wow...this is fun! I figured out how to enable RSAT Hyper-V Manager! My next mission is making a virtual image of my server...
January 9, 2013 1:11:07 AM

There are some great utilities out there to convert a physical system to a virtual machine (VHD file) for use in Hyper-V. I don't know the one now off the top of my head that I have used, but I know there are several out there that work very seamlessly.
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