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Budget VMware Server Farm Help Please

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April 2, 2009 10:37:26 AM

Has anyone built a VMware server machine at home? I am going to be doing this within the next week or so. I would like some suggestions on an AMD-based, budget farm. Workloads will be light. I will probably run 1-2 Linux Web Servers, a backup server, and 3-4 Windows demo servers doing VPN, AD, and running some low-CPU apps. These apps will be Tivoli systems management-products. I work for an IBM Business Partner, so I can this stuff for free and show it to my customers.

I have a couple of old PC's I was considering rebuilding. I am now realizing that I would need to replace most parts. About the only thing I would re-use is the PSU, optical drives, floppy drive, and the case. With an extra $80 bucks I could just completely rebuild.

So here are my questions. I have a lot, so any help would be appreciated.

1) I haven't yet decided between ESX and VMware Server. I think if I go ESX, I can load up on memory, correct? I was thinkint 4-8GB DDR2. If I go VMware Server, I'll probably run on Windows 2k3 which will limit the RAM. Suggestions based on my workload? I'd rather do ESX.

2) One virtual machine will be a backup server. I need to dedicate a single, empty, 1TB SATA drive to this. The OS for the backup server will reside on a seperate disk (or virtual disk). How do you assign a secondary, physical disk to a virtual machine? Can you?

3) I am looking at an AMD Athalon 64 X2 7750 2.7Ghx Dual-Core. Mobo would be the ASUS M3A78-EM. Thoughts?

4) Should I do dual gigabit NIC's, or just one? I am thinking one is fine. I just don't want my backup server to have to fight for bandwidth.

I'd also like to hear about similar projects, and what you did.

Thanks in advance.
April 2, 2009 1:01:19 PM

First, I don't know that much about VMWare, I used it a bit at work, but never had to "sysadmin" it. It was mainly used to replace all our test machines, but it was far more than "light load" so we go a dual-quad machine with 32GB RAM :p .

Just a suggestion, look at VMWare ESXi hardware support, might help and since it has very small footprint, you won't loose performance by host OS.

For a VMWare server, I would highly suggest a quad core, the price premium isn't big but it would give you a lot more freedom and responsiveness from your VMs.

As for "dedicated" disc to a VM, I think you can set a whole disk to be "native", but not sure.
April 2, 2009 10:28:47 PM

I think I am going to go with VMware server on Ubuntu Linux. Anyone else do a similar build?
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April 3, 2009 3:29:46 AM

well, if you do this, go dual nics, then you could have the VM's backup at separate times on a different gigabit networks, therefor you don't have to worry about bandwidth issues for your backups

on the ESX vs Server, i have no clue, i have used server for a few things here and there (im a computer science major)

+1 for the quadcore

if you go amd, there phenom II line starts at like 170 i think, the quad might be better for what you are doing
April 9, 2009 2:07:49 PM


I am currently looking into doing pretty much the exact same thing djminus1. I've got an old machine now running Ubuntu with VMWare Server but it can only run two VM's at a time without problems. I've always bought AMD so was looking at the AMD motherboards/processors. Also looking into the quads which would definitely help with the VM's performance. Still trying to decide on 8Gb motherboard or 16Gb.

One thing I am not sure of but think I am right, is that I had signed up for the ESXi free download about 3 months ago. I never got around to playing with it because I already had VMWare Server 2 running. I recently got an email from VMWare stating that my trial period is about to end and that it would be $995 to purchase a license. I believe that VMWare was providing a year long demo of ESXi for free, and that demo period is getting ready to be over and you'll have to purchase a license now.

Does anyone know if that is the way it is? Although of course VMWare Server will remain free.

Also, djminus1 have you gotten any farther in deciding what you are going to do and what you are going to buy? Would love to see what you are/or have decided on doing.
April 9, 2009 4:10:38 PM

Unless I'm mistaken, if you downloaded the "Free ESXi", you shouldn't have a trial period. If you downloaded a free trial of the fully licensed ESXi, that is another thing.

http://vmetc.com/2008/08/10/whats-the-difference-betwee...

As for 8GB vs 16GB, I would say it depends on how many VMs you want to run, what OS and load on each VM.
April 10, 2009 2:40:26 AM

You need ESXi, not Server in order to setup the backup disk like you want. My experience is with Workstation 6 which has all these capabilities. When I had a partition corruption in a 1TB Raid 5 array, I ended up having to use Workstation and a virtual XP Pro to use the data recovery software. My point is that you can even setup dedicated Raid arrays very easily.
Must use Quad-core, should really use Dual-Nics and even buy an Intel PCI-express NIC to give you far better performance. I bought 2 - $35 single NIC cards, one for each PC and my bandwidth went from a steady 35MB/s to 55-60MB/s. The onboard NIC's are usually separated into 1 using the PCI-express interface & the other using PCI interface; however, the add-in cards are better optimized for virtualization.

Win2k3 will not limit your RAM if you use one of the these versions: Enterprise, Datacenter or x64.
I am not aware of any RAM limitation for Server or ESXi. After reading about ESXi and having used Server, ESXi is certainly what you need. If what the other person said is true in that ESXi will not be free down the road, then you should look at Workstation. For what you want to do, you certainly cannot get by using Server.
EDIT: You need Server cuz ESXi requires Server-class hardware. Also, I confused Server with Player, sorry. You want Server, which is similar to Workstation. ESXi requires a remote PC to configure it, Server does not.

What you really need to look at is your drive setup using Raid. This single factor will affect your system's performance more than anything else will. I know quite a bit about Raid so let me know if you would like some pointers(FYI, one of my PC's has 8 Raptors, 4-500GB drives, 2-Raid 10 arrays, 1-Raid 5 & 1-Raid 0 array using Intel's onboard & a 3ware dedicated card).
April 10, 2009 4:36:43 AM


Just a quick update on this, and thanks for your replys and info:

Zenthar, you are correct, I had downloaded the fully licensed version. I went back and downloaded the free version of ESXi, and it is free forever. Just to test, I loaded it on my Asus A8N SLI Deluxe mobo which has a dual core processor. I originally had Ubuntu with VMWare server loaded on it, and wow what a difference ESXi makes, much better performance. I guess having the hypervisor running directly off the hardware makes this big difference. Only downfall is that you can administer Server from the Host computer, but with ESXi you have to administer it from a remote computer, although the admin interface with ESXi is much much better and you can do multiple snapshots with it.

I thought the same thing as you did Specialk about needing server class hardware with ESXi, although come to find out you don't necessarily. Here is a link to known compatible motherboards you may even own at home already. Like I said, it is even working fine on my old Asus motherboard.

http://www.vm-help.com/esx/esx3.5/Whiteboxes_SATA_Contr...

With it working so well with my old motherboard, now I am really enthused to purchase a new, more beefier system for ESXi with a lot more memory. I will also definitely look into quad core and also the dual nic setup. Thanks again for info and advice.
April 10, 2009 6:15:53 AM

Over at Anandtech IT, they have some great articles discussing VM and hardware, including CPU's. Up until Intel's Nehalem, AMD's CPU's were better for VM by a good margin due to page size and some other technical jargon. However, Nehalem really has blown the doors off AMD in the server market and caught up in VM, not to mention better performance and less power consumption in desktops. Oh yeah, Nehalem also doubles the logical cores to 8 which is, I think, the number 1 reason to use it for VM. Another reason is the Triple-channel memory allowing 12GB of ram(cost effectively) vs 8GB for AMD. One of my main reasons for using Intel is their Matrix Raid, which allows 2 Raid arrays on 1 set of drives. In my case, I have 4 Raptors in Raid 10 for OS & apps and the Raid 0 for video editing and other uses. On my other PC, I have the same 4 drives but instead of Raid 0, I have a Raid 5 array in addition to a 3ware add-in Raid card.
April 10, 2009 12:44:46 PM

It also depends on the budget and the use. For enterprise and very serious users, I would recommend i7 + RAM + RAID, but if used at home for "experimenting" or self learning (about the VM themselves or dev/OS/DB/...), a lower-end system is more than enough.
April 10, 2009 9:12:21 PM

Web servers tend to be the most demanding on a system's core components(CPU, Ram, HDDs). With i7's HyperThreading, you really can't beat its performance in VM's. My own experience has shown that 'experimenting' with VM's leads to finding more ways to utilize VM's because they can do so many things very easily. So what I'm saying is that once you start, you will be hooked.
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