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I can't afford VMware infrastructure to do all the cool things, but I also don't have the money to buy a physical server for each and every machine I need, so I've been implementing some non-core machines with VMware Server.

I'm interested in hearing about what other people do with this, and if it's a long-term viable solution, or if I'm just postponing the inevitable migration to ESXi

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10 Answers 10

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I ran VMWare Server (1.0x, then 2) for 18 months before ESXi came out free. I did the gamut of performance tuning tricks but was never truely happy with VM performance in Server. Systems that do alot of context switching / handle many network connections are not well suited for Server when ESXi is out there for free.

As long you have a backup solution for ESXi, it is a far better solution. My VM's sit out on NFS running on LVM on top of 15K SAS Raid10. I do 'in VM file' file backups and snapshot backups at the LVM level for the images on the NFS server.

I was not able to run MS Exchange, MS SQL Server, or even a MS File & print server under VMWare Server with acceptable results. Under ESXi they hum right along. Linux VMs enjoy the same level of improvement as well.

The other comments here are great as well - no need to retype.

Jeff

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i'm running mix of esxi and vmware servers under debian linux. i dont have san, just raided local drives, my biggest concern is 'backupubility', i dont need very high performance nor i suffer from some slowdowns [ at least until now ]. all runs under mix of dell poweredge 1950 and poweredge 2950.

for hosts running under esxi i run partial backups from within virtual machines, no rocket science here, all works well and in stable fashion.

for vmware server - i keep virtual machines on lvm partition and use lvm snapshot feature for 'hot backups' [ that is - without interrupting virtual machines ]. i DO KNOW that this is unsupported mechanism that can lead to unrecoverable backups but with additional backups from within vm guests - i feel comfortable with that thought. also so far i've recovered complete vms dozens of times without any problems.

for vmware server i've done some host and guest tuning:

  • vmware keeps it's temporary files on /dev/shm
  • i've turned off memory trimming / over-committing for guests
  • i keep vmware tools installed under guests
  • for linux guests i've elevator set to noop, kernel clock set to no_hz
  • i've done some common-sense optimization for windows guests including turning off unnecessary services, disabling screensavers and hibernation etc.

i'm quite happy with the setup. i'm using vmware server since v 1.0 without much hiccups. i've noticed that usage on host system of vm with 2003 grows steadily over time. reboot of vm does not solve the problem so every ~2 months i shut down such vm completly and boot it up again. symptoms suggest it's problem with vmware rather than windows itself.

but it all depends on your workload, in my case i have quite lo disk i/o requirements for guests, this is performance bottleneck that i expect to hit sooner or later.

hardware advice? all depends on workload; take:

  • 1x quad core or 2x quad cores
  • plenty of memory [ 16-32 GB are cheap nowadays ]
  • if you need io - take 4-8 disks in raid 10
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That's cool, thanks for sharing! Have you ever tried recovering from one of the backups? –  Matt Simmons May 31 '09 at 16:19
    
@Matt Simmons - actually yes. i do it almost regularly mostly because users demand it. i never had problem recovering from lvm snapshots, in worst case file system consistency check during boot-up. my understanding is that my snapshots are 'as good/bad' as killing the server by pulling power cords from it. –  pQd May 31 '09 at 16:24
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If you can't afford Infrastructure, but want the bare metal hypervisor of ESXi, check out Citrix's XenServer, for free.

XenServer is analogous to ESXi, but XenServer also has a VM Manager, XenCenter, analogous to Vmware Infrastructure, which they released as free.

I've been using it instead of ESXi, and really liking it.

Check it out here.

Anapologetos

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I used to use VMware Server before ESXi was free. As long as your hardware will work with ESXi it requires no additional investment (although Veeam Backup will do hot image backups...their free FastSCP will do backups too if you shut down the VM), and can support more VMs on the same hardware. It's also more reliable (in my opinion) and the management interface is much more rich and easy to use (also opinion of course). I've moved completely away from VMware Server and hope to never touch it again! The fact that ESXi is free makes the difference, although vSphere Essentials is under $1k list for three hosts and if you have more than one, is worth it.

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We've just installed ESXi for our virtual machines, I'd advise moving directly to that, it'll make the next stop easier down the line.

With vmware server, it is only going to be as reliable as the OS it's running on, so you want to think about what you use for that. You'll also want to cut down the OS as much as possible, and make sure you're not running anything that could either cause crashes or security issues.

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I would actively shy away from VMware Server for anything but testing and quick lab work. ESXi is a much more robust solution. Performance is better, and you get the upward scalability for when your operation grows. Also, the VI Client interface beats VMS2's web interface any day of the week.

As others have mentioned, there are some cool third-party tools which can give you additional functionality, such as Veeam's backup tools. The API used by VMS 1.x was almost non-existent, so you never saw many third-party tools for this product line. On the other hand, ESXi shares the same VI API that ESX has been using for a long time now, so you'll always have a greater momentum for third-party software in that space. Note however that VMware limits the API for ESXi unless you pay for some vCenter licenses. But buying vCenter gets you a ton of other features, so I'd definitely recommend checking that out regardless.

If your budget is $0, my personal pick is definitely ESXi over VMware Server, MS Hyper-V Server (the non-Windows one), or VirtualBox. I don't know much about Xen, so can't speak to its merits.

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VMWare Server 2.0 works very well, as indeed did it's predecessor (and GSX come to that). You don't get the performance of ESX, but it's still pretty good and very reliable. I used to run several web and mail servers on GSX then VMWare Server 1.0.7 (on Windows 2003) and never had a problem. I think the user interface in 2.0 is a bit clunky, but it works well enough.

JR

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right. i did not mentioned it in my post, web interface of vmware server 2.0 sucks. every ~30% of times i get blank page instead of login. usually flushing browser's cache solves the problem. and there is vmware virtual infrastructure client that happens to be half-compatible with vmware server [ good enough to reboot and access console ]. –  pQd May 31 '09 at 16:26
    
The thing that I do like about the new 2.x web client is that I can easily admin the stuff from home on my PC over the VPN rather than launch a remote desktop instance. I also appreciate the console plugin being OS agnostic –  Matt Simmons May 31 '09 at 16:45
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I think the ESXi/VMware Server decision point on a standalone server comes down to a few things:

  • Hardware compatibility (ESXi vs. Linux/Windows)

  • If having a host OS running native on the hardware would be useful for things besides VMware Server (i.e. infrastructure services, or a desktop on the server capable of running apps)

  • Forward compatibility: ESXi would be more easily migrated to vCenter management.

  • Easier access to VM filesystem (I think it's easier with Linux/Windows/VMware Server in a
    standalone scenario)

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Are you aware that on VMWare Server you will have to supply "hardware memory" for all VMs, even if they do not need that memory at a given time?

On ESX, ESXi and vSphere the memory is kind of "shared" between the virtual machines. In theory if a machine has 1 GB of RAM configured, but only 500 MB are actually used, then 500 MB of "real RAM" is still available for other virtual machines.

Only this fact - for me - is the killer argument to drop VMWare Server for ESX and ESXi.

Of course performance and reliability are also so much in favor of ESX(i) that I would never think of vmware server.

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I am seeing the same "shared" memory phenomenon with VMware Server 2.x. It may be a new feature, I don't know. –  Matt Simmons May 31 '09 at 23:00
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VMware Server has provided a tunable shared memory setting since v1.x. It was a major advantage over MS VS2005 R2 when I tested both with similar workloads. –  aharden Jun 1 '09 at 11:24
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None, unless you happen to want a nice windows Gui on the host system.

I chose Server because coworkers don't have any experience with virtualization (and are not used to remote desktops), so when there's a problem they walk up to the server and check it out. But that's only for some servers who don't need ultimate performance (those are on self-compiled xen hosts).

With Server, they have the basic windows gui they're used to, and they can call the web app (why they don't do it on their workstation just beats me) and call a console to the Vm.

As long as they can fulfil their jobs it's okay, I guess.

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