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I am planning on building servers to host the max number of VMs. Right now I have seperate machines running some applications, datamining type stuff and they each have about 1gig ram, 600-1GHz CPU and I'd like to see how many I can run on a server running VMWare Server ESXi. I am using Micro XP for the OS.

I've narrowed in on this board:

Seems a bargain and then can load it up with a lot of ram etc. Any suggestions / help with specs? Do you think that I am not going to save much money by building myself vs going w/ a dell server etc.


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Keep in mind that board is MEB, means it's 13" by 16" and there's only a few cases around it will fit in. Also, the MB and processors alone will draw over 400w. – Chris S Oct 6 '10 at 18:05
up vote 2 down vote accepted

To be honest, I wonder what you hope to achieve by building it yourself.

Something I learned as part of our Virtualisation project, moving from a few VMWare Server installs here and there to a proper ESX cluster, is that it is great, but at the high end it means putting more your eggs in fewer baskets... there isn't much wrong with that as such, but it does mean that each one of the baskets needs a lot more care than before. It's one thing to lose one or two services when a VMWare Server with a couple of things on it and quite something else to lose ten services when an ESX server dies or all of them when the shared storage dies.

With something like VMWare, hardware compatibility is important and someone like Dell, IBM, HP can offer you that - if you buy a system for ESX you can be sure it will work. Even if you believe you will save money on the initial purchase price of the hardware then you have to consider what will happen during the lifetime of the system.

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I think the answer to your question comes down to two other questions:

  1. What do you consider reasonable cost?
  2. How much do you value your own time?

We have VM servers in operation with 128GB of RAM, several quad core processors and large disk arrays, all based on Dell hardware. Each of them weigh in at around 10k GBP. The number of virtual machines running at any one time varies heavily, depending on the requirements of each VM. There is no simple calculation possible.

As far as we are concerned, this was reasonable cost, as it saved us a whole lot of other expenses (air conditioning, rack space, configuration, testing,....). Your answer maybe entirely different.

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Reasonable cost... when I start buying machines will prob be in increments of $10,000. So that would either be one super machine or 10 $1,000 machines etc. Rack space, testing, AC etc not too big of a deal right now as this is being run from a garage but down the line could be an issue. Would pay a slight premium but nothing huge. – nextgenneo Oct 6 '10 at 18:04

This also depends on your storage situtation. You could spend 10grand on a host that fits 50 VMS, but your bottle neck be with your storage device. There are a lot of variables that play into this. What is your storage situtation?

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Just as an extra note, you could run the VMware capacity planner and have it analyze your environment as well. – Dusty Oct 6 '10 at 18:55

That's fine and everything but I'd be tempted to find an dual-socket intel board that takes 56xx or 75xx series Xeons. The reason is that you should get more memory sockets (18 or more) and that way you'll only need to buy 2, not 4, ESXi licences - which are very expensive right?

Now obviously you could have 4 x 6 core Opterons but the 2 x 6 core plus hyperthreading Xeons (for the 56xx series) or 2 x 8 core plus hyperthreading (for the 75xx series) - meaning 24 cores vs. either 12-cores/24-threads or 16-cores/32-threads - but you'd be surprised how much faster the Xeons would be in real-world VM environments. Plus of course you'll have saved a fortune on ESXi licences.

Another option would be to buy TWO dual-CPU boxes (either AMD or Intel), this way allowing for HA/DRS - a much better solution for most people as it allows for outage-less upgrades and some degrees of recoverability in the event of hardware failure.

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I would think HA/DR isn't his priority. This looks like it isn't for real production use - I did a Google search for MicroXP and it looks like some stripped-down pirated Windows only available via Torrent. – mfinni Oct 6 '10 at 17:47
True but why buy 4 licences and not at least have the full benefit they can bring? – Chopper3 Oct 6 '10 at 17:50
AH, interesting that the XEONs are so faster. If they are comparable then you are right, save a lot of the VMWare licenses. Would you think with a spec like that you could save a legitimate amount of money self building vs just doing with dell? – nextgenneo Oct 6 '10 at 18:02
Never build ESX servers, they have such a tight HCL, you'll just regret it. Buy HP/Dell/IBM, if you choose HP I'll be able to help you spec it out perfectly, just ask. – Chopper3 Oct 6 '10 at 19:45
hmmm, well with buying it from HP/Dell/IBM I would rather not pay a huge sum of money for them to install VMware etc. But I take it you just mean it will be okay out of the box for me to install it? – nextgenneo Oct 6 '10 at 20:55

This might help you building an ESX HCL compatible system: Motherboards and unsupported servers that work with ESX 4.x and / or ESXi 4.x Installable

For production I would still go for one of the major vendors which offer certified compatibility. Assuming you're running anything mission-critical on your servers and/or shared storage, suport from all involved vendors will save you a lot of time and gray hair one day.

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