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Currently I have it setup like this:

SVR1 - 2.8Ghz Dual Core, 6GB RAM, 2x160GB 7200RPM Drive NO RAID




VM4 - Spiceworks, Access Control System Program

SVR2 - File Server (2.6Ghz Dual Core, 2GB RAM, 2x200GB OS RAID1, 3x 250GB OS RAID3) OS RAID is provided by Win2k3

My problem with this is the host (SVR1) does not have a RAID card. The motherboard doesn't support RAID. ESXi 4.1 has no OS RAID. OS is Win2k3R2

If I made SVR1 into a Win2k3R2 host with OS RAID1 and put all the services inside it (except BDC and DNS2) and make the topology like this:


VM1 - Spiceworks, Access Control Application (VMware Server)


Which is the better configuration in terms of ease of maintenance, reliability, performance, and backup?

What is my best option of running MS Exchange 2003? VM in SVR1? VM in SVR2? I am limited to 2 hosts.

At the moment this is on a DEV environment. But when I reach a consensus on this, then I will deploy it to an environment that will need to support at least 30 users end of 2010 and 50 users by end of 2011.

share|improve this question
There are no "PDC" and "BDC" domain controllers in an Active Directory domain. There 2 forest-wide and 3 domain-wide "flexible single-master roles" that are delegated to individual domain controllers (including one called "Primary Domain Controller Emulator") but no single DC is the "primary" DC. Clients will authenticate to either one (by default) and treat them as equal copies. Active Directory supplanted NT 4.0 domains in early 2000... why can't these "PDC" and "BDC" terms just die? – Evan Anderson Nov 21 '10 at 15:02
Volume licenses so we are covered on that. Space is the primary limitation for having 2 hosts. That wa the original plan. Split the duties equally per VM. But Im getting slow performance from VM3. It is the only VM that has its own drive dedicated to it. VM1, 2 and 4 all share one hard drive. – user61040 Nov 21 '10 at 15:08
Truthfully, the best advice I think anyone could give you right now is speak to your boss about funds, and make sure you have a sound backup plan. You could run that load on a single server with no issues, just not on the kit you have available right now - I take your point about budgets and "small companies" but IMO this makes it more critical to get it right - how much will it cost if the business has no IT whatsoever for several days? – Hutch Nov 21 '10 at 15:35
up vote 1 down vote accepted

I suspect you have a mistake in your question. When you say "OS RAID3" on the "SVR2" specs I suspect you mean "OS RAID5". Personally, I'd caution you that the RAID 5 functionality in Windows isn't up to the level of reliability of a hardware RAID controller. Windows RAID 1 works very well and is "cheap insurance" but I'd recommend spending the little bit of extra money to use a hardware RAID controller if you want RAID 5 and you want it to perform in a solid and reliable fashion.

Running DHCP, DNS, Active Directory, WSUS, and Windows Deployment Services on a box that is handling 30 - 50 client computers isn't any big deal (assuming you install a 64-bit version to take advantage of the 6GB of RAM). The "IIS" and "SQL" roles are really open ended, though, and the chunk of performance they'll consume depends on what you're using them for. I can't figure out waht you mean by "FCS" so I can't comment on that. I assume the disks on "SVR1" are SATA, so don't expect to get any quantity of IOPS out of them. Windows software RAID 1 has worked very well in my experience, but please remember to find any one of the various monitoring scripts out there on the 'net and configure it to run periodically to alert you if a disk fails (since W2K3 doesn't have any built-in functionality to do that).

"FCS" aside, none of the roles you describe for SVR1 are tremendously difficult to migrate to another machine later, so I'm not sure that I see any advantage to using a hypervisor versus running it on the bare metal. Given your low-end disks I'd run it on the bare metal to eek out all the performance I could anyway.

I don't know what your "Access Control Application" is, but Spiceworks is extremely easy to migrate to a different machine later. I'd run Spiceworks and the "Access Control Application" directly on the bare metal on SVR1, too, if I could get away with it. That saves the overhead of a hypervisor on a machine that only has 6GB of RAM and a lot of (albeit mostly small) jobs.

re: SVR2 - Running AD, DNS, and File Server roles on that box aren't a big stretch, though I'd bump the RAM up to 4GB and I'd get a hardware RAID controller.

re: Exchange Server 2003 - I've run Exchange Server 2003 on very low-end hardware for small numbers of users. I've got a production installation now in an office of 17 people running on a box not unlike your "SVR1" machine (similar roles, also a file server, too, running SBS 2003). I think you're pushing it, though, try and host Exchange for 30 - 50 users on either of these boxes. I don't think either box has enough RAM or I/O capacity for an Exchange Server 2003 installation of that size to perform effectively.

As a "cheap fix", I'd replace the "SVR1" machine with a higher-end server-- something with a SAS RAID controller that VMware ESXi supported, 8GB of RAM (or more), at least a single quad-core processor, and a RAID-10 set of 10K SAS disks (or better). I'd run VMware ESXi on the bare metal and the "SVR1" role as a guest instance on that machine. You should still have sufficient I/O capacity left to host Exchange Server 2003 very effectively on that machine. (I did a project in a Customer site with similar needs recently-- migrating SBS 2003 from an old Compaq box to modern hardware-- and we got away with a sub-$3,000.00 Dell PowerEdge R310 to host the replacemnet SBS instance with I/O and RAM to spare for future VMs...)

I'd be curious to hear what you've planned for backup, too.

share|improve this answer
This is a very helpful answer for me! FCS is forefront client security. I'm piloting it as our anti-virus client as all the old installations are simply using a mix of AVG and MS Security Essentials (this is a network I inherited and I'm trying to fix it). IIS and SQL is there because WSUS needs it and FCS needs WSUS. So there you go. The Exchange 2003 one isn't really important as we're actually on Google Apps right now and that is serving us well. Only nuissance is we don't get to see where people are sending mail to and what the mails contain.. – Jared Nov 21 '10 at 15:27
I've decided to just go bare metal on SVR1 and put all the duties there and have SVR2 pull double duty as regards to file serving with DC2 and DNS2 as a "backup role". – Jared Nov 21 '10 at 15:31
Backup will be using NTBACKUP built in to WIN2K3. will be doing monthly full-backups with daily incrementals. – Jared Nov 21 '10 at 15:32

I can honestly say I'd never deploy those pieces of hardware, as described, into a live environment. If you want to run that many roles (whether virtualised or not), plus Exchange too then the very least you need are some very good hard disks in a hardware RAID.

I'd also move the two domain controllers off the one piece of hardware now. I mean right now, I'll wait... No I'm not kidding - you do realise that one hard disk crash will kill your entire domain right now right?

My first point is that if you're looking for a live deployment in 2011 then why are you looking at Windows 2003 and Exchange 2003? Both great systems in their time, but their time has passed. I'd strongly suggest any new deployments were done on the newest technology - not just because its easier to support but also because, for example, Exchange 2010 is much friendlier to things like virtualisation than Exchange 2003 ever was.

My second one is the hardware It's hard to comment on the processors you've got as you mention their speed and number of cores but don't say what they are, and there is a big difference in abilities and performance between a dual core "Pentium 4" and a dual core "Core2Duo" based Xeon, or one of the recent AMD server processors.

I'd suggest that dual core processor machines with, at best, software RAID might be perfectly fine for a dev environment (though personally I'd go and buy hardware RAID cards).

However they're wholly inadequate for a production environment as virtual hosts for the load you describe. I'd suggest that server hardware that's certified to run ESXi, includes hardware RAID, and 8+ cores can be had reasonably cheaply from HP, Dell or IBM. I'd suggest that it's false economy to deploy on anything else.

Lastly, I apologise... this answer probably isn't what you expected, but I think you have some fundamental issues to address with your deployment that aren't going to be fixed by moving roles from one piece of hardware and back again.

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+1 For pointing out some of the scary things in the proposed setup, like the domain controllers being on the same machine and using the outdated software (when OP already said they have volume licensing, too) – Andrew Barber Nov 21 '10 at 15:15
I entirely agree with you. I have actually talked to my boss about this but of course, being the small business that we are, a $10k is very much out of budget. – Jared Nov 21 '10 at 15:16
Right now, the DC1, and DC2 VMs are in the same drive simply for testing. As you can notice I am debating whether scrapping out ESXi and just going with SVR1 as DC1 and SVR2 as DC2. And run both with OS RAID1 for OS storage. – Jared Nov 21 '10 at 15:17
I do agree that these are scary "tactics" but I am just doing what I can with what I have. Honestly, given the Opportunity, I would do 2 Hosts with 1 iSCSI SAN and run my VM's from the SAN. But that is not accessible to me right know how it goes with small companies and IT... – Jared Nov 21 '10 at 15:19
@Jared, I know the cost outlay might seem steep, but what is the cost of this setup crashing after deployment? Have you considered things like the dell outlet store? They can have quite good servers on there for cheap. I don't think you need a SAN, nice as it is, just a decent couple of servers. – RobM Nov 21 '10 at 15:20

What Windows licenses do you have?

If it were me I'd be looking at whether SRV1 and SRV2 were on the ESX compatibility lists and if so, I'd be looking at using ESXi and splitting out the various roles as much as possible given the hardware specs and the licenses you have available.

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Given that "SVR1" box doesn't have a RAID controller supported by ESXi, per the OP, this doesn't seem like a viable option. – Evan Anderson Nov 21 '10 at 15:27
I don't think any of it sound viable given the choice, but I don't think the OP has too many choices here. – Hutch Nov 21 '10 at 15:33

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