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I currently have two physical Ubuntu Server 10.10 servers at home: one serves as our firewall/router/DHCP/VPN server and the other performs double-duty as a file server and a VirtualBox host for an Ubuntu Desktop 10.10 machine which I use from remote connections (via NoMachine) for many thin-client purposes which are irrelevant to my question.

What I'd like to accomplish is to consolidate the two physical machines into one which is a dedicated VirtualBox host (most likely running Ubuntu Server 10.10). Note that I'd like to stick with VirtualBox (if possible) because I'm most comfortable with it and use it on a daily basis at both home and work. Specifically, I plan to have one VM set up as file server, another as the firewall/router/DHCP/VPN (or possibly split those a bit) and a third, which is the only current VM (already VirtualBox), which is the thin-client host.

My question comes down to performance and/or recommendations about the file server VM. The file server hosts about 6 terabytes of data across 4 drives. What I'd like to do is use raw disk access from the VM directly to the existing disks. However, I'm curious what performance advantage/disadvantage that would have as compared to using shared folders from the VM host and basically just have the whole drive served as a shared folder to the VM which would then serve it to the other machines on the network. I don't know if virtual disks would even work in this scenario and I certainly wouldn't want a drive to be filled with just a single file which is 1.5 TB (disk image).

To add understanding of context, but not to get additional advice, I want to virtualize these machines because I intend to regularly use the snapshot capabilities of VirtualBox for the system disks (which will be virtual drives) of the VMs and I have some physical space/power needs to address (as I mentioned, this is at home).

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I would probably use something like the shared folder feature rather than any type of virtual drive (RAW or normal). The reason being is that it has the potential to complicate the snapshot process if you have multiple [virtual] drives attached to the machine you are taking the snapshots of. I would suggest testing the performance to make sure it is adequate, though the hoops it goes through will all be on the same machine and shouldn't be that bad.

How are the four drives organized now? Do you have them in one big dm/hw raid volume or just mounted as separate points?

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The drives are simply in the PC in a JBoD arrangement. They're simply mounted under /media and have directories within them which are individually shared, e.g., /media/UserDrive/User_Space/User1. My main concerns about shared drives center around performance and permissions. The host machine doesn't need any access to the drives aside from the minimum required to make them available to the file server VM. The drives are Ext4 formatted (all but one, which is NTFS) and I'd hate to create file permissions issues between host and VM. (I'm not an expert at Linux system administration.) –  BluJai Dec 14 '10 at 21:17

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