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Am I correct in thinking that the only (serious) option for virtualisation on older servers/CPUs that don't support Intel's VT-X/AMD-V for hardware assisted virtualisation is VMware ESX Server which offers binary translation?

Specifically, there aren't any free solutions for older PowerEdge 1750 & 1850 servers? We have a couple of these which are currently idle because we can't virtualise them with XenServer. We could re-purpose them for a charity we work closely with but they cannot use our old ESX Server licenses.

I guess there might be an option to upgrade the CPUs but is that all that's needed for VT-X? Isn't there a motherboard/BIOS issue?

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Could you explain why you ruled out Xen? It runs quite fine without VT, the obvious drawback is that you cannot use unmodified guest kernels in this case – the-wabbit Jan 29 '12 at 22:08
Because of that very reason - it cannot run Windows Server – Rob Nicholson Jan 30 '12 at 16:49
Could you modify your question so that it would reflect that you need a virtualization solution for Windows guests? – the-wabbit Jan 30 '12 at 17:20

the 1750 will probably not support VT no matter how you upgrade it, at least I haven't seen it in a virtualized environment at all. 1850 might work, I think they were the first 8g servers to support ESX at all.

Besides hardware virt, there's also container virtualization, maybe you should look in the direction of OpenVZ or Parallels? Besides, with the introduction of cgroups, you can manage resources much better without containers, so with a bit of planning, one could do a lot with a simple RHEL6 setup

Oh, and I forget - VirtualBox is also capable of operating without VT, so if this is not quite the production environment (and I suppose it is, if you're using EOL hardware), vbox might just be enough

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+1 for VirtualBox. BTW - VMWare Server used to do that as well, but it has reached end of support, so anybody using it would end up on their own. – the-wabbit Jan 29 '12 at 22:11
So put Linux on there and run VirtualBox for Linux? It does appear to support something akin to binary translation – Rob Nicholson Jan 30 '12 at 16:53
@RobNicholson yes. BTW: as of lately, the VirtualBox website claims it to be suited for enterprise as well as home use. – the-wabbit Jan 30 '12 at 17:08
@RobNicholson basically yes, unless you want to put windows as the host OS? – dyasny Jan 30 '12 at 17:30

The 1850 will run ESX(i) 3.5/4/4.1 IIRC. I know I have one running 4.0.

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