Server Fault is a question and answer site for system and network administrators. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Just wondering if there is any performance impact / degradation when running from USB key

I'm planning on using KVM or xen, since my servers doesn't have on board raid controller, I'm planning on cutting the cost down and use USB keys.

Thank you

share|improve this question
are you planning on having the actual virtual hard drives running off the USB Drives? I don't believe a USB Key will have the performance necessary to really be effective. – Rex Mar 6 '13 at 20:06
No, actually all vms will store disks via NFS share on a high speed SAN – user1007727 Mar 6 '13 at 20:10
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Assuming you are:

  • Using a quality USB drive
  • Not using the host's filesystem for the virtual machines
  • Not actually running anything but virtual machines from the host

you should be ok.

A few things I would look out for however are:

  • USB drives can easily get knocked around, snapped off, caught on cables, etc. Make sure it is physically secure and safe from accidental damage. If it's possible to attach it inside the server, do so.
  • Likewise, USB drives are a lot easier to steal without people noticing right away compared to an internal drive - extra care should be taken to ensure the server is physically secured.
  • USB drives wear out quickly compared to hard drives. This could be an issue if logs are stored on the drive. Move any log files somewhere on the SAN.
  • Make sure it is labeled, and everyone knows that USB drive is essential to the server so it doesn't accidentally get unplugged.
  • If your server supports it, industrial compact flash or SD cards are a better option - they won't wear out as fast, nor be as easily removable
share|improve this answer

Depends entirely on the speed of the USB port (and bus), in addition to the speed and quality of the USB key itself, but it certainly can be done.

The typical enterprise way of doing what you're attempting is to buy a server with a micro-SD slot, load up the hypervisor onto a high-speed micro-SD card, and run the VMs from locally-attached storage or a SAN, but there's no reason that you can't use a USB key in lieu of a micro-SD slot.

Just make sure you don't plug the USB key into a USB 1.0 port, or your performance will suffer. (Likewise, don't buy the low-speed bargain bin USB keys you can pick up for ~$1/GB, or you won't get the transfer speeds you need, even when plugged into a USB 2 or 3 port.)

share|improve this answer
very helpful comments thank you – user1007727 Mar 7 '13 at 1:05

I am running CentOS 6.4 w/ KVM from a USB stick. I mount a NFS share to the host and run the guests from there. No negative impact yet.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.