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I would like a virtual server farm at home, ideally 6 virtual servers, all for my own personal development. What is the cheapest way for me to achieve this? I'd ideally like to use VMWare as I use it at work.

Obvious questions:

How many physical servers? What processors? How much RAM? Disk space? Which product? What disk array?

Above all it has to be usable, I've had virtual server running on my laptop on top of Windows and it was basically unworkable. I don't want to build something to find it's slow and unusable.

I do intend to put Windows servers on to the VMs.

Many thanks

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closed as off topic by splattne Jan 20 '12 at 7:38

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More information is required. Vague questions can, at best, only attract vague answers. Do you intend to run all instances concurrently, or only some of them? What purposes will they serve? At the very least you need to give an indication of the sort of load the machines may expect. –  John Gardeniers Nov 24 '09 at 1:19
    
Don't you need vCenter Server and VSphere Client to effectively manage/update the environment? My understanding is there is no Web Access to ESXi. VMWare's licensing/pricing is very confusing. I'd be interested in deploying a single ESXi host (no HA, VMotion or DRS) and configuring < 10 guests (all RHEL/CentOS) to use iSCSI storage (provided by Openfiler). But I can't seem to determine what the costs involved are. Anyone else do something similar? How much do the VMWare licenses cost assuming you aren't using the Service Console to manage the deployment (nevermind the hardware)? –  HTTP500 Nov 25 '09 at 19:46
    
Digging into this some more I guess one would go with VMWare vSphere Essentials which includes VMWare vCenter Server for Essentials which includes the vSphere Client. It looks like this can be had for $995/year (support is optional). However, vCenter Server and vSphere Client are Windows only and unless you go back in time and use Windows XP you have to pony up for Windows Server (2008) since Vista and 7 are not supported for vCenter Server or vCenter Update Manager. I wonder how their own salespeople keep this straight! –  HTTP500 Nov 25 '09 at 23:31
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8 Answers 8

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Firstly check that your CPUs support VMX flag (/proc/info). This is the hardware assisted virtualisation built into most new CPUs. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intel%5FVT#Intel%5FVirtualization%5FTechnology%5Ffor%5Fx86%5F.28Intel%5FVT-x.29) Almost any Core2 Duo or better.

This will speed up almost any virtualisation effort by a factor of 3-4x

Then if you have the cash buy an i7 range CPU - this has nested paging support (basically the VM is allowed to handle its own page faults). These are newish and give another 2x speed up.

Then download the Virtualbox.org Open Source edition. Put it on a Linux or FreeBSd box.

Then allocate about 256MB+ RAM, 8GB disk space and slap a CD into the drive, install as normal into the 8GB space and away you go.

You will need to be clever to get the servers visible from the outside - look at Network Bridging.

Linux Xen is supposed to be quite good too.

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You should be able to do this all on one box, if you aren't expecting any great traffic to the server.

You don't say what stack you're intending on using. If it is a standard LAMP stack without a gui, everything should be quite usable on a single server. If you're talking IIS/Windows, perhaps not.

Also, when you say you want 6 servers, is that a 3-server MySQL cluster and a 3-Server apache cluster, or do you have something else in mind?

Also, whatever virtualization technology you are using, make sure you install the tools (ie. vmware tools, virtualbox tools), as they make everything more efficient and faster.

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Mattering on what you want to run in those VMs, you could do it on your desktop running Linux and OpenVZ. It's a lot lighter weight than (say) VMWare.

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VMWare ESXi is an OS in itself, and incredibly lightweight at that. Boots very quickly, and has a LOT less overhead than virtualization software running atop a traditional fully-featured OS. I know I'm heavily advocating VMWare ESXi, but it really is a great platform. –  justinsteven Nov 24 '09 at 1:13
    
I've run an ESXi (and ESX) environment, I know what it is. Regardless, if you're going to say that ESXi can support more virtual machines than OpenVZ, I'd love to see some numbers on that. OpenVZ is in a different class than most virtualization software. It's completely not appropriate for some workloads, but for virtual Linux machines? It beats the stuffing out of VMWare/VirtualBox/Xen/KVM. The only thing like it is Solaris Zones, or (to a lesser extent) FreeBSD jails. –  Bill Weiss Nov 24 '09 at 16:06
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Depending on the hardware... you can do it all one ONE server (maybe two).

Hardware is SO cheap these days...

Assuming that this home server farm is a TEST/development area you should be able to run six VMs on one or two quad core processors with as much RAM/Disk as you require.

Another option is to buy used from some place like CraigsList.org... find someone swapping out their older hardware, etc. and pick up a server for cheap.

Once again... I don't know what your budget is but new hardware is SO cheap... its almost a shame not to buy a new. :-)

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http://www.hak5.org/episodes/episode-519

Here is a good episode of Hak5 from revision 3 on just this topic. They say it can be done well for $2,000. There should be a ton of good information here.

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If you have 2 machines, lets both with quad cor processors and 8 to 16gb memory in each box, then you are cooking on gas ! you can run upto 4 servers easily on each server. As you said you are familiar with VMware, then use ESXi (hvmware.com/products/esxi/), or think about Xenserver (http://www.citrix.com/lang/English/lp/lp%5F1688615.asp), both free but Xen requires 64bit processing.

You can easily buy ordinary PC grade motherboards which support upto 16gb memory, they cost more than 80£ here in the uk. Ofcourse you can buy high end motherboards but still i think you can setup vm infrastructure at home with the budge of around 500£ and that includes an small san device as well. Cheers

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I second the VMWare ESXi suggestion. Some useful links:

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I know you said you want to use VMWARE but you can get citrix xen server for free. The free edition is fully functional with its own vm center equivalent for free. It does not have vmotion this is where the version you pay for begins. you can download it from the citrix website. It has great functionality for the cost.

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VMWare ESXi is free and fully functional, but without vmotion I believe. Your point about Citrix Xen is moot. –  justinsteven Nov 23 '09 at 23:46
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