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I often have contractors do testing work for me that involves them running 2 or 3 virtual machines (running, say, Server 2008). So currently this means that the contractors have to have machines powerful enough to run VMware Server, with a couple of virtual machines running simultaneously.

What I'd like to do is have a machine in my home office that is accessible from the Internet, and which runs VMware Server (or something similar). This way, contractors don't need to have powerful machines and can dial into my machine and use the VMs. If they get stuck with something, I'll have local access to the server and can help diagnose the problem.

I'm looking for suggestions as to how to what equipment to use and how to set this up so the performance is reasonable for the remote contractor. For example, can I use a somewhat powerful desktop machine (say, a Dell XPS quad-core) running VMware Server? And then have contractors connect via Logmein? Or would I need a server-class machine? (any suggestions for a reasonable price?) Would Remote Desktop be better, or maybe VNC?

I would like to keep costs down as much as possible; this is just going to be running on my home network. But if there is a compelling reason to buy more powerful gear, I'd do it.

As an alternative, are there any companies that provide virtual machines that you can lease on an hourly basis? So that you could do work, save your state, and come back to it the next day? I looked into Amazon's EC2 and that seems too expensive/complicated for what I need.

Thanks is advance for any suggestions!

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3 Answers 3

(Aside: I don't have any affiliation with Dell-- I just like their products.)

I just ordered a Dell PowerEdge T310 server computer to run VMware ESXi and host VMs for test software deployments. This machine w/ 8GB of RAM, fixed power supply, 3 y/r on-site warranty, and cabled hard drive configuration set me back about $800.00. (It hasn't arrived yet so I can't tell you anything about how it actually runs. The specs looked great for the price.)

I looked at the Precision Workstation line but couldn't find a machine as inexpensive as the T310. I also looked at building a white-box machine, but found that hitting the price point of the T310 was also difficult.

I didn't buy any storage (other than the stock 160GB drive that came in the unit) with the T310. Once it arrives I'm planning to throw a couple of 1TB SATA drives I've got laying around in it. I don't care about RAID for my purposes because I'm only using the machine for testing. If I were going to use it for anything serious I'd purchase a nice PERC SAS RAID controller and at least a couple of SAS disks, or use an iSCSI SAN. (The "S100" and "S300" "RAID controllers" are just software RAID, BTW...)

The machine can use up to 32GB of RAM. I figure that I'll add more RAM to it later, but it'll do what I need right now.

It sure looks like a nice little box. I hope it turns out to be.

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Thanks for the suggestion! –  johnnyb10 Dec 30 '09 at 20:15

Well, the answer is "it depends".

If you have a box capable of running an appropriate amount of VMs (the T310 computers do look nice, I've had a passing experience with them -- the only concerns I have is large slow SATA drives), and you have an Internet connection good enough that the contractors can do what they need to do, then yes you can host the VMs at your home.

Note that most home internet connections might have very good download speeds, but will have comparatively poorer upload speeds. This is important if your contractors are trying to go interactive with their VMs. The more data they will be trying to pass back to where they actually are (database connections, large remote desktop screens with highly interactive/variable applications open), and the more of them which are going to be active at the same time, the poorer their experience will be.

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David is right on the money about the internet connection. That will probably be your choke point in your configuration. –  jgardner04 Dec 30 '09 at 21:53

To answer your leasing question, VMBed offers machines for rent on an hourly basis. We have multiple wide internet connections so the remote desktop performs well.

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