I found myself constantly wasting time in dealing with hardware and would like to do something about it. Personally I have a Macbook that does all the mail/IM/IRC/browsing/music/devel VM and what not. I store mission critical data on a Solaris box with ZFS. Most of the development /production work is run under Linux - either on bare metal or under Linux KVM.

It would be nice to have a box that does all of these at my desk or at home - have anything actually done that? My requirement is simply:

  • being able to run VMs for prototypes and software testing

  • provides a reliable storage to host all the data + random backup

  • doesn't cost an arm and a leg (i.e. whitebox)

I can see 2 options:-

  • a Linux box with RAID1 and KVM - I lose filesystem snapshots and all the solaris goodness

  • a Solaris box with ZFS and xVM server - I never managed to get it to work with commodity hardware - remember this is for a workstation/desktop.

So to my fellow SAs: what kind of setup do you have?

[Answering my own question 3 years after]

At home, I have:

At work, I use:

  • a 27" iMac as desktop
    • whatever server the company provided for heavy workload.

VMWare Fusion was installed on both the macbook and iMac but it's getting less use these days...

  • 1
    This should probably be a wiki article. – John Gardeniers Oct 2 '09 at 3:01
  • new comer here - would clicking the "community wiki" checkbox do the trick? – Lester Cheung Oct 2 '09 at 3:12
  • 1
    Correct. Community Wiki is used when a question doesn't really have a "right" or "wrong" answer, and prevents people from gaining/loosing rep on answers – Mark Henderson Oct 2 '09 at 3:15

As a counter-point:

I also would rather not waste time dealing with hardware and configuration issues when it comes to my workstation but I've gone in the opposite direction. I aim for my work machine to be as generic & vanilla as possible and preferably a laptop. That way, if there's a problem, I lose a minimal amount of time replacing or rebuilding it and I can also be "ready to go" on almost any machine I might have to use.

  1. Most things I do with regard to system administration are on remote machines
  2. Everything I might work on locally but that is critical (scripts, documentation, etc.) I sync to the appropriate network location where it is backed up, protected by snapshots, checked into revision control, etc.
  3. I use VMs for the things you mention every day, I just run them on remote resource in the network rather than locally. That may sound spendy but it's possible that for not much more $$ than you'd spend to build out a super-duper workstation, you can buy/scrounge hardware to build a server or two to run a test/dev/lab environment. Depending on your organization, it can actually be easier to justify that since it theoretically benefits more than just you if other people can use it easily.

This isn't to say I've never run a VM locally to check something out but if it's useful for more than a couple hours, I generally don't keep it local.

  • Yes, a huge remote "workstation class server" with all the admin tools and utilities like access to virtual machine labs and so on is the way I liked it to be. Just a normal-built laptop and a train - and I got all the tools I need (running extremely fast in the data center) as long as there're no tunnels blocking 3G reception ;) – Oskar Duveborn Oct 2 '09 at 12:55
  • Yes I do find myself doing the same thing as well. Get everything you need on the servers and remote access from a lappy - my choice is a MacBook. Having said that I am looking for a box that does remote backup AND being able to run a few VMs for various things - it's likely to stay at my home so I prefer something that don't sound like a jet engine. :) Thanks for the response so far. – Lester Cheung Oct 2 '09 at 15:59

Not really a SF question, but anyway.

After years of running expensive Dual-Socket systems at my home workstation (Dual Athlon, then Dual Xeon, then Dual Opteron), I've ditched the $600 motherboards for a run-of-the-mill Core 2 Quad 2.8Ghz, with 8Gb of RAM to match and a few 500Gb SATA drives thrown in RAID for good measure.

I run Vista and all my guests in VMWare Workstation. 8Gb of RAM hasn't failed me yet, even when running a Proof Of Concept ESXi Cluster (4x ESXi hosts, each loaded with a few OS's and Hyper-V).

Whole cost - AUD$900, purchased with my government stimulus money (not including peripherals like screen/keyboard/etc). I'm sure that in North America it would be much cheaper. Write off 10% of that price on tax deduction and that's a very cheap computer.

Actually, I see you're in Sydney like me, so you'll have the fun of paying inflated prices just as I did :) Although I have friends in wholesale so I got it reasonably cheaply (the markups in consumer whitebox PC's are absolutely pathetic, 2-5% at most).

  • I totally agree, multiple processors is useless these days. Quad Core is far enough ! – Antoine Benkemoun Oct 2 '09 at 6:56
  • Yup - I find my workload is usually disk I/O bound not CPU. I will get very similar hardware and is looking for a software setup that can provide storage (I really like snapshots and copy-on-write in ZFS) and the ability to run multiple OS instances (I have more success with XEN/KVM under Linux that XVM server under (open)solaris). Good advice on tax deduction btw. :) – Lester Cheung Oct 2 '09 at 15:38

mac mini + time machine + vmware fusion ?

  • 1
    Too expensive for too little memory - no thanks. :) – Lester Cheung Oct 2 '09 at 15:46
  • Macs are stupid. Get a real computer. – Basil Mar 22 '12 at 17:37

I run an AMD Athlon(tm) 64 X2 Dual Core Processor 3.0ghz, with 8GB of RAM. Two 500GB disks on LVM. Offsite backup. Two graphicscards and use two monitors(both 21,5"). This helps productivity immensly. I can switch between tasks easier and have more information displayed at a given time.

I use VirtualBox and run three testing machines on them, worked flawlessly so far. I can snapshot and revert whenever i want. I can also boot all flavors of Windows, helps alot when you are helping someone over the phone to actually see what they see.

With all this said, i would go for a quad core, allthough my system has a "low responsive feel" at almost all times. There are times when i compile and a VM is taking much CPU that i wish for a quad.

Oh and Debian is my choice.

  • That would be my choice if I were only using this as a desktop and not for offsite backup - I have a storage box running OpenSolaris and with ZFS I can do file system snapshots very cheaply. Major advantages being: 1) online scrubbing (fsck). 2) copy-on-write. 3) cheap snapshots 4) easy full/incremental backup to remote sites. Oh and with libvirtd one can manage LinuxKVM, XEN and qemu with the same interface remotely. – Lester Cheung Oct 2 '09 at 15:46

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