I'm very new to the Virtual Machine world... recently a situation came up at my work place that i figured VM could be a good solution to.

I need to run several Windows XP instances on a single robust server - would this be something plausible to do? I want the host machine to run Linux; preferably CentOS or RedHat Enterprise.

I want to buy a very robust server such as 8x dual core processor, 32/48GB of memory... and have it run about 8 Win XP instances (each being allocated a single CPU (of the 8) and ~4GB RAM)

What software can i use to set this up? Are there "server" version of VM softwares? What is the "best" VM software for this kind of stuff (server virtualization, not workstations) How would you go about doing something like this?

Thank you for all your help. Any answers,links,articles,personal experiences and thoughts are welcome.


P.S. One last question, if one of those virtual machines happens to crash or die, will the VM software be able to detect it and re-initiate alone without having IT to intervene?

  • What role do your XP guests have? That machine is probably way overpowered. We run our entire IT infrastructure, about 60 servers, on 4 separate machines that have, together, roughly the same specs yas yours. – prestomation Dec 22 '09 at 16:19
  • Thank you all for your responses, you've all been incredibly helpful. I understand that the hardware i thought of is too much for my actual needs. I've started looking at VMware's ESX bare-metal but still haven't got to a function state since i can't seem to replicate a VM. Thank you all again! – Ken Dec 23 '09 at 12:43

Is this machine JUST for this VM functionality or other functions?

The reason I ask is that VMWare ESX, which runs on bare-metal, will automatically either restart failed VMs or run the same VM on two machines concurrently, one taking over instantly if the other failed. These solutions would require two servers but to be honest the hardware you're planning on buying sounds way too powerful/expensive for the low VM count you're planning on - you should be able to get two cheaper servers for the same money as the one you list.

Oh and if this isn't for you then VMWare Server runs on Linux, as does KVM, Xen, Virtualbox and a few others too.

  • ESXi is also a free solution and the stability you receive from having a very minimal base system is definitely worth it. – Antitribu Dec 22 '09 at 11:04
  • I was tempted to mention the whole free thing but I also mention HA and FT functionality which isn't free so chose to leave that out – Chopper3 Dec 22 '09 at 11:07
  • normally I'd agree but he did say a single robust server so it would seem to fit nicely. – Antitribu Dec 22 '09 at 12:34
  • agreed but he's buying 16 cores (for some reason rather than 2 x Xeon 55xx series) yet planning on using half of them. – Chopper3 Dec 22 '09 at 12:44

Just one little potential gotcha - you need to use a full retail version of Windows XP. If you use an OEM version of XP (the one that typically comes on the disc with a new PC that you buy), it may be tied in to that vendor's specific hardware. The OEM ones may only work for 30 days only, if they even install at all.

Edit: As mentioned in the comment, there are many licensing options for Windows. So, stick to the retail version if you want to run it in a VM.

  • Close, but not quite right. Several licensing options apply (e.g. retail and OLP) but you appear to be a little confused about the OEM versions. They don't stop working after 30 days, or any other number for that matter. You're possibly confusing OEM with any one of several kinds of time limited released. – John Gardeniers Dec 22 '09 at 11:39
  • I tried one that did have a 30-day limit in a VM but worked fine on the original machine. Not quite sure which licensing option it came with though so I assumed that it might be an OEM thing. – sybreon Dec 22 '09 at 13:51

The best solution probably would be KVM these days, though I have no idea how good is it supported in RHEL/CentOS. Alternatively you can also go for VMWare and buy some of their server products, but it will cost more with questionable benefits (you don't seem to plan more servers and migration of virtual machines between them).

  • well, Redhat bought Qumranet some months ago, and has assimilated all it's KVM people. In fact was this very move the one that made so many heads turn from Xen to KVM. – Javier Dec 22 '09 at 14:31
  • I know they bought them, however I'm not sure what is state of KVM in current products. I'm sure they will have great support in upcoming RHEL 6. – Michal Čihař Dec 23 '09 at 10:42

We are setting a similiar setup for running virtual Linux machines, but it should work the same way for Windows XP.

We decided to use proxmox with KVM, it matches our needes the best way and has a nice setup, debian packages, web interface, allows live mgration, etc. For now we are very pleased with it.


This is actually a problem I was working on quite recently, although on a slightly smaller scale. I wanted to set up two Windows XP machines for testing web applications: one with a "modern" configuration (IE8, all the latest patches, more RAM), and an "older" one (IE6, SP2, less memory). I spent a few days evaluating a number of options out there.

It practically comes down to two directions:

  1. Use a bare-metal hypervisor. This is practically a thin host operating system, which has specialist tools and functionality for managing various host operating systems running on the machine. Two of the major players out there are VMware ESXi and Citrix XEN. They're both supposed to be free, but actually the management tools you get with the free versions are very minimalistic and complicated. VMware has a neat little GUI tool for Windows (Vsphere), but from what I understand it requires a paid license after 30 days.

  2. Use a desktop virtualization software, like KVM or VirtualBox. These will run on a minimal installation of many popular Linux distros (including Red Hat and CentOS), and are much easier to manage.

I've actually gone for running VirtualBox on Fedora 11. It takes a little tweaking to get the Kernel extension for Virtualbox to run, but it's certainly doable. It may not be as efficient as a bare-metal hypervisor, but it's a very convenient and easy to manage setup. Virtualbox is also a pretty mature and stable solution, so I'd definitely recommend it.

  • KVM is certainly easier to use on the desktop than Xen (which is very much a server-oriented system); but nowadays is far from being a 'desktop software'. both Ubuntu and Redhat have some 'thin KVM servers' that are just enough of Linux to run KVM and be remotely manageable. surprisingly, these can be lighter than most Xen+Dom0 setups. – Javier Dec 22 '09 at 14:33

I run several servers using the free VMware Server and have for years. They are running on similar hardware using CentOS as the host OS. The difference between your setup and mine is that I use shared storage between any 2 servers. Half of the guests run on 1, half on the other and either server can take the whole load simply by starting 1 server's guests on the other server. It also allows me to perform maintenance on hosts with minimum downtime.

I don't worry about the automatic restart functionality because honestly I don't find that any reasonable OS "crashes" for no apparent reason. I do have Nagios monitoring running against most of the guests so I get quick notification if something happens to one of them.

I have tested teh bare-metal ESXi and while they seem to work well, they don't quite fit my needs due to my desire to have a "real" host OS to allow me to make copies, etc, without resorting to "tools".

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