Here I will keep track of my endeavors in Virtualization.
Try out several Hypervisors and see which one I will use for my home server.
- VMWare ESXi 5.1
- KVM on Ubutu 12.04LTS
- KVM on CentOS 6.2
- Xen on Citrix XenServer 6.1
- Hyper-V Server (aka Windows Server 2012 without the Windows bits)
- Oracle VM
Update: Dropped VMWare ESXi 5.0, because 5.1 worked fine.
What am I Looking for?
I’ve already had some reactions about my bias for pass-through storage and networking. The thing is, I’m not doing an Enterprise roll-out with high-priced hardware. Perhaps more importantly, I have a strong sense of disliking waste. If I were looking for high availability and ease of migration, I would definitely work with virtual disks and SANs. But those issues are less important than cost to me personally, so I prefer to get the most out of my (cheap) SATA disks and home network.
I want to be able to host several virtual) machines on one box, manage it with the convenience of a GUI, and maximize the return on investment in hardware. The big disks are bulk storage of data that is either non-critical, and easily replaced/acquired, or copied to USB-connected external disks for backup. One of the VMs will be my home fileserver, so it should be capable of supplying (high-volume) media at acceptable speeds to all members of the family.
Summary of Findings
Ok, let’s clean up here and discuss the findings.
VMWare ESXi with vSphere as Management GUI
VMWare is a big name in VM-land, and not without reason. It just works and works well. License is free but needs to be entered using a non-trivial GUI, after which you can forget about it. Hypervisor runtime takes up a USB key that someone told me you could even remove after boot. Annoying bug with the network card (lose carrier/unplug, get a crash) that I’m sure will get fixed soon, but I’m not paying for it, so have to wait and see. Disks are fine using a small trick. Performance no worries.
Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2012 with Several Management GUIs
Microsoft is going Virtual in a BIG way. Hyper-V is fully integrated in their Server OS line and you can get it for free. That last bit is new in Microsoft-land, but I can verify it is the truth. They don’t even bother with a product key. However, and this is a very big one, managing the Hypervisor is a pain without a Windows Server 2012 installation of the paid persuasion or at the very least a Professional or Enterprise version Windows 8. If you happen to have either, Hyper-V is great and a winner. I have Windows 7 Ultimate and although I agree I could get most to work, some features I couldn’t get because the Management Frameworks don’t match up.
Linux (any flavour) with KVM
KVM is a great Hypervisor and it works well. Too bad nobody had an itch sufficiently bad to do something about virt-manager, because it has some issues. If you don’t mind, practically anything you want will work and work well. And this is the only one without any real license/closedness issues.
Citrix is also one of the big commercial players, and especially Desktop Virtualization is what made them a big name. No real issues here but two: The license needs a yearly renewal (because they want to know you’re still there) and there is a licensed-feature wall that you constantly see around you. Not that you’ll necessarily run into it that soon, but it sits in your face and that just rubs me wrong. Sorry.
Oracle VM Server (RedHat-style Linux with Xen)
This one just rattles me. Installation and booting was a breeze, but for some unfathomable reason you need a big box to manage it. Why? Because you get a complete Oracle RDBMS installation (which is known to like consuming resources) with a Fusion Middleware stack, aka WebLogic Application Server (which is known to like consuming resources) so you can manage your enterprise better. I don’t have an enterprise to manage, just that single box that was humming along nicely waiting for me to create my first VM on it. I never managed to do it, because the management app took ages to start and then claimed I needed to create storage pools and other pools and more things and … now where do I create a new VM? I couldn’t find it. Too bad Larry, you lost me.
So what did I do?
Well, I basically had three real contenders left:
- Hyper-V I tried to use, but my Windows PC is too old.
- KVM I used to have, but the management GUI sucks.
- VMWare is great and the GUI even likes me before my first cup of coffee. And it tickles my inner nerd by running on a USB key.
My server now runs VMWare. Only problem left is that I need to move it under my desk, which means unplugging the network cables, so I’ld better shut down cleanly before I do that… Ah well.