Virtualisation Demo (thanks to Paul McCooey of Splash Internet)

Paul McCooey from Splash Internet (http://splashinternet.net/) recently gave a fantastic demo of virtualisation on some grunty hardware. Paul manages a large number of virtualised, mainly Windows systems, for a large number of businesses on the Sapphire Coast, as well as other regional locations in Victoria and the Snowys.

Gallery of Images from the Demo

IntoIT is very grateful to Paul, and thanks him for his efforts.

Although the servers Paul manages typically sit in high-spec data centres in Sydney, Paul prefers to organise management of the physical servers himself rather than ‘wait in the queue’ for the hosting providers support to become available. In Paul’s business, time is critical, and he needs to be able to remote login and perform diagnostics, or make adjustments in order to be responsive to the demands placed on the servers.

It is for these reasons too that Paul does not use ‘dial-a-server’ services such as Amazon EC2 that are becoming increasingly popular. He cites not having direct access to the underlying physical system as too constraining. In related discussion, Karl Auer, who also attended the discussion suggested that it may simply be that these systems are just not yet ready to take over from the fine-grained hosting needs of companies like Splash Internet.

Paul demo’d set-up and configuration of virtual sytems using both the Microsoft HyperVisor system, and EMC’s VMWare solution. Paul is firmly in the VMWare camp in terms of his preference for Virtualisation technology, and points to the lengthier heritage, and more advanced instance management tools of VMWare as the benefits he particularly likes.

Details of the demo system used :

Dell Poweredge 2950III

Dual Xeon 2.66Ghz Quad Core

32GB Ram

2RU Unit

Perc 6i Raid

6X 1TB 7200RM SATA Via interposers

Full Spec Sheet : http://www.dell.com/downloads/global/products/pedge/en/pe_2950_III_spec_sheet.pdf

One of the key control systems on the Poweredge that Paul demoed was the Dell Remote Access controller (the ‘DRAC’)

This is a stnadalone Linux host attached to the motherboard. This onboard system gives access to main systems’ console directly.

Other features  of the demo system included :

– 2 LANS allowing redundancy and load balancing back to the switch

– dual power supply

– error correction control disks which isolate errors

– hot swappable fans

– hot swappable disks – mix SATA AND SAS (SERIAL ATTACHED SCSI)…and SSD

HyperVisor Demo

Typically the system boots to the DRAC, and it is from there that HyperVisor is activated.

Disclaimer : Please note…all licencing info here is ‘unreliable’…please do your own research.

For ‘serious’ virtualisation needs, a copy of Windows Server DataCenter edition is required (Cost approx $10K), because it allows unlimited virtual instances (of, Windows Server) to be run on the system. The Windows licencing scheme for HyperVisor virtualisation takes a bit of getting used to to understand. Essentially, Hypervisor is free with certain editions of Windows Server (standard and DataCenter, but not Foundations and Essentials). The number of virtual instances you can run is dictated by the licencing.

On Paul’s system, a Server 2012 image resides on the disk itself. For the HyperVisor demo, the system is configured to boot Win 2012.

Within Windows, the HyperVisor Manager allows creation of virtual machine (VM) instances each the operating system of choice, including any of the Linux variations you might want. At the demo we tested an Ubuntu instance successfully.

Next up was VMWare

VMWare ESX requires 2 Gb RAM minimum. It only runs on supported hardware and the system configuration must be certified for use.

Paul successfully demonstrated creation of a virtual machine usine VMWare, and a number of topics were addressed in the ensuing discussion…

A walkthrough of the management consoled was completed.

Paul more commonly uses a product called VCenter which allows more complex management of instances, including the ability to move, near instantaneously, virtual machines to other systems, or even, to servers in other physical locations. This could be very useful if a spike in system usage is anticipated, and on the fly resource management is called for.  Apparently in some cases, this technique is used by companies to reduce power bills, by moving their systems to a country with cheaper electricity.

Paul also spoke of the Vapp extension which allows you to manage the Virtualisation platform from a small desktop.

On the demo system, ‘Pixie boot’ is enabled such that the NIC (Network Interface Controller) can transfer an Operating System image on to the system and use it to boot a VM.

In the case of the demo, ESX 5.1 was the version utilised

Another argument put forward for VMWare is it’s large market share, and hence an increased amount of supported hardware/software

Other comments made in passing, you can identify a physical COM port and set up a pass through so that it is dedicated exclusively to the Virtual Machine in question.

A comment was also made that the overheads, in terms of the system resources required, for ESX, are very lightweight. HyperVisor, by comparison is a hungrier resource beast.

With ESX, it is possible to set reserve resources to not dip below set levels – meaning a minimum performance level can be guaranteed….this is critical when multiple VMs share one physical host.

Interesting unrelated tidbit…

Did you know that if you shout at a NAS (or other disk system) if hammers disk performance as the virbration protection system works to stabilise the drive heads…a definite argument for Solid State drives.

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