ESXi 3.5 Raid Disk Setup

I'm new to setting up ESXi so bear with me please..

I have read a lot of post on this and thought I knew how I was going to setup this up but now I'm questioning my plan.

I'm going to have 5 VM running on a Dell 2900III with a PERC 6/I integrated Raid controller. Also have 8gb of ram installed.

30 users and 10 remote users: 40 total

VM setup:

VM = Domain Controller
VM= File/Print Server
VM= Share Point Server
VM=SQL 2k5 Server <-- This is for a very small app special app (10meg database after a year of usage) and for Share Point Eventually.
VM=Terminal Server

I have 4x750gb SATA hard drives and 4X1TB SATA hard drives.

I was planning on setting up the 4x750's in a Raid 10 for the ESXi installation and the storage for the Virtual Machines. Then install the 4x1TB drives in a Raid 1 setup which would give me 2 Raid 1 setups for my data storage.

After reading a lot here it looks like a lot of people setup a Raid 1 with small disk to just hold the ESXi installation and then store all of their VM and data on a Raid 5 setup.

I guess I just need some experienced advise as to how I should setup my Raid system to work the best for my plan.

Thanks for any help,

markj72000IT AdminAsked:
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Brett DanneyIT ArchitectCommented:
I would setup ESX on a Raid1 using two of the smallest drives. You can even setup ESX on one drive, the reason being you can recover from a failed drive with a full esx reload within an hour, just depends how fast you would like to be up and running in the event of this drive failing. The 4 bigger drives I would make use of Raid 5, you want to split the load of the VM's over as many spindles as possible. The remaining 2 smaller drives I guess Raid one, run the DC and file server on these drives.
markj72000IT AdminAuthor Commented:
I guess i could purchase 2 small drives for the ESX install since those are pretty cheap, would there be any improvement in performance by putting the ESX install on SAS drives. I may can convince them to let me purchase 2 of the small ones if i cuold expect some performance increase but my guess would be that it would help much for that. SAS would be better for the VM's, which makes me wonder if SAS on 2 drives in Raid 1 would be better than the 4 drives like you are suggesting? What do you think?
markj72000IT AdminAuthor Commented:
Oh yea, if i do decide to purchase some smaller drives for the ESX install would there be a minimum that i wouldn't want to go below as far as the size of the drive?
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Brett DanneyIT ArchitectCommented:
I would purchase the two SAS drives for the esx install. There are a couple reasons to do this the most important are you do not want to run your VM's on the the same drives as ESX, for performance reasons. You can buy the two smallest (and/or cheapest) SAS drives as the ESX install is pretty small. The SAS drives are faster but what you are after with VM's is virtual machines per spindle, you need to get this ratio as low as possible.
Just to make sure you know that ESXi is only 32MB (yes megabytes) large. So if your server is able to boot from USB, just install it on a USB stick and use your harddisks as VMFS storage for your VM's.
You can find how to do it here:

In short:
1.First get the following tools: 7-Zip(Free), WinImage(Demo)
2.Download the ESXi ISO
3.Open the ISO with 7-Zip
4.Extract install.tgz 
5.Open install.tgz with 7-Zip
6.Click on install.tar 
7.Browse to usr\lib\vmware\installer\ 
8.Open VMware-VMvisor-big-3.5.0_Update_2-103909.i386.dd.bz23
9.Extract VMware-VMvisor-big-3.5.0_Update_2-103909.i386.dd 
10.Open WinImage and go to Disk, click on Restore Virtual Harddisk Image on physical drive 
11.Select a physical drive
12.Select VMware-VMvisor-big-3.5.0_Update_2-103909.i386.dd 
13.And click yes to write the DD image to the USB Disk
markj72000IT AdminAuthor Commented:
Is usb stick fast enough to run ESXi?

Is a memory sick how Dell embeds their ESXi if you purchase that option? Because i thought i might just purchase whatever chip or flash drive they offered to save me the trouble of installing ESXi on a hard disk which also free's up some drive bays for me but i couldn't find anywhere on their site where you would purchase that.
ESXi is basically the esx installed on a chip on the motherboard. Not sure if dell released hardware for that yet or not, but if it is available you would need to buy a new server.

I never used esxi so I cant tell you much about it.

If you decide to install esx 3.5 and not esxi 3.5, any size hdd out there now will be big enough. Just remember to edit the swap file just in case you ever need to increase the memory of the service console later down the line. Swap file is 544MB by default (272MB Service Console memory x 2) and it should be increased to 1600MB (800MB max for Service Console)

For the hard drives, since you do not have multiple hosts and HA enabled, I would definitely have a RAID 1 set for the ESX. If you lose that one disk, it only takes about 30-40 minutes to reinstall ESX, but you would lose ALL your servers...As for the OS, for 5 VMs, I would put that on a RAID 1 or RAID 5 since OS' dont do much after booting up. For Data RAID 5 or 10 depending on how much capacity you need vs performance.

Hope that helps.
Yes the USB stick is fast enough. Remember that the whole kernel is only 32MB. So the stick is only used to boot from and to save settings. Once ESXi is booted, the stick is not used anymore. It's not like there is a swap file or page file needed.
For ESXi, there is an embeded version that some manufacturers install on the system board of certain servers. There is also an installable version (iso file) that you can download en install for free. But remember that ESXi is a very basic version of ESX which lacks almost all features (vmotion, HA, DRS, Update manager)
markj72000IT AdminAuthor Commented:
Ok, cool.. Do you have a jump drive that you can recommend to be reliable. I typically purchase all of my stuff from

 After I get ESXi configured couldn't i clone that jump drive and keep a backup of that jump drive on another drive in case there was ever a failure?

We'll ESX vs ESXi.. what do you think? i only have 1 server to work with and an old PC that i could convert but that cant run ESX.. I thought i might use that old pc as a second DC.

Even the entry level ESX is like 2300 and that just isnt in my budget right now. We're a pretty small company. I might could convince them to upgrade to ESX next year sometime if i can show them some benefit.

My only concern with all of this is how do i make backup of the Vmachines. Which almost makes me think i should just run Vmware Server 2.0 and not bother with ESXi.
I've used several USB stick and had no problems. So I think any will do.
You could clone it, depends how many changes you do.
If you have only one server, then ESXi is a good start and get expierence with ESX. Later you can upgrade if you want. Keep in mind that for most of the pretty features (vmotion, HA, DRS), you need some shared storage (SAN, iSCSI).
As for the backup, there are 2 possibilities.
1. You use the classic backup method and install your backup agents on the VM in the same way as you do with physical servers.
2. You invest in a backup solution for ESX, like vRanger Pro or esXpress. This way you can make a backup of a complete VM (the virtual harddisks and the config file). But there is a price tag.

If you are thinking of Vmware Server 2.0 and not ESXi, I would suggest to have a look at Hyper-V also.

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markj72000IT AdminAuthor Commented:
Thank you for your help Bertgeysels, I'll certainly go with  your plan.
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