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Small to medium business and Virtualisation/Virtualization

Currently we have an aging SBS2003 OEM Server. The biggest problem is that it being OEM makes disaster recovery difficult.

1) It need identical hardware to recover to. So should the active server become destroyed I need an identical one to restore to.

2) OEM Licence means that a whole new SBS2003 would be needed on a reserve server should original be destroyed as the OEM licence dies witht he original server.

As you can imagine it's difficult and expensive to implement.

Now, I'm a massive fan of virtualisation. I enjoy playing with virtual machines in Vmware, Parallels and Virtual PC software. I have also had a play around with OpenVPS for linux and have a hosted VPS online to play with.

Now I have a vision:

1) To have a ma,moth server with lots of cores and memory and base operating system. Would like to have linux as it would work out cheaper but due to my lack of linux knowlege for a working environment may need Windows server as base system. Whenever I upgrade or replace the server I can simply drag (copy) the virtual servers to new hardware and they work in a plug and play style only having to worry about having a host OS and virtualisation software installed. I would also beable to just keep several system states during system upgrades etc to be able to restore to any one.

2) Instead of SBS doing exchange, DC and sharing I would have several virtual servers running on the main server doing each job. This would mean that hardware compatibility for recoveries would be a thing of the past as the virtual machines could be restored on any hardware as long as it's running the virtualisation software. For example I could reboot the DC and not worry about the exchange server needing to be rebooted also.

3) I expect to only have to backup a single file (Virtual hard drive) instead of worring about mailboxes and data and settings etc. For example, if a Virtual server OS dies. I simply ge the backed up hard drive and copy it back to the host server. So I would restore the virtual server to a different computer and extract what data I need to restore to the live virtual server.

4) If hardware dies, I simply move the virtual servers to another machine, this would be non-hardware specific. And the only recovery time is the time it takes to copy the backed up virtual server from the backup location to the new/temp hardware

5) If I suddenly decided I wanted to run everyting offsite from a data center I just need to move the virtual machines to that location.



To be honest I'm very excited about the propect but I have 3 major queries that I don't know if they are problems that actually exist or rumours I have picked up.

1) Cost - Is it true that I will need to buy full OS licences for each virtual server I run? This would mean running linux for the host OS would help keep the cost down. Or are are there virtual licence schemes out there to make it cheap to buy licences for virtual machines? Or buy a scheme where you buy the host licence and get virtual licences free/cheaper.

2) Speed and latency - now as it's all running virtually, I know virtual machines are getting faster and the link between VM -> Host OS -> Hardware is getting better, but would I notice a massive dip in performance when running virtual machines so much so that the cost of the hardware can't justify the slow performance of each virtual machine. I unstand what quad-core and higher processors will help speed things and surely the performance hit wouldn't be comparable to our current Pentium Xeon single core 3.0ghz server.

For example I would expect to run 1 Domain Controller virtual server with shares and 1 Exchange virtual server, then possibly a linux server for FTP/filesharing etc all on the same hardware. Is this going to hurt the server speedwise or will it be an even trade off for resources between the 3 and I can just keep upgrading the hardware without worrying about the effect on the virtual server drivers etc.

...even if I didn't run multiple virtual machine and still ran SBS in a virtual machine instead of standard MS server would a single virtual machine on a host OS not get the full benefits of a single natively installed OS?

3) Virtual hardware support. Will microsoft and other os manufacturers all fully support virtual hardware in future. Will using virtual servers mean that I would have more in common with other administrators online as our hardware is no longer an issue other than having it work or not work, ie we're all running the same hard ware? for example, network cards etc.

Before getting anyway near to purchasing any kit. I will have to do a full case study of the options and costs, but any hints so far from administrators who have already implemented this or are looking to implement such a set up would be great.

I would love for the specific hardware on my server to no longer be a problem in disaster recovery. I like the flexible option of literally being able to run a virtual server on any hardware no matter what changes are made, upgrades occur etc.

Hopefully I haven't rambled on too much for a quick question!

I would be extremely insterested to hear you views on virtualisation in the small business environment.

Cheers

John

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jdunnill
Asked:
jdunnill
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4 Solutions
 
philtpaikCommented:
1) License cost is exactly the same as if they were physcial boxes.
2) As long as your boxes are not heavy on the cpu and memory usage, virtualizing should actually improve your hardware use. Memory seems to be the bottleneck in my environment, so make sure you have enough memory. CPU these days are more than sufficient.
3) I believe Microsoft fully supports virtualized systems now.

I think you definitely have a good reason to virutalize your servers. Actually I believe most environments should... You will save cost on power, cooling, hardware, and administration. If you wanted to get shared storage and utilize tools such as vmotion, HA, and DRS, then initial cost would be more expensive, however you can get away with ESXi in your environment.

hope that helps
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mlemanCommented:
Hi,

just picking up on philtpaik comments.

licensing i always thought was, a Single windows 2008 standard license, allows 1 installation on the physical box and 1 VM.
A single windows 2008 enterprise License, allows for 1 enterprise on the physical box and 4 VMs of standard  install
A single Datacentre license, allows enterprise on a single box running unlimited standard or enterprise
 VM's

VMware is also per processor licensing + cost of the windows licensing. Microsoft is more cost effective in that respect

regarding hardware, I run 2 HP DL380 g5s with dual quad core processors and 32gig of ram each, running VMware, its pretty good

but i also have 14 IBM blades with dual quad core processors 18gb ram running Microsoft, its pretty good to,

i have my favorite, but Virtual machines have equal performance on both systems.

Microsoft doesnt yet have all the features that VM ware has, like vmotion, but microsoft does have a good admin console SCVMM, which will also connect to VM ware installations. Fail over clustering works ok using microsoft.

VMware i think is a little more expensive to set up but you have the added benefit of tools like v motion

Microsoft i think is the cheaper alturnative.

just my thoughts hope helps

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jdunnillAuthor Commented:
Isn't the microsoft solution not a bare metal solution? Don't I need an OS already installed to run Virtual Server, and surely this would add to latency?

I have been invesitgating this further and I think i can implement a virtual server setup with my current gear. Currenty we have this:

1 x HP ML350 G3 with 1gb RAM and 2  large RAID arrays. OEM SBS 2003 PREMIUM R1

Apparently the ML350 G3 although old is compatible with the now free ESXi from VMWare.

Our current setup is more than enough for our current needs and I would like to extend the life of it... the OEM SBS 2003 is a pain. I have a 2nd ML350 G3 as a reserve server for redundancy in a disaster recovery situation. The problem is with 1 copy of OEM SBS 2003 on the main server i can only install the trial version at the point of disaster meaningh added time in the recovery process. Also if the main server is destroyed I literrally have to go quickly buy new server and OS.

What I was thinking was to buy a cheap SBS 2003 Retail Premium R1 licence, this gives me the freedom to set up a Virtual Server using ESXi on the reserve server then migrating all data from the natively installed SBS 2003 OEM install to the reserve server virtual server. Then run this as the main server.

Then format the previously active server (it's a slightly faster machine with better specs but same hardware types) and installing ESXi on that and moving the whole virtual server onto it.

This way I get all the benefits of running a virtual server, albeit at a cost of 1 retail licence and possibly more RAM.

Should this set up work or will the virtual server be too slow for an active small business SBS 2003 server running email, DC and file sharing. amongst other things.

I would really like to get into using Virtual Servers in a live environment before replacing our server as this will be a costly process that I don't really want to do for the next few years as SBS 2003 does it's job really well.

If I implement this set up now I would only be running the 1 virtual machine so would like it's performance to be as close to the current native set up as possible.

If anything the fresh form and install of the new retail sbs 2003 software should speed stuff up anyway as our server has been running for years and had a few problems overcome that could lead to latency.

Cheers

John
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mlemanCommented:
HI John,

You can just get MS hyper V heres the link http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyId=6067CB24-06CC-483A-AF92-B919F699C3A0&displaylang=en

but As far as i can tell ML350 G3 does not support hyper V, the G5 does,


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jdunnillAuthor Commented:
Wow, I thought Hyper V was only distributed with Server 2008. Didn't realise you could download it too.

If our system isn't supported then I suppose Hyper V is a good consideration for the future and perhaps ESXi is better for our existing set up.

Do you think our old ML350 G3 1GB RAM server would run 1 virtual server under ESXi at near native performance? Or with aging hardware is it likely there will be latency?

I don't want to go to an all virtual set up and then find the server ticks over a lot slower than before.

I found evidence on forums saying that the ML350 G3 does work fine with ESXi although I don't think it's officially supported.
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mlemanCommented:
i think you will find esx is that same, its the processor type it needs to be x64 capable

these qualify

Processor : Intel Pentium 4, Xeon, Core 2 DUO processor; AMD Opteron, Athlon 64, Athlon X2, . these bios settings are requied for hyper v
Hardware Data Execution Protection (DEP) must be available and be enabled. Specifically, you must enable Intel XD bit (execute disable bit) or AMD NX bit (no execute bit).
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jdunnillAuthor Commented:
http://communities.vmware.com/message/1050444;jsessionid=370A6A6C63B98B13F90416EEF75FD055

They seem to think it's possible there.

I have a backup server with the same hardware as our active server, I'll try installing ESXi on that tonight and see what happens. I've been trying to install ESXi on virtual machines to test it but it isn't possible. Needs to be on server hardware at least.

I'll report back with the results.

If it actually does run on the ML350 G3 then can i expect a single virtual server OS to run with the same performance as a natively installed OS?
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darkjedi213Commented:
A few additions to the MS info presented here:

Your cpus will also need the feature called "Hardware Virtualization" to function with Hyper-V. If they are too old, they may not have this.

Licensing for MS 2008 goes by cpu, so if you have a 2-cpu quad-core server, you will need two 2008 licenses. Mleman is correct in his assessment of MS licensing, except that its per cpu, not per box.

In Hyper-V, you can assign cores to various VMs, so it having a base OS installed does not add any latency to the performance of the VMs. They can have their own dedicated cores, or they can share cores (such as assigning multiple cores to multiple servers, more cores than you actually have and they will only use the cpus when they need them). I have over 10 virtualized servers, including ISA 2006, DPM, McAfee EPO, WSUS, and multiple specific application servers, and I notice no lag whatsoever. They actually appear snappier than the host OS!

Future hardware should not be a problem. That's really the whole point of virtualization. If you decide to use Failover Clustering with Microsoft (highly recommended), they state the hardware must be identical among your clustered servers. Software/Update levels on the host OS's need to be the same as well as the names you give the network connections. You will be fine in several years when you decide to upgrade your host servers and move your vm's over to new boxes/OS's. Just continue to buy identical servers (unless MS revises their methodology).
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
darkjedi -

What are you talking about licensing is per CPU not per box?  I have never heard that - except if you are talking about SQL Server - but even then, they offer multiple license types - buy with CALs and you license per box, buy by CPU and you don't need CALs.  Indeed, Server 2008 standard support up to 4 CPU (sockets), Enterprise up to 8, and Data Center to up 64.  Can you provide a link supporting your claim of per CPU on SERVER 2008?

Reference:
http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2008/en/us/compare-specs.aspx

jdunnill -

While you can download Hyper-V, the downloaded (standalone version) does not offer certain features such as high-availability through a failover system.

> can i expect a single virtual server OS to run with the same performance as a natively installed OS

No, there will ALWAYS be a hit in performance.  It should run relatively close - 80-90% of hardware capability.
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darkjedi213Commented:
Sorry, partial flub on my part. Only Data Center goes per-cpu (I'm guessing because of the unlimited virtual OS installs).

http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2008/en/us/pricing.aspx
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Ok, that I can see... but for this case, Data Center would be extremely expensive.

jdunnill -

Stick with SBS.  Separating the services out is a nice idea, but you will lose certain features if you move away from SBS, such as the reporting and Remote Web Workplace.  Just buy the CORRECT LICENSE.  SBS 2008 licenses include downgrade rights (but then you MUST use ALL prior versions (you can't mix SBS 2003 with Exchange 2007 from SBS 2008, for example)  And buy a VOLUME LICENSE.  This can then be run on a virtual machine and/or transferred to new hardware with NO ADDITIONAL COST.
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darkjedi213Commented:
Also speaking towards performance, there are many considerations to be made to arrive at your overall average performance. Let's say you're virtualizing 5 servers. If money is a concern, you may not have 2 or 4 cpu quad-core servers for each of those if they were standalone. Buying one (or two) beefy servers would be much more cost effective than buying 5. You can let each virtual server have access to most or all the available cores and apply weights by priority. This would give each server the cpu-time it needs, when it needs it most. Also, you would probably have a standalone server system partition installed on a RAID 1 or maybe a RAID 0+1. But if you went with external iSCSI's DAS or SANs for the virtual machine storage, you could have a 5+ hard drive RAID 5 (we have a 13 disk RAID 5 here) that would smoke a raid 0 setup. Any of our virtual servers can restart and be up to the point of all services loaded in around 20 seconds (maybe 30 for ISA). Our best standalone takes well over 2 minutes after loading and testing scsi controllers and etc.

There are many considerations for the benefits of virtualizing. The end result will not always be a performance hit vs a standalone server solution. Perfomance may not always be better; it of course depends heavily on your planned usage. But it will not ALWAYS be worse.
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jdunnillAuthor Commented:
leew -


But surely using a retail version of SBS is just as effective as volume licence version? I'm thinking of ebaying it.



All-

I went and installed ESXi onto the test rig at home which is the same spec as our production server and it installed and works perfectly! yay!

i had a few teething problems with default resource reservations due to only have 1gb of memory in the machine so running two virtual machines was a headache, but a few people had already solved this problem online so I got 2 VMs running great. The performance aint half bad either but i think I need to cram in as much RAM as possible really to keep the latency down.

So... to summarise, ESXi works fine on an aging HP Proliant ML350 G3. So it looks like virtualisation is a reality for me even now on old hardware and software. I just need to buy a retail version of SBS.

It also gives me a chance to use virtualisation in a production environment before a future hard and soft upgrade to server 2008/exchange 2007/sbs 2008.

I'm looking forward to the versatility of virtualisation.

Thanks for all your suggestions. I have taken it all on board.

It was more of a discussion in the end rather than a question so i'll have to figure out a fair way to divide the points up.

My final question is do I or don't I? I'm convinced to try using virtualisation in a production environment on an aging server and OS, hopefully it would be a good decision. Can anyone see any reason where this might be a bad idea?
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Yes, retail version will work fine.  Of course, if you buy the volume license of 2008 (it is more expensive than 2003 was) you get the OPTION of using 2003 or 2008 (downgrade rights).  In addition, you can optionally purchase Software Assurance and get upgrade rights.  
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Philip ElderTechnical Architect - HA/Compute/StorageCommented:
You cannot have a "Cold Backup" without Software Assurance benefits on your server OS.

http://www.microsoft.com/licensing/software-assurance/cold-backup.aspx
download.microsoft.com/download/8/7/3/8733d036-92b0-4cb8-8912-3b6ab966b8b2/dr_brief.doc (document)

OEM must stay with the original hardware including the CALs.

Retail does not give you Cold Backup licensing rights. Only Open License or Open Value (better option for SMB) with Software Assurance.

If you break out the components of SBS into the "Stack", then your licensing must cover each server OS installed into a VM, the server component such as Exchange, and the necessary CALs to cover user access to those components.

Philip

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