Suggestions for RAID configurations for VMware ESXi on Dell Poweredge R510/R710

ACLGSUP used Ask the Experts™
We are currently building out a Dell server with ESXi (free limited edition) for a small financial company.

3 or 4 Total VMs all on local storage (no NAS, SANs, DAS):
* Windows Server 2008 - DC/DHCP/DNS
* Windows Server 2008 with Exchange 2007
* Windows Server 2008 - DC with Blackberry Enterprise Server
* Possible Windows Server 2008 with SQL Server

Without worrying about hard drive space, my question relates to how should the RAID arrays be setup for performance with either 6 or 8 total 15K 300GB SAS drives?
Possible setups include:
1) One whole RAID 10 Array used for ESXi OS + VM OS's + Data

2) Two arrays
*RAID 1 - (2 drives) - used for ESXi OS + VM OS's
*RAID 10 - (4 or 6 drives) - used for the VMFS datastores - used for the DATA partitions for the File Server + Exchange Datastore

3) Three arrays
*RAID 1 - (2 drives) - used for ESXi OS + VM OS's
*RAID 1 - (2 drives) - used for the VMFS datastore - File Server Data
*RAID 1 - (2 drives) - used for the VMFS datastore - Exchange Datastore

I welcome any suggestions as I maybe doing this all wrong.  Let me know if you need anymore information.
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Top Expert 2010

your choice of raid controller (or software raid) is every bit as important as the disks.  what are you using for that?
Top Expert 2009
I'd go for option 2, since you dont have many VMs, putting everything in single raid10 shouldn't be an issue
Btw, R510/R710 is fully supported by vmware so you dont have to worry about hardware compatibility
nappy_dThere are a 1000 ways to skin the technology cat.

I would like to recommend option 4:

  • Load and run ESXi from USB and save your hdd's
  • RAID5 with 5 drives and the 6th as an omline spare.
This would maximize your space for growth...
6 160GB drives in a RAD5 with online spare gives roughly 650GB of storage.

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Maybe you could use Hyper-V R2 instead of ESXi.   This way you can purchase 1 Windows 2008 R2 enterprise license and you have the right to use 4 Windows server virtual machines for free.  Windows 2008 R2 enterprise is more expensive than the standard version.   It's about 1500$ / year to purchase one Open Value Windows 2008 R2 license   The technical support is included with this contract.

It will be easier to backing it up with Hyper-V R2.  The Windows backup software is easy to use and Hyper-V is supported.  With ESXi as far as I know you'll have to purchase VCB.  That told, Veeam backup (third party) is one of the best tool to simplify the backups in Vmware.  

Don't get me wrong, we've been using Vmware enterprise (ESX and now Vsphere) for many years on most of our systems.  Vmware is very reliable.  But if Hyper-V R2 has not as many features as Vmwares I think it could fill your needs.  Hyper-V  R2 is also very stable and easy to work with.

Regarding the array, I would go with one RAID 10 array:

LUN 1 to install  Windows 2008 R2 and the Hyper-V R2 role.
LUN 2 for VHD (Virtual disks for virtual machines)
LUN 3 for VHD or VM backup or just having 2 VHD drives to create your Virtual Machines.

Keep in mind that the more drives you have the more IOPS you get, regardless of the speed of the drive.  But your drives are already fast.  So with 6 or 8 drives the prformance  level of your array is high enough for the given purpose.  

But I think you should add another hot spare drive.  You'll run an Exchange server and perhaps SQL.  I don't think the users will be happy if the system goes down.  That told, you can loose up to 2 drives in RAID 10, depending on the drives you're loosing.

Hope this will help.


I appreciate all the suggestions

To follow up on  a couple of the comments/solutions:

** The controller is a PERC 6i
** I think I'm leaning towards the 1 whole RAID 10 array (+hot spare) solution but am intrigued with the idea of ESXi on the USB, which I've heard of before...
Wouldn't the use of the ESXi OS on the USB be a single-point of failure if the USB drive were to fail?  Understandably the USBs with the ESXi are easier to copy/replace, but logistically harder at remote data centers.
nappy_dThere are a 1000 ways to skin the technology cat.

Yes but:
Top Expert 2009

Just a thougt, once in a while esx/esxi needs to do swapping and usb drive performance is slow compared to normal scsi drive
I dont think esx/esxi on is good prod environment, I'd rather follow the standard practice and use raid 1 for esx/esxi, at least can break mirror before installing patches, ofcoz always backup with esxcfg-cfgbackup before doing anything
I've been supporting many enterprise clients and until now, i hardly see any prod servers on usb, esxi embedded is not even in the list

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