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Virtual Server vs Physical Server

Posted on 2010-08-24
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Last Modified: 2012-06-27
We are trying to decide between a physical or virtual server. Does anyone have comments as to why one over the other?
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Question by:ce4LessUser
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by:Lee W, MVP
ID: 33514234
Curious... do you have any comments as to why NOT virtual?  Also - do you have appropriate hardware?  I mean a SAN for shared storage and two (or more) physical servers to be your Virtual Machine hosts?  
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andyalder earned 42 total points
ID: 33514369
Depends how much work it has to do, a 10,000 mailbox Exchange server isn't a good virtualization candidate, nor a 20,000 user database server. Virtualizing the big stuff isn't possible since you're limited in how many CPUs you can throw at it and big servers often have to have local disks rather than SAN attached for price and performance.

You could always download vCenter server, from that you can perform a consolidation analysis on the current hardware to get a degree of confidence that it will run OK on VMware for example, there's a similar tool from MS I think, can't remember the name.
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by:ce4LessUser
ID: 33514499
I should add some details...
We are only running a few email accounts. This is strictly a web/email server, no database. (The database is on a physical server).
Traffic is minimal relatively speaking.  Meaning, we aren't Amazon. Maybe, 100 users on the sites at once. We get spikes at certain times in the year.
I don't have an opinion on virtual, except as my friend tells me, "It's because you won't feel in control without the physical hardware". :)
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by:Lee W, MVP
Lee W, MVP earned 42 total points
ID: 33514569
I have no issues with Virtual Servers... Even for large workloads, you CAN virtualize them - the virtualization may require MORE servers, but there shouldn't be a problem in virtualizing almost any function nowadays.  But do it correctly.  I do work for a large publisher who runs web sites online and their web servers are all running on VMs that can fail over between virtualization servers - so if one needs to go down for maintenance or otherwise fails, the web sites stay running.
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by:andyalder
ID: 33516678
Leew, are you honestly suggesting you can get the same performance with a virtual server over a physical one at the big end? That for some benchmark test such as those produced for TPC you can get the same or better performance by adding a virtualization layer?
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by:Lee W, MVP
ID: 33516737
Please re-read:
"the virtualization may require MORE servers"

Put another way, if you need 3 physical Exchange servers to cover your user base, then you may need 4-5 to cover your user base if you went virtual for a large org.
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by:andyalder
ID: 33518808
How are you going to use more servers if for example it's one big SQL database?
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by:Lee W, MVP
ID: 33518922
I thought we were talking about exchange?  The largest of the large databases you probably want to put on physical hardware.  I can't say I'm that knowledgeable about databases that would be of the same size and usage as Google, Amazon, some large bank or other similar system... I would suspect there is no single database server handling ALL transactions for these companies.  As such, more VMs could be used to handle the load.  Is it the best idea, I don't know... but now were talking about scales that most people asking questions here are not going to need the answer to.  
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by:andyalder
ID: 33519505
I was just addressing your "Curious... do you have any comments as to why NOT virtual?" with an example of something that you wouldn't virtualize, another example is a soft PBX, it may work but audio can end up choppy.
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by:D_Vante
ID: 33521020
virtualize everything if possible.  If you can, two SANs and two big servers with each server big enough to run everything.  Have the SANs backup to each other.  This way if one SAN and/or one server died you could keep running.   If you have good IOPS on the SAN you can run a soft PBX, I have client that does it and it works fine.
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by:andyalder
ID: 33521119
Well, have it your own way then, but answer me this... Why isn't there any mention of VMware in the top ten TPC-E benchmarks?
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by:Lee W, MVP
ID: 33523940
Clearly, there is overhead in VMs - but there are also advantages.   Those advantages can also outweigh the disadvantages.  Further, I doubt companies run their databases at full load... so just because it CAN go that fast, doesn't mean people have it or want it to be at peak all the time.
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by:MRolfs
MRolfs earned 41 total points
ID: 33524012
Can we back up a bit on this one?  We need some more information before anybody can make a real recommendation:

1.  Can the author please provide hardware specs (proposed or actual) of the server or servers in question?

2.  Would this server be the only virtual machine running on your VM host box?

3.  Do you have any baseline load on your current server, i.e. memory, disk iops/sec, etc.?

4.  Do you have any virtualization already in your environment today?

5.  What VM host OS/system are you looking at going with?

6.  Do you have a budget for the VM side or would you be going with a free/single server version (i.e. stand-alone VMWare ESXi vs. VMWare VCenter server)?

Aside from all of that, I'm a big fan of virtualization.  I actually feel I have more control over the servers that are virtualized than otherwise.  This is in large part due to the excellent management tools included in many virtualization systems.  Currently in-house here we are running 5 physical hosts running VMWare ESXi managed by a VCenter server and running around a total of around 44 virtual machines (seems like a heavy load but most of them idle 99% of the time).  We just got done virtualizing a large part of our development environment with great results, especially in reduction of hardware costs.

If you're looking at VMWare, I would EXTREMELY highly recommend their VSphere Essentials bundle to start with.  It's quite reasonable for budget and allows you to manage 3 hosts through the VCenter server with some great management tools.  Also if you need to upgrade to more features later on you can just update the license to unlock the more advanced features (dynamic load balancing, hot VM migration, HA, etc).
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