Is it sensible to implement VMware in a two-server small business?
Posted on 2010-09-11
I would appreciate some advice concerning the possible implementation of VMware in a small company of around 20 employees (rising to perhaps 30 over the next two or three years) running SBS 2003, to achieve high availability at least and fault tolerance at best.
The requirement is for a full recovery from a server outage within a working hour of failure.
I’ve looked at various options such as DoubleTake, but they are very expensive and require much fiddling about with storage and NIC drivers if the standby server is not identical to the primary, and an additional Windows Server license as well; also, the licensing requirements are complicated in regard to reverting back to the original hardware when it is repaired.
The fact that the server is SBS seems to make matters worse, as many vendors do not offer SBS-aware products. This particular server is running, in addition to Exchange, a core business application that uses a runtime instance of MS SQL, and another that uses SQL Express, though the server is not the Premium Edition.
VMware’s vMotion seems to offer an elegant solution to the above requirements but it is a very complex product that seems to have several gotchas, particularly in relation to small installations, though to be fair it is aimed at enterprise-class businesses that have the budgets for fibre infrastructures, clusters, and so forth.
The initial idea was to use local storage on VMware HCL-compliant Server 1 to host virtual server A that would actually doing the work for the company, with physical Server 2 running a copy of virtual server A in lockstep, on its own local storage. However, it seems that this configuration isn’t going to happen because, if I’m understanding correctly, VMware requires the presence of remote storage for HA and FT to be available.
This raises the question of what type of remote storage would offer the best value for the company. Fibre SANs are out of the budget and therefore out of the question, so, bearing in mind the fairly small number of users, will iSCSI NAS be adequate? If so, is such a NAS available that can run RAID 10 with a hot spare (five drives in all)? I’m aware that such a NAS is a single point of failure, but with the described configuration it’s as robust as I can imagine a single unit to be, and I very much doubt that the budget will stretch to two units.
If not, then it would seem that virtualisation may not be appropriate in this scenario, in which case what do other small companies with only a single server do to meet the need of rapid recovery from a hardware failure of that server? The server in question is currently backed up using Acronis TrueImage Server 9.1 - old, I know, but stable compared to current releases of the product, if the support forums are anything to go by. It does have the hardware-independent Universal Restore function, but it’s a black art getting that to work.
The long and short of it is that restoring from backups takes a lot longer than failing over to a second server, and vMotion appears to offer a way of doing the latter without driver and licensing issues.
The shrewd and discerning among you will have realised that I’m very new to virtualisation in general and VMware in particular, though I’m working my way through some fairly fat tomes on the subject, and I’m fortunate enough to have a couple of quad-core Dell servers to play with and make lots of interesting mistakes on without south-east England suddenly going dark and quiet. That said, I’m looking for a solid workable HA or FT solution that doesn’t have to have performance that the trading floor of the Stock Exchange would envy, doesn’t need endless massaging to keep it running well, and doesn’t cost the earth with the moon grated on top.
I would be grateful for wise counsel on the foregoing.