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VMWare VSphere hardware configuration advice

Posted on 2010-11-18
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Hi,

I suspect this has been covered in depth before, so please direct me if so.

I've been running VMWare server on an XP 64 platform for a while and while it's ok, I'd like to migrate to a hypervisor configuration.  My preference is to use the free VSphere product until I get it stable, then pay for the extra features I'd like to have.

While there are many good companies who offer ready-made servers, my preference is to build my own.  My target load is under 10 VMs each of which is light to moderate load.  One of my hot buttons though is reliability and (eventually) failover.  I've had too many issues with drive failures (even in RAID configurations), so I want that as bullet-proof as possible.

I also have a preference for SATA drives (can these be used through some kind of supported disk controller?) as they are readily available anywhere.  I realize VMWare requires SCSI drives (real or virtual) but it's been a LONG time since I used one.

While budget is a concern, it's not the primary issue driving the process.

If you were building this what would you pick, and why?  I find VMWare's HCL menu system rather obtuse.

Thanks very much!

--Ben
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Question by:Ben Conner
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11 Comments
 
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Expert Comment

by:jakethecatuk
ID: 34163655
TBH Ben, if you are planning on taking this into a production environment by using bought features, you are better off buying a server off VMware's HCL.

If you run it on a server you have bought yourself and built and it doesn't use supported hardware, VMware won't entertain your support request.

The cost of pre-built servers vs. home built is very similar and for the peace of mind involved, it's not worth the hassle.

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Author Comment

by:Ben Conner
ID: 34163760
Hi Sage,

Ok, given that approach, I see a LOT of servers available.  Which ones (or vendors) do you suggest that would meet these requirements?

Thanks!

--Ben
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Expert Comment

by:jakethecatuk
ID: 34163817
I like HP servers...used them for years.

You didn't say how much money you had to spend, so I'm guessing we're looking at entry level.

http://h10010.www1.hp.com/wwpc/uk/en/sm/WF25a/15351-15351-241434-241477-241477-3948598.html

This is listed on the VMware HCL and prices start reasonably cheaply...but of course, cost is subjective.
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Author Comment

by:Ben Conner
ID: 34169773
Hi Jake,

This is where it gets fuzzy in my mind; these servers list SATA drives.  Is there something that makes SATA drives look like SCSI from VMWare's perspective?

--Ben
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Expert Comment

by:jakethecatuk
ID: 34170908
VMware doesn't need SCSI drives explicitly. The important part is the disk/raid controller - not the drives attached to it. I am running a couple of servers with E200 Smart Array cards in them. The card supports either SAS or SATA drives and I am running SATA drives. This card is on VMware HCL.

One thing I find odd is VMware's view on SATA raid. They say it's not supported, but all the big storage manufacturers  provide the option of using SATA drives in part of their array - i.e. HP EVA, EMC and HDS all provide SATA disks.
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jakethecatuk earned 500 total points
ID: 34170919
VMware doesn't need SCSI drives explicitly. The important part is the disk/raid controller - not the drives attached to it. I am running a couple of servers with E200 Smart Array cards in them. The card supports either SAS or SATA drives and I am running SATA drives. This card is on VMware HCL.

One thing I find odd is VMware's view on SATA raid. They say it's not supported, but all the big storage manufacturers  provide the option of using SATA drives in part of their array - i.e. HP EVA, EMC and HDS all provide SATA disks.
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Author Comment

by:Ben Conner
ID: 34173056
Hi Jake,

Are all your drives SATA, or is the VM boot drive SAS?  

--Ben
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LVL 23

Expert Comment

by:jakethecatuk
ID: 34173067
all drives are SATA.

I run around 15 servers on the environment.

You need to balance performance vs. costs.  If the servers aren't going to get that much of a hammering, then SATA may meet your requirements.  If performance is important to you, then SATA disks may be a bottleneck.
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Author Comment

by:Ben Conner
ID: 34175405
75% of the time the drives collectively are idle.  I also see Adaptec has a 3805 card that looks like it would work with VMWare.  The only time the drives are heavily used is during the night with backups.  And I have those staggered across a 5 hour window.

--Ben
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Expert Comment

by:broy55
ID: 34175464
I can tell you what our company has done.

We purchased two Dell Poweredge R815 and a Powervault Direct Attached Storage. We use SAS hard drives clusterd in raid 10. Instead of VMWare we decided to use Microsoft Hyper-v and save us almost $50,000 in vmware licenses. In the end, if you go with vmware the licensing will probably cost moer than the hardware.
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Author Comment

by:Ben Conner
ID: 34177449
Hi,

Thanks for the heads-up.  At this point in time the Vsphere free vsn will meet my needs, so software costs aren't a major issue.  The motivation for the original quesiton  was to get a known low-cost hardware configuration on which I could install the software.  Unlike Windows, VMWare hypervisor products are fairly picky about what they run on.

I already have a decent compatible m/b, memory, cpu and 8+ drives (albeit SATA flavor).  The only major piece missing was the drive controller, and it looks like Adaptec cards can fool a VMWare system into thinking it's talking to a SCSI drive.  So the main piece I need now is the drive controller.

I also see from a thread at Seagate that turning off the default error-correctign logic in the drives is very helpful in a raid configuration <http://forums.seagate.com/t5/Barracuda-XT-Barracuda-and/RAID-Issues-ERC/m-p/25751>  Apparently this has bitten some folks (and probably me too and just didn't know it at the time).

Thanks much for the advice!

--Ben
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