Best configuration to virtualize on laptop

Good day experts,

We have a department of about 20 technical team members.  They are mostly developers and SharePoint specialists.  Our technical teams all need the capability to build solutions and develop components and solutions.

Our arrangement currently is for each technical resource to get a laptop issued by the company that will allow the resource to run a virtual server for building/developing the required solution.  These virtual servers (especially sharepoint), do get quite resource intensive.  The laptop specifications we use are:  HP ProBook 4530 with Intel i5 and 8GB RAM.

We find that often there are complaints about the virtual machines being slow and thus development is not that easy or quick.

My question is: if we do want to continue the arrangement of all developers doing their work locally on their laptops, what can you recommend as a configuration/specification for efficiently running virtual development machines on these laptops?

I'm sure i5/i7 CPU's are suitable.  I also think 8GB RAM should be sufficient for one virtual server and the host.  Maybe the storage is our problem.  What's the best storage solution for running VM's?  Should we run the VM's off external drives via USB3?  Or would internal drives be better?  If so, would 7200RPM be much faster than 5400RPM for VM's? Should I look for fitting high performance drives internally?  Drives with large cache?  Drives that have spindle and SSD combo?  How about full SSD drives?  Are they better for running large resource intensive VM's?  Or should I just look for laptops that can run two internal drives?  Then software?  Is windows 7 ideal for running a VM on a laptop?  Is VMWare ideal?  

As you can see there are so many options and questions in my mind.

Please advise
PantoffelSlippersOperations ManagerAsked:
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Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE MVE^2)VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
The ultimate and best solution would be for your developers to connect to a VMware vSphere Hypervisor (ESXi) host, where all the servers are hosted. BUT, it's possible you may want your developers to have mobile servers on their laptops.

VMware Workstation 8.0 is probably the best hypervisor.

VMware Workstation is a Type 2 Hypervisor, other Type 2 Hypervisors include, VMware Server 2, VMware Player 3.0, Virtualbox 4.0, and Parallels.

Type 2 Hypervisors are SLOW.  In most reviews and experience, they perform at roughly 30-40% hardware capability.  That means an OS in a VM run off VMWare Workstation will likely perform at best like it has an 800 MHz CPU if you have 2 GHz physical CPU. You install Type 2 hypervisors onto of an existing host operating system.

If you use a Type 1 Hypervisor, you get MUCH better performance. ESX, ESXi, are all Type 1 hypervisors - they (based on experience and reviews) typically get 80-90% hardware capability - so that same VM run off the same 2 GHz CPU should operate more like it has a 1.6 GHz CPU instead of 800 Mhz. Type 1 hypervisors are installed on the bare metal of the server.

Type 1 Hypervisors also include Hyper-V.

In the future, I believe Windows 8 will ship with Hyper-V, which may allow you much better performance, than what you are observing currently. If you can wait for Windows 8.

Running VMs off USB is slow, I would recommend you consider running the actual VMs from SSD.

So in summary, VMware Workstatoon 8.0 and SSD drives, or wait for Windows 8.0 and use SSDs also.

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PantoffelSlippersOperations ManagerAuthor Commented:
Thank you hanccocka,

Just to clarify:  VMWare workstation 8 is also a type 2 Hypervisor correct?

Your recommendation to me is:
- Convert to using type 1 hypervisors
- Convert to running VM's of SSD

I'll do some research on the hypervisors.  I'm curious:  why would SSD be better for running VM's?

In terms of waiting on Windows 8:  can't we just install Windows server 2008 on the laptops for now to support Hyper-V?

Thank you
Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE MVE^2)VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
Yes, that is an could use Windows 2008 R2, and add the Hyper-V role, if the laptops support Windows 008 R2, there are some issues with wireless cards and Windows 2008 R2/Hyper-V.

VMware Workstation is a Type 2 Hypervisor, it requries an OS to be installed on, as it's an application.

SSDs have superior read and write performance compared to hard disks (even 7,200rpm).

SSDs or Hybrid SSDs are very good, e.g. Seagate 500GB Momentus XT
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PantoffelSlippersOperations ManagerAuthor Commented:
Thanks again,

I just learnt that Hyper-V is also available as a standalone installation called "Hyper-V Server 2008 R2".  I'm looking into that now.

It seems to me also as if type 1 hypervisors require hardware features such as "hardware assisted virtualization".  For example Intel-VT on intel machines.  I'm hoping that the majority of the machines in my workforce support these features.

PantoffelSlippersOperations ManagerAuthor Commented:
Before I close the questions - are there any other experts who wish to add comments?
Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE MVE^2)VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
Yes, but if you use the free Hyper-V server, there is no way of managing it from itself!

At least with Windows 2008 R2, you can use the laptop for other things, Office etc

You'll need another workstation!

You need IntelVT for ALL Hypervisors, Type 1 and Type 2. (including VMware Workstation etc)

PantoffelSlippersOperations ManagerAuthor Commented:
I see.  

Thanks for the help!
Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE MVE^2)VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
No problems.
I agree that Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 with Hyper-V for the host, and a SSD or hybrid drive for storage. The SSD would be best, and would be much faster than the hybrid drive. As long as the developers can live with around 80 GB of storage you shouldn't have any problems. You can of course get larger SSD drives, but the price really goes up. I am not sure what your current virtualization platform is, but put the SSD in first, and then look at Hyper-V.
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
120 GB SSDs are not terribly expensive... much larger though, and then the price really shoots up.

There is a tool for Hyper-V (VT Commander) that allows GUI management from the Hyper-V host.  BUT, that's not appropriate here.

The Windows 8 Developer preview includes Hyper-V - the big problems with running Server 2008 as a workstation OS is that it severely interrupts power management features - especially things like hibernation.  If you understand and are ok with this, then it may be an option - bottom line (and I suspect you'll do this anyway, but just to be sure), find a volunteer to test and report on how it works in practice.

I would agree - Hard drives are the slowest major component and will affect EVERYTHING, especially VMs... so SSDs are best, and if they are too expensive, then an eSATA connection to a Raptor, followed by a 7200 RPM drive.
PantoffelSlippersOperations ManagerAuthor Commented:
Thanks experts
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