building a cheap virtual host for 3 windows server VM guests

I'm trying to build a cheap virtual host machine with desktop components.
I will buy AMD 8 core cpu and 32gb ram and Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD3 motherboard. Then it will host 1 windows 8 server for testing and 2 windows 2003 server converted from physical servers which used to be our file/application servers, but we retired, we only keep them as reference purpose.

So, now I have to decide what virtualization I use.
virtualbox on windows 7/8
hyper-v on windows 8
vmware workstation

If I run server OSs on top of windows 7/8, how the number of concurrent connections more than 10(?I think it was 10...) are handled? Will it block at the host level or VM is transparent no matter what OS is hosting the VM?

I also have Windows 2012 server running one VM server. If I want to use this desktop level server as live migration for failover, will it work if I use hyper-v with Windows 8?

What's benefit of ESXi using instead of hyper-v windows 8 or MS hypervisor?

I have used virtualbox and vmware workstation, but these two seem to be out of my choices than hyper-v windows 8 or ESXi....

Besides, what is your backup strategy of your virtual machines other than snapshots?

Any comment, welcomed.
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Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE Fellow)VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
Unless you know for absoutley certainity that this whitebox homebrew rig is going to run with ESXi 5.5, I would recommend you install Windows 8.0 or 8.1 Pro, and use Client Hyper-V, Windows 8.0/8.1 should have no difficulty running on your rig.

Ensure your CPU meets the requirements for Client Hyper-V.

You really want to use a Type 1 Hypervisor, e.g. ESXi or Hyper-V.

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.

Using Hyper-V will allow you to use Windows Backup to Backup the VMs, if you use the FREE version of ESXi, you will be limited as to what you can do, as for backup.

VMware ESX/ESXi Backup Guide

see my EE Article, Step by Step Tutorial Instructions with Screenshots

Part 1: HOW TO: Install and Configure VMware vSphere Hypervisor 5.1 (ESXi 5.1)

Part 2: HOW TO: Connect to the VMware vSphere Hypervisor 5.1 (ESXi 5.1) using the vSphere Client

So in Summary.
1. Select a Type 1 Hypervisor.

2. Use Windows 8.0 or 8.1 and add the Hyper-V role.

3. Windows Backup to Backup VMs.

Using ESXi, you will need to ensure your hardware is compatible.

Check the VMware Hardware Compatability Lists HCL here

The VMware Hardware Compatibility List is the detailed lists showing actual vendor devices that are either physically tested or are similar to the devices tested by VMware or VMware partners. Items on the list are tested with VMware products and are known to operate correctly.Devices which are not on the list may function, but will not be supported by VMware.

Whitebox HCL

The Whitebox Hardware Compatability Lists is a list put together by the community that have had success with whitebox servers, e.g. unbranded or homebrew, DIY servers, which have been found to work with VMware Products.

Ultimate Whitebox

The Ultimate Whitebox Hardware Compatability Lists is a list put together by the community that have had success with whitebox servers, e.g. unbranded or homebrew, DIY servers, which have been found to work with VMware Products.

VMware Communities

This list is maintained and put together by members of the VMware community forum, that have had success in building whitebox servers.

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Though not the "best" solution, but one I know that works and you can do it inexpensively and it sounds like you already have an experience with these platforms.

Use Windows 8.1 64 bit as the host OS.
Use VMware workstation 10 as your hypervisor. The 8 core CPU has plenty of horsepower so type 2 hypervisor efficacy issues will be negligible.

For backup... get small white box and run Microsoft Home Server. It has fantastic features for the price...

The benefits of this configuration are that your virtualized environment becomes portable and if for performance or growth you need to upgrade, all you will be doing is relocation VM to different host.

One comment...  you do not specify how many users will be hanging off this server but I would be comfortable with 10 and more with some testing.
For I/O performance consider using SSD for your VM's
crcsupportAuthor Commented:
One of questions was, if I run server on top of windows 8, then how the limit of 10 concurrent users is counted.

20 users access windows 2003/2008 servers running on any vm hosted in Windows 8, then does windows 8 blocks 11th user or since vm is server os, it will allow access?

Also, let's say one of windows 2012 server virtual machine hosted as Hyper-v guest in another windows 2012 needs to be moved to this Windows 8 computer for maintenance or failure, whatever reason. Will Windows 8 can take this hyper-v guest shipped out from Windows 2012 server? Compatibility issue.

I have used virtuablbox and vmware workstation, SSD with 4 testing servers run wonderful. But if hyper-v guest can be moved without compatibility issue between two hosts, Windows 8 and Windows 2012, I probably go with Hyper-v
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With respect to the Windows 8 as a host for Workstation 10...
The host does not recognize each individual user because the Hypervisor virtualizes the network for the VM's. That, may be different for Hyper-v...
In theory the VM's should be "portable" across the various hosts as long as the hypervisor is compatible with the particular VM version. This said, it is only "hypothetical" and one reason I gave up on the Microsoft solution. (though it is getting better but I recommend you do more research specifically with regard to the Server 2012)
crcsupportAuthor Commented:
Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE Fellow)VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
Everything you need is in Windows 8.0 with no additional Type 2 Hypervisor at additional cost.

As for Client Hyper-V in Windows 8 joining clusters with Windows 2012 unlikely.

But Hyper-V 2012 and Windows 2012 with Hyper-V yes this is compatible.
Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE Fellow)VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
client Hyper-V does not support clustering live migration or hyper-v replica so standalone only.
crcsupportAuthor Commented:
In case if I want to move hyper-v guest on windows 2012 to windows 8 for maintenance or any reason, can I do that manually, maybe shutting off the guest and move the vhdx file to windows 8, will there be compatibility issue? Just to run temporarily
Or... You just skip the Hyper-v altogether and maintain some sanity ;-) LOL
Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE Fellow)VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
Yes that's doable because both run v3 hyper-v and changes to namespace in VMs allow it.

Between Windows 8 and Windows 2012 which has always been Msofts game plan to include a free hypervisor in a desktop OS and then migrate those VMs to enterprise server or back to desktop.....clever thinking.

A bit like the browser wars.....including IE..
crcsupportAuthor Commented:
Thanks, Hanccocka and Insidertech. I was also looking at, it seems that is how it's made. Wow, I'm excited.

I'm going to ebay and newegg to order.

Happy New Year!!!
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