Seeking advice on creating a basic virtual infrastructure.

Posted on 2014-12-15
Last Modified: 2016-11-23
HELP! I’ve inherited a project that I’m hoping to get some guidance and advice on. I've been asked to complete the creation of a basic virtualization infrastructure for a small insurance company with about 35 users. This will be the first virtual server on the network, and it will ideally host three VMs. The most critical VM will host a Microsoft SQL database that contains all client data and is accessed by all users.

Unfortunately, they've already purchased the hardware, so I’m pretty much locked into the following configuration unless there are obvious roadblocks. The server is still in the shipping container, and the NAS has been unboxed and the drives installed, but not fully configured with a volume or iSCSI.

The server is a Dell PowerEdge T620 server running VMware ESXi 5.5 (Eventually I hope to convince them to install a 2ndESXi server for failover, but for now I only have one server to work with). Basic specifications are 2 x Xeon E5-2620 processors, 48GB RAM, 2 x 750W power supplies, 4 x 1GB ethernet ports, and VMware ESXi 5.5 embedded on Dual 2GB SD Cards. The server has no RAID controller or internal drives.

 For storage they have a brand new Synology DiskStation DS1813+ with 6 x 3TB WD “Red” drives. The Dell server and the Synology DiskStation will be connected via an 8 port, unmanaged, 1Gigabit switch. I realize an unmanaged switch is not ideal, but I’m hoping that it will be adequate since the only devices connected it will be the Dell server and the Synology DiskStation. I'm thinking a single RAID10 volume and is the way to go, but I'm all ears if you have suggestions.  Any thoughts on using Synology's "SHR" RAID in this environment?  I have some basic experience with VMware and vSphere virtualization, but this is the first time I am setting up “shared storage” via iSCSI and NAS. The other ESXi servers I’ve worked with all used internal hard drives for storage.

I guess I’m looking for advice or suggestions from anyone with experience on a similar configuration or environment. Does anyone see problems with the basic configuration I’m describing? I’d love to hear about any rookie mistakes that I should avoid. In fact, any thoughts at all from those with more experience would be greatly appreciated. The company's existing servers are not in terrible shape, so it's not a huge rush to complete the project, but I'd like to have the SQL Server virtualized by the end of January if possible.
Question by:samwisee1
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Accepted Solution

Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE MVE^2) earned 500 total points
ID: 40501442
This is what we would do.....up to you if you follow what we do or not!

As the hardware has already been delivered, maybe you should give them a caveat, that you will do the best with their selection of hardware! (basically crap in crap out!)

Microsoft SQL server databases when virtualised, require good underlying datastore performance.

Make sure the server, has the Dell OEM version of 5.5 installed, and I would also upgrade this to 5.5 U2, before production, and also ensure that ALL the firmware on the server is also updated (from the Dell website), do both these things before you get carried away in production.

and I would wait, and test all this, two weeks at least, before going into production, so we can say a Project Delivery Date of January 2015!

I would also check the disks, you have purchased with the Synology, are on the Synology compatibility list, we've had disks that were not on the Syno list, and had issues.

Also check that this is also certified for use with VMware ESXi 5.5.

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.

You need to make a choice of using NFS versus iSCSI, NFS may work better, iSCSI may work better, you need test, iSCSI may have more overhead, more difficult to setup, try with and without Jumbo Frames, if you have a poor switch, Jumbo Frames may not be an option, and be your first issues, with performance.

Only a single switch, so no multipath either! (something to look at in the future maybe!)

see my EE Articles

HOW TO: Enable Jumbo Frames on a VMware vSphere Hypervisor (ESXi 5.0) host server using the VMware vSphere Client

HOW TO: Add an iSCSI Software Adaptor and Create an iSCSI Multipath Network in VMware vSphere Hypervisor ESXi 5.0

If you want the fastest performance, RAID 10 will give you better performance than SHR (RAID 6 equiv), but it's a compromise between performance, and storage, and how many drives can you afford to lose in the Syno.

You've got the hardware, it cannot be changed, you just need to make it tick, and see what performance is going to be like.

We use Syno NAS for Archive and Backup not Production, they are too slow....and we have 8 and 10 bay versions.

If you get the possibility of testing different combos, e.g. RAID versions, BFS versus iSCSI, Jumbo Frames, which you can do, if end game is Jan 31st!

Any questions ask!

What about backup?

Author Comment

ID: 40501587
Thanks so much for your help Andrew!!! They do know that I'm stepping into this project a little late, and they also know I'm somewhat limited in my virtualization experience.

I did check to ensure that all the hardware is compatible. The server came with Dell OEM ESXi 5.5 already installed according to the order info, but I will check for U2 when I power it up. The WD "Red" drives seem to be well reviewed from what I see, and they are for NAS servers specifically, so I'm optimistic about the disks. I hadn't really thought of using NFS, but that is exactly why i'm asking this question on here ;) In your experience, does NFS have any advantages over iSCSI?

I'm not a SQL guru, but I really don't think the database is under a very heavy load. They run a proprietary software package designed for independent insurance agents called AMS. They only have 35 employees total, and they basically view and enter policy info via the software client. It's not exactly a high transaction system. The existing server has a single Xeon processor, 12GB of RAM, and a RAID5 array with 4 internal SATA disks and the performance is pretty good. That server runs Windows Server 2003 and is getting low on disk space, which is what is prompting the move to a new server.

In your honest opinion, am I in real bad shape with this configuration? Hopefully it's not total "crap" ;) It seems like they have plenty of horsepower on the server at least, and the Synology seems like a solid product from what I can tell. I'm going to try to convince them they need a better switch at least, since that will be relatively inexpensive. Do you have any 8 or 16 port gigabit switches you would recommend?

I was thinking of suggesting VEAM as a backup solution, but again, I'm all ears if you have suggestions?
LVL 119
ID: 40501634
Does not matter about experience, you cannot turn a budget NAS, into a high performing SAN solution!

NFS can be faster, have lower overheads than iSCSI (SCSI in ethernet packets which the hardware has to decode), iSCSI is more complex to setup, NFS is easier.

I would test both, and see which performs best for you.

Yes, but I've seen existing systems like they have perform better, than when they have been virtualised! (local direct storage, faster than Red drives, and not network storage, and then virtualised, it all reduces performance!)

and then the question is WHY! and the answer is because the disk storage system and CPU of the older system is faster, compared to the new "hypervised" virtualized system! (often a question on EE as well!), so tread carefully here....and do not be surprised if performance is worse!

I think before you start recommending, better switches....(e.g) jumbo frames aware network switch.

I would connect the system, and Perform a Proof of Concept, with the Storage System?

Why have they got shared storage with a single ESXi host?

It would be faster with local storage and a single host!

Test performance of existing system, how many IOPS does it currently perform, and then compare with new storage.

I'm afraid you get what you pay for, Synology are okay, they are just not lightning fast.

Veeam is a fine backup solution, you will need to license your ESXi 5.5 installation, for Backups to function.
Netscaler Common Configuration How To guides

If you use NetScaler you will want to see these guides. The NetScaler How To Guides show administrators how to get NetScaler up and configured by providing instructions for common scenarios and some not so common ones.

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Expert Comment

ID: 40502476
It would be faster with local storage and a single host!
Going to have to agree with Andrew here 100%. Yes, whilst WD Red drives are designed specifically for NAS devices they are mainly marketed towards consumers who would use their NAS mainly for media storage, photos and the like.

I would honestly get the client to invest in some proper Dell enterprise grade drives (non-Dell drives may give you issues), especially when you are going to be running production Windows VMs off these drives. For comparison's sake, the regular WD Red drives spin at 5,400 rpm whilst Dell's budget drives start at 7,200 rpm and go all the way up to 15,000 rpm.

Buy some SAS drives, put them in a RAID10 array then use the NAS for another purpose such as file storage.

Author Comment

ID: 40502882
So, I convinced the company to purchase a PERC RAID controller and internal SAS drives!!! That should ensure better performance for the SQL database at least. Would it be unwise to keep the other 2 VMs on the Synology NAS? One would be a basic Terminal Server for roughly 5 - 8 remote users, and the other will be a simple file and print server. The file server will also be a domain controller. Thoughts?

For backup I am looking at VEEAM. Does anyone have experience with the VEEAM Backup Free product?
LVL 119
ID: 40502950
I would keep them all on the SAS drives, and use the NAS for backup!

You will need to store the backups somewhere, off local storage. You can always test the NAS versus Local Storage for performance.

VEEAM Backup Free product - great product but no scheduler.

Also remember, you will need to purchase VMware vSphere licenses for ANY Backup Product to work!

see here

VMware ESX/ESXi Backup Guide
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ID: 41715679

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