July 26, 2011 by David K. Sutton
VMware vSphere Isn’t Just For Business
I begin this article with an assumption that you already know what server (hardware) virtualization is and know that VM is short for Virtual Machine. I also assume you probably have heard terms like hypervisor and bare metal. You probably have at least a basic understanding that server virtualization solutions from VMware (vSphere), Citrix (XenServer) and Microsoft (Hyper-V) allow you to convert hardware based servers into Virtual Machines all running on one physical server. If my assumption is incorrect the following links can help to get you familiar with the world of server virtualization.
Wikipedia – Hardware virtualization
HowStuffWorks – How Server Virtualization Works
For this article my main point is to stress that VMware vSphere is an excellent choice for home server virtualization. I will give you a brief synopsis of my experience with server virtulization at home and why I believe anybody looking to get into server virtualization should strongly consider running a bare metal hypervisor like VMware vSphere.
If you are running VMware Server on a home server or workstation you might want to consider moving up to VMware vSphere. A few years ago VMware started offering VMware ESXi (now called vSphere) as a free, fully functional virtualization platform. Unlike VMware Server, VMware vSphere does not run on top of another operating system. It runs on bare metal. You get all the performance and benefits of an enterprise solution and you can run it for free on a home server. The only caveat is that you need to confirm that the server hardware you choose is on the hardware compatibility list (HCL). If you want to keep it as cheap as possible you can use the resources of vm-help.com and ultimatewhitebox.com to find out what workstations (regular PCs) are known to work with vSphere/ESXi. For my home server virtualization project I set up vSphere 4.1 on two used (ebay) Dell Optiplex 745 tower workstations. I have local storage via the internal hard drives on each workstation as well as network NAS storage via an NFS volume on a Netgear ReadyNAS NV+. I actually run all of my VMs on the NFS volume and it works really well.
What can you do with VMware vSphere and server virtualization? You can set up a VM with Windows XP/Vista/7 for remote access via Remote Desktop Services (or other remote access software). You can set up a web server VM for web development. You could even virtualize a PC-based DVR, which I have done with SageTV and a network based ATSC tuner and encoder (HDHomeRun). The options are endless and that’s the beauty of server virtualization. It allows you the flexibility to set up VMs quickly and easily when the need arises. The best example I can think of is in testing scenarios. You can create a “test box” VM installed and configured with whatever OS and software you need (pre-test) and then use the vSphere “snapshot” feature to take a snapshot of the pristine state of the test box. Then you can proceed to do your testing and when you are finished you can then quickly and easily (in seconds) restore your test box VM to it’s pristine state. This is a huge time saver compared to an OS re-install on a physical server or workstation.
So if you are still running VMware Server or similar virtualization product that piggybacks on another OS, give VMware vSphere and bare metal virtualization a try. If you haven’t gotten into server virtualization yet, take a look at the various resources linked in this article. It really is much easier than you might think to run your own virtual server!