Sunday, 23 March 2008

Virtualization So Far

As should be obvious from my recent posts, I've been trying to set up a host for virtual machines. I need to be able to try things out easily, and virtual machines are great for that. I'd also like to get rid of my old boxes that are running core network infrastructure. It's not so much that I want to get rid of them, but the risk of continuing to use them is a problem. I have an 11-year-old Macintosh Performa that's my DHCP and DNS server for my whole network. If it breaks, I'm scrambling to replace it unless I get something new built. Obviously if it runs on a computer with a 1 GB hard drive and 32 MB of memory, I should be able to run it on a VM.

Anyway, being cheap I wasn't sure I wanted to pay for VMWare. They have a free version of course, but XenSource's free version is a license-key upgrade, whereas VMWare Server to Virtual Infrastructure (AKA ESX) is a complete software upgrade. So I thought I'd try XenSource, especially since they seemed to be saying that they could run any OS if you bought a CPU with virtualization support.

So I carefully researched the chips I was looking for and bought a Dell SC440 with an Intel Xeon 3050. A low-price server but with the right parts, or so I thought.

The install of XenSource was easy, as was the install of XenCenter, the control program on Windows. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the shortcut to install XenCenter. I posted a question in the Xen community boards and got no help. I found the solution myself a few days later, but not after noticing that there was very, very little activity on the community boards. I wonder if anyone is using Xen, or at least is anyone using it without paying Citrix for support?

Also, it turns out you can't run anything you want as a VM. I tried to run Ubuntu Server 6.06.1 and it gets disk errors. This is a known problem, apparently. Okay, I know it's hard to support every Linux distro, but Ubuntu should be one you support. Look at the numbers.

Anyway, worse than not supporting Ubuntu is that the answer from Citrix seemed to be, "use one of our supported distros." They'll always be niche if that's their approach. The market for virtualization is the world of heterogenous data centres that need to shrink their power and A/C footprint. You're not going to get into that market unless you can run anything that an off-the-shelf PC can run. So, I decided to try VMWare.

Installing a 60-day evaluation copy of ESX 3i didn't work. Neither did installing an evaluation copy of ESX 3.5, but at least it told me that the network card wasn't supported. So I tried Ubuntu 6.06.1, and the network card wasn't supported there, either. Broadcom, what are you doing releasing a NIC that doesn't work with older drivers? I found how to get Ubuntu installed, and so I'll continue with installing the free version of VMWare Server. This is not what I wanted to be doing.

I guess the lesson is you really have to check the hardware compatibility list, but I didn't even know I was going to go this path. I'm interested in how many other problems I'm going to have.

Even though I'm not up with VMWare Server, I have to say that it's the preferable approach. At least you have an underlying OS you can work with, and my experience with VMWare elsewhere says it's going to run whatever I try to put on it. Too bad the thinner versions (ESX) don't work on my hardware.

3 comments:

Jeremy said...

funny.. i was having similar problems with vmware.

Anonymous said...

I also tried Citrix Xen and I had more problems than you, actually. Finally I went the VMware ESX route and I am happy with it now.

Anonymous said...

SC440 works just fine with ESX 3.5. Unfortunately, the nic isn't supported, so you'll need to go and buy one that is.