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In part 1 of this series I explained the reasoning and background on why I'm building a virtualization rig. In that post I included my experience with trying to get an OOTB Dell PowerEdge 2900 III. In part 2 I discussed the parts, buildout and price list. In this post I want to talk about the setup, install and performance testing.

Burnin: Testing power & heat (and fans)

Setup of the vRig was a piece of cake.. hardware wise it wasn't bad at all. Installing Windows 2008 Server was a piece of cake too... instantly seeing the 1.5TB RAID10 setup. Now I had two things I wanted to test: performance of the box and heat. I am very sensitive to the fact I'm not running fans on my CPU heatsinks so I wanted to stress those guys out big time. Using some tools that Jeff Attwood blogged about (CoreTemp & Prime95) & BurnInTest that Shane told me about, I stressed the CPUs out for 12 hours straight. The cores never got above 67% of the temp threshold of their max rating... and just to confirm, I put my bare fingers on the heatsinks which were barely warm. The RAM on the other hand got quite hot and I'm considering getting a memory cooler, but I'd like to get something other than the ASUS cooler as I'm concerned about the fan noise again.

Performance Test

Next was the performance test. So I used PerformanceTest for this part of my eval. The score weights 2D graphics at 12% and 3D graphics at 14%. Considering I'm not using anything but the onboard video card and don't have DirectX installed, a score of 2501.9 is pretty good. If you're interested in comparing your system you view my baseline here (note: I removed all the graphics scores as nothing was done to help the machine in that way... this isn't a gaming rig, it's a virtualization rig):

ACsVirtualizationRigClick for a larger view.

Virtualization Software Eval

At first I tried HyperV but in the end I passed up on it. One of the big things for me in terms of virtualization is that I want to be able to take a VM I've built on my laptop/new virtualization rig (vRig henceforth) and move them between the two machines. With HyperV, technically this is possible in combination with VirtualPC, but VPC leaves a LOT to be desired. I use VMWare Workstation on my laptop which kicks the pants of VPC 2007 IMHO. The three biggest factors to me about Workstation > VPC:

  1. Performance: VMWare Workstation 6 is just faster than VPC, hands down.
  2. Snapshots: If you're a VPC guy, you know how you can do save state? Think the same thing, except you don't have to shut down and you can do multiple. You can see this in a previous post of mine here.
  3. 64-bit: VPC can't do 64-bit hosts so if I want to move VM's between my vRig and laptop, they have to be 32-bit only. I'm 100% 64-bit these days (just installed Vista x64 in the last week as well).

Now, I know HyperV doesn't apply here as it can do 64-bit hosts, snapshots and is very fast, but remember one thing: I want to move VM's between my laptop & vRig so I need to compare VPC 2007 & VMWare Workstation. And no, I'm not interested in running Windows 2008 on my laptop as my primary OS (I'm not even going to address that in the comments on this post :)).

Because of these reasons, and a few others, I passed on HyperV. The other thing that got me about HyperV was the administration & management. If you are remote, everything has to be done by connecting to the host machine via RDP or through some other admin utility. That was REALLY annoying. I think you have to do the same with ESX, but VMWare Server 2.0 has a slick Web interface (more on that later).

I really wanted to get VMWare ESX up and running. The short story on this: I've given up for a while... maybe I'll revisit it down the road. The problem: the two onboard RAID controllers (and two extra controller cards I've bought and since returned) didn't work with ESX. Either ESX didn't see them at all or it saw the drives as four 750GB individual drives rather than one logical 1.5TB. I tried everything I could think of. In theory it should work (via the Intel onboard RAID controller as a guy with the handle of doctorttt got it working here, but I haven't had success), but I wasn't able to get it to work. All I need is to find a RAID controller that ESX will recognize and I'm a bit tight on time with two projects so I need to move on. So for now, rather than keep fighting with ESX, I'm going to take a break and just run VMWare Server 2.0 RC1 on top of a dumb Windows 2008 Standard 64-bit install. Dumb meaning nothing is installed on that box... just the OS+VMWare Server 2.0.

Noise:

All I can say is I'm incredibly impressed with the lack of noise out of this machine... especially after my PowerEdge 2900 experience. The case has a lot to do with it. The sides are lined with eggcrate foam. I almost put some PAX material on the flat surfaces inside, but I don't think it's necessary. All the HDD's sit on silicon buffers so there's no metal-on-metal. The four 140mm fans on the case all run around 1100RPM... the one on the bottom even has an angling thing so I can point where I want the airflow to go.

This rig is by no means silent, but it's one of the quietest machines in my house. Let me put it to you this way: my Tivo is louder churning away at the drive. I just can't wait to consolidate my other machines & shut them down so this vRig along with my Windows Home Server are the only things running. The loudest thing on this guy is the DVD drive when there's a disk in it!

Summary:

All in all, I'm very pleased. So far I've only got a handful of VMs running on it, but that will change very quickly as I migrate my AD & SQL to virtual machines.

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