Sunday, February 17, 2013

A hypervisor, a hypervisor, my kingdom for a hypervisor!

For those fans of Shakespeare out there, King Richard could not have put it better himself.  But instead of a horse we’re talking about virtualization software.

Not all virtualization takes place in the Cloud.  These days sometimes it must be done locally.  I’m a big believer in using a bare metal hypervisor and that’s where I started my latest virtualization project.  The first question to ask yourself is, “Which bare metal hypervisor?”  There are the three big names in the virtualization industry, VMware, Microsoft, and Citrix.  Sure there are others such as Oracle’s Virtual Box and the kernel-based virtual machine known as KVM but I chose to focus my efforts on the big three (good documentation & lots of examples of organization implementing the software).  Since this project is for an SMB environment, the hypervisor serves as my de facto virtualization infrastructure.  An interesting twist is that because of the small footprint of the bare metal hypervisor software, it can be installed on an SD card in most modern server hardware.

VMware is the first name in virtualization these days and a product that I have experience with – specifically VMware’s ESXi 4.1 bare metal hypervisor.  I’ve utilized this free product to build out a pair of virtual machines that sit in my data center.  When I first rolled it out, I had zero experience but figured things out as I went.  The fact that I’d never configured & deployed a bare metal hypervisor did not deter me from trying something new.  I’d rather try & fail than not try at all.

Microsoft came a bit late to the virtualization game but has caught up quickly (feature-wise).  I have experience with the Microsoft Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V bare metal hypervisor.  I’ve also done a bit of reading on Microsoft's Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V technology but haven’t worked with it yet.  As a side note I try and attend at least one technology conference each year and for 2013 if I would have chosen to go to Microsoft’s Tech Ed event, I would have been inundated with Server 2012 Hyper-V information.  I prefer to go to vendor neutral tech conferences and will attend Interop in Las Vegas this year.

Finally we come to Citrix’s Xen Server bare metal hypervisor.  I have experience with the Citrix Xen Server 6.0.201 and it’s an impressive product.  I believe in Citrix technologies and if they weren’t so expensive I’d have more of them implemented at my company.

So how does one choose between VMware ESXi, Microsoft Hyper-V, or Citrix’s Xen Server?  It comes down to taste & comfort.  Do you or the organization that you work for have a virtualization standard that must be adhered to?  Which technology are you comfortable with?  This last question is of particular interest to me because it goes to one of the main reasons as to why Microsoft Hyper-V has made such progress in the last few years.  Windows admins know Microsoft.

My predecessor didn’t know much about VMware even though he was responsible for an existing ESXi hypervisor that was part of the production environment.  So when he had a chance to build out his own bit of virtual infrastructure, he built it using Microsoft Hyper-V but not a bare metal hypervisor.  I myself would have gone with another ESXi bare metal hypervisor but that’s just a matter of taste & comfort.

I have everything ready for my local virtualization project, now all I need to do is decide on a hypervisor.  I’m so tempted to go with the Citrix Xen Server bare metal hypervisor but that means I’ll have three different virtualization platforms in my production environment and I’m not sure that’s a good idea.  So I’ll use VMware’s ESXi 5.1 bare metal hypervisor.

Besides the bare metal hypervisor, I’m using a newly purchased piece of server hardware from Dell with plenty of RAM and direct attached storage (DAS).  Why DAS instead of a storage area network (SAN)?  One phrase, “SANs are expensive!”  SANs are complex and expensive to purchase & operate, especially in an SMB environment.  Simplicity is the key to every technology project and there are few things simpler than direct attached storage on a piece of hardware, especially when it’s configured with hardware RAID.  Along with the RAM, DAS, and RAID (are you getting tired of all the acronyms yet?), I’m using Dell’s built-in remote management technology known as iDRAC (Dell remote access card).  This will allow me to do work at the console level remotely.  I’ll use iDRAC to remotely manage the hardware, I’ll use the bare metal hypervisor to host the virtual infrastructure, vSphere client software to manage the virtual infrastructure, and Windows built-in RDP technology to work on individual virtual machines.  A very manageable situation for a one person IT department like mine.


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