Justin R. Buchanan

on Software Development, Systems Administration, Networking, and Random other Stuff

New Virtual Host - Episode 2: Software Options

I'm waiting for my shiny new parts to arrive from Episode 1, so I decided to do some more research on the Hypervisor software options I have available. I'm definitely looking in the realm of free for the licensing cost factor, and most of the proprietary solutions offer similar features in this category. However, since I use my home network as my learning lab, I typically use more enterprise-class features than one normally might. There are a few features such as software-based RAID 1 and hot backups that I currently do make use of with Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 that are problematic with some of the other options I'm looking at. While this isn't intended to be an exhaustive analysis, I've noted some of my findings below.

Initially I was planning on going with VMware vSphere Hypervisor. However, after realizing that software RAID 1 is not supported under vSphere, I don't think this is a good option for home. I understand VMware's reasons for this, because in an enterprise environment, an iSCSI SAN or onboard hardware RAID controller would usually be the better choice. However, I mostly steer clear of hardware RAID for home because it's an unnecessary complication, and typically expensive. I have been contemplating building an iSCSI host at home to centralize all my storage, but at the wise counsel of a friend, I think I've decided against that added complication.

I think hot backups are going to be more complicated with vSphere, at least without buying an actual backup software product. Most of the time I setup a backup solution on the guest VM to backup the important data on it, but I also like to schedule a periodic full backups of the disk images. With Hyper-V, I can write a script around the diskshadow command line tool to make and mount a shadow copy to a drive letter to perform the backup. This method offers no downtime for Windows guests and a very short downtime for Linux guests while the shadow copy is being created. Once mounted, I can backup the VHDs with whatever tool I want.

Citrix XenServer is still an option. XenServer does appear to work fine with software RAID, at least according to this guide by Major Hayden over at Racker Hacker. I think this one is at least worth installing and trying it out before I make a final selection.

The Linux Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) really interests me; I think mostly because it seems like a fun new challenge. KVM is relatively new, although the same can be said for Hyper-V. Ubuntu seems to have quite a bit of documentation on setting up KVM and managing it with libvert (and without), so I could probably start there. This one also goes on the "install it and try it out" list.

Stay tuned for Episode 3.