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Friday, October 4, 2013

Shift Happens Phase 2: Bye bye, ESXi!

Part of staying nimble enough as an IT survivalist is learning how to use the right tool for the right job, and not get hung up on vendor or environment loyalties when it requires extraordinary measures to make a solution fit. 

In my case, this week, it's been assessing ESXi as a hypervisor for the H2T project, and discovering during the process, a few hurdles developed. Since we are using it as the hypvervisor for our admin servers, and I am already familiar with the management aspect. I googled around for awhile to get a sense of what VDI/RDP options would fit into the equation. And I learned:

  • ESXi 5.5, which I wanted to give a run since it is the next iteration of what we've installed, is crippled in a significant way: it's limited to a 60 day trial that requires vSphere to enable the vCenter fat client. A discussion of 5.5 here.

    In general ESXi presented other challenges in the context of this project:
    • We don't have enough host licenses to deploy after POC
    • It's a pain in the ass to interact/mount VMFS volume for faster data transfer in some cases (not possible with Windows except via SFTP to the datastore on host). This would seriously hamper efforts to migrade Windows machines to VDI environment using TIB images to convert the machine directly on the host.
    • It didn't recognize my RAID adapter on install
    • The host doesn't image with Acronis
  • ThinLinc server:
    • Not hard to install on Ubuntu, but configuration to use with Remote Desktop services was not as clear as I'd hoped
    • ThinLinc was only the gateway piece, I still expected some struggle and learning curve on the Windows server side of things
  • Windows Server 2012 installed on bare metal:
    • We have enough licences to get through POC, beta, and phase 1 rollout
    • Is very simple to mount a VHD, attach it, and transfer a large file into it for immediate use by a virtual machine
    • It recognized my POC box's RAID adapter
    • The host will image with Acronis
    • Has a number of other excellent features not available in the free version of ESXi.
My reluctance to start off with Windows Hyper-V was based on anecdotal experiences regarding the version on Server 2008. Server 2012 seems to have removed those challenges and so far has been a dream to work with. I was able to install the OS and enable Hyper-V, build a VM with an Acronis CD image and the agency Windows 7x64 TIB image, all in about 2 hours.

Some initial testing with Hyper-V has shown promise. I configured a Win7 VM with 2GB memory, 50 GB disk space, and 1 CPU. The resources have been throttled to a max of 16%, which means on the test box at that threshold I could run 5 VMs. I would like to have a density of 10 VMs per host minimum (with 2 concurrent users per guest), but that is a fairly arbitrary number and needs further exploration.

I tested responsiveness from a local RD session as well as remote (RD into Helpdesk server, out to a machine in Richmond, and back into the test VM at home. I connected to webmail and ran a Youtube video. It was pretty snappy, considering the remote client config and the lower bandwidth of that remote site. In the host monitor consol, the VM never used more than the configured 16%.

I will add a few more VMs and tune the upper resource limit to see where the connection slows down.

Bottom line is that I feel like I am making greater progress with Server 2012 Hyper-V than I was with ESXi. ESXi will continue to host our servers, but for the H2T project I need a host platform with a more familiar environment. So Hyper-V it is.

For now.

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