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WHS and W7MC - virtualization setup - looking for final word on subject RRS feed

  • Question

  • I've currently got two PCs running at home -- one a Dell Precision 360 with WHS on it, and over 5TB of pooled storage;  the other a Dell XPS Gen 3 with W7 Ultimate, serving as my Media Center host.  Both run 24/7.  My XPS has a Hauppauge HD-PVR attached, recordingly both SD and HD streams, and I have 2x X360 MCE that connect to it over a GibE LAN.  My WHS hosts a TV archive, movie collection, MP3 collection and photos / docs, resides on same GibE LAN, and has the occasional remote access hit.  Oh, and it runs the add-in for my Squeezebox music player, as host server.

    Ok, so, I'm considering consolidating both machines into a single headless PC.  The goal is run 1 box, instead of 2, reducing power consumption footprint.  Also, both current PCs are quite large, so physical footprint would be nice to reduce. Furthermore, the current boxes are 8 and 7 years-old, respectively, and while the tech inside has weathered years of constant use well, I know my luck will run out.  Plus, neither the Xeon nor Pentium in these boxes support 64-bit, so a new PC is in the cards if I want to migrate to WHS 2011...

    Once I invest in a new PC, probably an i7 for sheer horsepower, my initial thought was to use something like vmWare vSphere to create two seperate VMs -- one for W7+MC and the other for WHS11.  However, researching this online has lead me to numerous posts on the subject... for example:

    http://social.microsoft.com/Forums/en/whsvailbeta/thread/4aed7626-2a71-4338-b4b1-d0c74d665c2e

    http://social.microsoft.com/Forums/en/whsvailbeta/thread/217c2b86-bcf1-404f-bd68-0c16896c3314

    Both of these threads suggest the ideal way to go is a W7 host machine, and run WHS in a VM. WGS goes a different way, and some other sites have their own opinions...

    I'm OK with the W7-host solution, but I have a few concerns about this setup that I simply don't have time to test out myself, and am hoping to pick people's brains to get the answers.  Here goes:

    - Given that my P4-3.8Ghz PC is adequate to run W7, record HD streams from the HD-PVR, and playback over the LAN to MCEs, I reckon that pretty much ANY modern PC will totally whip this task from a hardware spec perspective. This would include running the VM for WHS on top...  So, that's a statement, rather than a question.  Anybody disagree?

    - My question really turns to the VM platform of choice for running WHS11.  Should I be looking at Virtual PC?  VMplayer?  VMserver?  Hyper-V?  What gives me hardware support -- including RAID and USB 3.0 support, should I go that way...?

    - Once I have a VM running WHS11 on top of the W7 host OS, how does the data pool for WHS work? Given that DE is dead, and therefore no longer proprietary format to WHS, would I be able to simply have drives in my storage pool that would be accessible to both W7 and WHS11?  In this setup, W7 would have the ability to save recorded TV, and playback files via guest-MCE login, to-and-from any of the drives in the pool?  And similarly, would WHS11 manage the storage from its perch, including the recorded TV, but also photo and music and document directories...?

    - Further to the previous point, essentially I envision the PC having 3 personalities. One is W7, one is WHS11, and one is a DAS.  The DAS would be the drives both in-and-out of the box, SATA and USB.  I sort of think of them seperately from the host OS and VM, because both PCs will be interacting with them for their own purposes...   (I hope that makes sense...?)

    - Should I consider a true external storage solution, a la Drobo or similar, and steer towards a SFF PC...?  How do these external boxes play with VMs?  (I already know that answer -- but practical experience FB is what I'm seeking...)

    Any further food for thought or insight on this setup would be appreciated.  Also, to be clear, I'm NOT seeking an officially supported setup, nor a pre-packaged vendor solution. I'm doing this myself, and until I'm comfortable everything works 100%, neither of my existing PCs are getting unplugged.

    Discuss! :)

     

     

    Thursday, June 9, 2011 1:28 PM

All replies

  • To answer your first question, "Yes". I can't remember where I read it, but Microsoft quotes the need for a processor that has a Windows Experience rating under W7 of 6 or greater to do anything you want with video in WHS2011. As for the rest, I don't have enough experience of VMs to comment.

    Look here: http://onlinehelp.microsoft.com/en-us/windowshomeserver2011/video-processors-2.aspx

     

    Thursday, June 9, 2011 1:49 PM
  • >I'm OK with the W7-host solution, but I have a few concerns about this setup that I simply don't have time to test out myself, and am hoping to pick people's brains to get the answers.  Here goes:
     
    If you want to do any games or entertainment stuff, W7 is definitely
    the way you want to go.
     
    >- Given that my P4-3.8Ghz PC is adequate to run W7, record HD streams from the HD-PVR, and playback over the LAN to MCEs, I reckon that pretty much ANY modern PC will totally whip this task from a hardware spec perspective. This would include running the VM for WHS on top...  So, that's a statement, rather than a question.  Anybody disagree?
     
    You don't want to be running that on an Atom processor of any kind,
    even multi-core, and you will like more than one core for anything
    else I can assure you.  AMD Phenom multi core processors are pretty
    cheap these days and extremely fast.  I have an i7 in my laptop and
    it's slower than my desktop with a Phenom II x6 core that's faster and
    cheaper.
     
    >- My question really turns to the VM platform of choice for running WHS11.  Should I be looking at Virtual PC?  VMplayer?  VMserver?  Hyper-V? 
     
    Windows Virtual PC is not really suitable for running WHS as there are
    disk size limitations that are a PITA to get around.  Hyper-V doesn't
    run on Windows 7, so that's out.  VMWare player could probably do it,
    it's free but limited.  VMWare Workstation is probably the best for
    the task but it's a cost.
     
    >What gives me hardware support -- including RAID and USB 3.0 support, should I go that way...?
     
    RAID is best handled on the host.  I don't think any virtualization
    engines support USB 3.0, so you're limited to USB 2.0 ports.  Not
    really a problem unless you want something special I would think.
     
    >- Once I have a VM running WHS11 on top of the W7 host OS, how does the data pool for WHS work? Given that DE is dead, and therefore no longer proprietary format to WHS, would I be able to simply have drives in my storage pool that would be accessible to both W7 and WHS11?  In this setup, W7 would have the ability to save recorded TV, and playback files via guest-MCE login, to-and-from any of the drives in the pool?  And similarly, would WHS11 manage the storage from its perch, including the recorded TV, but also photo and music and document directories...?
     
    That's not really how storage works with a virtualization solution.
    Either there are hard files put on the host file system that look like
    real disks to the virtual machine, or you can dedicate a disk to the
    VM, but they don't really "share" it.  Some people use this scenario
    quite effectively but it's not really my thing.  I have dedicated
    hardware with lots of disk space for my WHS server.
     
    >- Further to the previous point, essentially I envision the PC having 3 personalities. One is W7, one is WHS11, and one is a DAS.  The DAS would be the drives both in-and-out of the box, SATA and USB.  I sort of think of them seperately from the host OS and VM, because both PCs will be interacting with them for their own purposes...   (I hope that makes sense...?)
     
    You can use something like a NAS like that, but otherwise just simple
    USB and SATA external drives would be dedicated to host or VM, but not
    both unless you place the hard files on external devices, which may be
    a performance problem.
     
    >Any further food for thought or insight on this setup would be appreciated.  Also, to be clear, I'm NOT seeking an officially supported setup, nor a pre-packaged vendor solution. I'm doing this myself, and until I'm comfortable everything works 100%, neither of my existing PCs are getting unplugged.
     
    Just remember with only one piece of real hardware to run the whole
    thing, it's your single point of failure, it goes out and you're dead
    in the water, and depending on the failure, your WHS VM might be
    compromised too, so no way to get them back.  So for your WHS< you
    will *have* to have some kind of external storage for server backups
    and you'll have to be very attentive in making sure the backups run
    right and you swap out external storage frequently for offline backup.
     
     

    Bob Comer - Microsoft MVP Virtual Machine
    Thursday, June 9, 2011 2:16 PM
  • Yeah, the single point of failure point you make is a good one...  I've been thinking about that.

    My current setup with the old Precision has 3 internal drives, plus 1 external drive and a cold backup drive.  With WHS DE, my pool is quite large, the data is duplicated, and I use an add-in to re-distribute the data in the pool akin to a RAID 5.  AND I have my cold backup drive for those non-replaceable items.

    Damn. Short of moving to a dedicated storage array, putting all my eggs in a single basket would be pretty stupid.

    Ok, based on what you say about how VMs treat storage, which I had hoped was different somehow in the setup I envisioned, what if I do something like the following:

    - Single PC - W7 host OS, running W7MC recording and driving extenders.  VM software, TBD, driving WHS11 on top.

    - PC would look like AMD Phenom or i7, 8GB RAM, pair of 10K SATA drives in a RAID 0, only OS and VM locally stored

    - Either NAS or DAS storage device, again perhaps a Drobo or similar, providing redundancy in either RAID array or JBOD with SW solution.  Attach the storage box either direct or via a dedicated subnet with the PC (even iSCSI?).

    The way I see it, if my PC goes *poof* in this scenario, I'm out the time it takes to reinstall my host W7 OS and WHS11 VM.  Big deal.  And meanwhile, my data pool is joint and several, protected by the external storage box.

    (Can you tell I sell IT solutions to large enterprise customers...  I'm actually thinking of something similar for my home!  My wife will kill me...  :-S)

    Thursday, June 9, 2011 3:40 PM
  • >The way I see it, if my PC goes *poof* in this scenario, I'm out the time it takes to reinstall my host W7 OS and WHS11 VM.  Big deal.  And meanwhile, my data pool is joint and several, protected by the external storage box.
     
    If you can back up the WHS VM system hard file in it's entirety to the
    external drobo or whatever, you don't even need to reinstall the VM,
    just restore it back. 
     
    Only one problem I see if that you wont be actually able to use one of
    the best parts of WHS, and that's the full PC bare metal restore.  You
    can still restore things, just not the whole PC. 
     
    >(Can you tell I sell IT solutions to large enterprise customers...  I'm actually thinking of something similar for my home!  My wife will kill me...  :-S)
     
    You should see my home setup. ;-)
     

    Bob Comer - Microsoft MVP Virtual Machine
    Thursday, June 9, 2011 3:57 PM
  • Hello,

    I found your discourse helpful as I'm looking to build something of a similar setup.

    Seeing how you have been through this process already, can you give me some insight as to what vm platform you found best  suitable for the purpose, and what combination you finally set up.

    Thanks!


    Friday, July 1, 2011 2:48 AM
  • I don't generally recommend virtualization in the home. I understand the attraction, but what's practical for the enterprise doesn't really work for the consumer (or the small business, for that matter).

    My main argument against is as follows: Virtualization works well in the enterprise because it offers economies of scale; consolidating many lightly used servers onto a small number of much more robust hardware platforms saves hardware, maintenance, and power. It also offers ease of recovery in case of server failure. Server A fails? No problem. Move all the VMs to one of your other servers and they're back up in just a few minutes. VM was corrupted in the failure? Restore the whole VM from a backup.

    In the home the situation is otherwise. You have no redundant hardware at home, so you have no place to move your VMs to. As a result, if your VM server fails it takes out everything running on it until it's repaired or replaced. And it's a comparatively large, expensive box, which means repair or replacement is likely to be an expensive proposition. As for power savings, don't expect dramatic savings. If you save enough to buy a new low-end PC (say $350-$400 worth) every couple of years I'll be a bit surprised. Also, if your VM is corrupted, you've probably got no way to restore it, so you have to recreate it.

    If you insist on proceeding anyway, VMWare is somewhat more common than Hyper-V. Both are reasonably good. Neither, as far as I know, will pass through USB-based storage, but neither will be likely to mind a RAID array.

    As for your other questions:

    • I think your proposed hardware will be kind of light as a virtualization host.
    • There's very little storage management left in Windows Home Server. You add disks, tell the server to use them, and designate which shares will live on which disks (yes, you have to make decisions about things like that). 
    • As a rule, you shouldn't use USB external storage as part of server storage.
    • Sharing physical or virtual drives between virtual machines, where both have access to the drive as a drive, is impossible. Standard Windows shares should work.
    • It's not going to be supported, but you already know that.

    I'm not on the WHS team, I just post a lot. :)
    Friday, July 1, 2011 3:41 AM
  • Ken,

    Interesting insight. I've never heard anyone say that virtulization is bad for the home before. I currently run WHSv1 on Virtual PC and have been for a year now. I do regular backups of my Win7 machine and the server manually on an external drive. It works very well for me so far.

    I'm interested to hear what styledshadow has done with his setup.

    Friday, July 1, 2011 3:32 PM
  • Dray, the thing about virtualization is that it works really well if you have a lot of consolidation to do, say if you have a few dozen lightly used physical servers now and want to reduce costs. You could potentially reduce rack requirements by 75%, which lowers hardware maintenance costs similarly, and still have enough redundancy to let you just move VMs around if one host fails. The usual result in an enterprise environment where virtualization is heavily used: host A dies, all VMs are up and running on other hosts in an hour. (If a VM is corrupted in the death of Host A, it might take longer, but in an enterprise environment you're getting regular, reliable backups of everything. So it's still not a big deal.)

    In the home, you have a much smaller amount of hardware to play with in the first place, and a host machine becomes a much larger percentage of your total IT investment (because there's only one, and it's doing so much for you). And if it dies a messy, fiery death (I've seen a power supply emit actual smoke and flame and basically burn up everything in the case beyond hope of repair. It's not likely to happen to you, but disaster planning is about anticipating black swans, not white ones.) you're screwed, because you don't have any way to move a VM elsewhere and get everything running short of rebuilding the entire host. This is the same reason I would never recommend virtualization to a small business that only has/needs a couple of servers.

    I'm not going to tell you it's the wrong decision for you, but I'm going to present all the little things you never thought about that I (as an general-purpose IT pro) have. Like saving power: virtualization lets you cut down on physical machines, yes. So if you have two machines today, and can consolidate to one, you save (in theory) 50% on power. Let's say that means you're saving around 250 watts (it's probably going to be somewhat less because your virtualization host will most likely consume more power than one of the pcs being replaced, but less than two, to be honest). Do the math, and you find out that saving 250 watts means, if you pay $.09/kw-hr, you save around $400 over two years, if you assume 24hours a day, 365 days a year operation for everything in question. You save less if the pcs you replaced weren't running full-time, because your virtualization host is running full-time (it's the nature of the beast, I'm afraid), so the real world scenario is likely to be that power savings is a wash: no net gain, no net loss.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm interested in success stories too. It's just that I don't think they're as successful as people want to believe (You invest time, money, and energy in a particular infrastructure and you naturally want it to be a resounding success. Result: you tend not to notice the warts so much.), and I don't think people spend enough time considering the down side if things go all pear-shaped.


    I'm not on the WHS team, I just post a lot. :)
    Friday, July 1, 2011 4:22 PM
  • Ken, Thanks for your explanation. I'm seriously giving thought to my setup. I was always aware of the failure of the machine issue, but as you rightly state most people [myself included] perhaps do not take it seriously enough. My machine is just a year old and everything is running like a well oiled bmw right now, so I'm a little lazy on worry.

    Anyhow, another question which the original author posted and I was wondering myself - what would you recommend - a) WHS 2011 as host with Win 7 Pro guest OR b) the other way round? Does it matter either way performance wise? I currently have 4GB of RAM

    Thanks for your responses.

    Regards

    Saturday, July 2, 2011 4:23 PM
  • Anyhow, another question which the original author posted and I was wondering myself - what would you recommend - a) WHS 2011 as host with Win 7 Pro guest OR b) the other way round? Does it matter either way performance wise? I currently have 4GB of RAM

    Your first configuration isn't possible. Windows Home Server can't have the Hyper-V role installed as far as I know (Microsoft has blocked it as unnecessary for a home or small business server).

    Performance-wise, unless you're buying hardware intended specifically for this use, my opinion is that you're going to get mediocre performance at best. "Mediocre" may be adequate to your needs, however. :)

    My overall "recommendation", though? I thought that was clear. :) Don't use virtualization in the home, it's a decision which I believe will turn around and bite you on the butt at some point in the future.


    I'm not on the WHS team, I just post a lot. :)
    Sunday, July 3, 2011 2:54 PM