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The great virtualization experiment

I just purchased a Dell Optiplex 755 PC to use as a server in my home environment. This was necessitated by a few things, including the need to test Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 (see my recent screenshot gallery), Virtual Machine Manager 2008, Small Business Server 2008, and Essential Business Server 2008. These are complex products and they require a lot more on the hardware end than your typical software review.

The Optiplex has a 2.4 GHz quad-core processor (Intel Q6600) and 8 GB of RAM, and everything cost just over $1000 with taxes and shipping. It’s amazing how inexpensive PCs are these days. Right now it’s only got a single 250 GB hard drive, but I’m clearly going to need to increase capacity in the coming weeks. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Storage, of course, is very cheap as well.

I’ve only had the system for a day, but it’s proven to be nearly silent and amazingly fast. With the addition of a decent video card, it’d make a killer Vista x64 system. In fact, maybe I’ll head in that direction some day.

To save money, I purchased the system with Vista Home Basic and 512 MB of RAM, and purchased the 8 GB upgrade from Crucial. (The system was about $835 and the RAM was $175.) So what does Vista Home Basic look like with 8 GB of RAM (note that only 3.x GB is available since it was a 32-bit version)? It looks like this:

So that’s cute and everything, but the reason I got this box was to test Microsoft’s virtualization and server products. I loaded up Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 first and have to say, it’s a bit of a mess. It does nothing out of the box, and you have to manage it remotely. That’s fine, except that Microsoft’s downloadable Hyper-V Management tools for Vista don’t work out of the box either. You get a “can’t connect” message, and nothing in the documentation explains what you have to do to make it work. Searching the Web, I discovered that you have to enable a feature in what I consider to be a legacy control panel for DCOM, and, sorry, but that’s both silly and something the installation program for the tool should do for you. This stuff is head-scratchingly stupid.

Anyway, once you get things configured correctly, you can of course start installing virtual machines on Hyper-V Server, and remotely. And it works as advertised. But after doing that for a while, I decided to go with the full Windows Server 2008 system instead, adding Hyper-V to that. It’s just easier to sit down in front of the thing and get work done. The headless Hyper-V Server has some serious issues from a usability standpoint. Maybe that was on purpose, come to think of it. Sometimes you do get what you pay for.

Anyhoo… I’m loading up the server with virtual machines. I’ve got SBS 2008 up and running already, and will add Essential Business Server (Centro) this weekend. I’ve added a number of Vista clients as well, for testing. Here’s a shot from last night:

It seems really solid so far. More on this setup over time...

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