Project: One

• February 26, 2011

Virtualizing the Home

So what does a tech nerd do when there are too many PC’s? It’s time to consolidate them into one box. How does one go about building a VM server for the home you ask? To this enthusiast, it would have to be a balance of power and efficiency. Nothing wasted, but no compromises either. Well budgeted, well designed, well thought out. Consideration for power consumption, cost, noise, heat, cooling, scalability.

Sure I could just build a server with reckless abandon. Not too long ago I built an enterprise class server and tried to deploy it in the home. I was a beast! Big, loud, expensive, but very, very powerful machine. In fact lets revisit this time in my life. Early 2008, I discovered virtual machines. I saw the potential and was immediately hooked. I ran Microsoft Virtual PC on my main system. While this worked, it was a major pain to have this system bogged down or left on. I needed dedicated machine to feed my Virtual addiction, errr….education. It was appropriately called Project: MonsterBox. Dual AMD quad cores sitting on an EATX board, 28gb RAM, Hardware RAID controllers, 2x300gb 15k SAS drives in RAID 0, 10 1TB SATA drives in RAID 10, IPMI support card, dual GigE LAN, 1000w PSU, all sitting in a Norco 4220. Yeah a beast of a machine….

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While awesome, this held my interest for about 3 months before I grew weary of its constant howling. So I unceremoniously decommissioned it and sold the parts off. Just not practical for my home. and nothing like this will survive the SoCal desert heat in a garage that goes just north of 140F.

So back the the point of this build. I really wanted to consolidate several of my single purpose machines into a single unit. A new and challenging project. Something that could handle multiple Virtual Machines, multiple roles, without mortgaging the house. First up I needed to define just what I wanted this machine to do. It needed the ability to perform client backups, media streaming, and a file repository for the family. A WHS VM will work just fine for these. Next wanted OTA TV recording and a media center available for extenders 24/7. Let’s add in a Windows 7 VM. I want to be able to scale it based on my future needs. I have no qualms about using a domain in my home network. I’m capable and it really isn’t that difficult.

I’m an IT professional, as such I have a TechNet account. So putting my TechNet account to use, I decided to go with a full blown server o/s. That is Windows Server 2008 R2. Why? Flexibility! I can use WS08R2 as a base o/s and only activate the roles I need when I need them. I can then lay VM’s over top to add the functionality I want to a single box. Too complicated? Not really, let me break it down.

  • WS08R2 – Host OS to handle roles of virtualization and domain/VM Backup. I can use it to add additional functionality in the future (web, FTP, remote services, media server, or whatever you want)
  • WHS2011 VM – This will be the primary server for the clients in the house. Clients will access this for file storage, media storage, as well as backups for each client
  • Windows 7 VM – This will run media center and handle a majority of my media scheduling needs and provide a target for my media extenders
  • SBS2011 VM – I will use this as my domain controller with active directory
  • Other VM installs – I will most likely have several other installs for testing.

So with that established, I carefully tried to select the hardware. Justifying it’s purchase. To not only myself, but to you the reader as well.

  • Intel Core i3-530 CPU
  • Gigabyte H55M-SD2H
  • 8GB 4x2GB G.Skill Ripjaw DDR3 1600 RAM
  • 500GB WD Scorpio Blue HDD
  • 300GB WD VelociRaptor HDD
  • 4x 2TB WD Caviar Green HDDs
  • Generic 4 port SATA expansion PCI Card
  • Lian-Li PC-B10 Case
  • Corsair 400w PSU

Sound familiar? BYOB listeners I’m sure have heard me recommend this combo before. Believe it or not, this offers a huge amount of scalability. Not only that most of these parts can be easily repurposed if the system gets upgraded.

  • The mother board offers a lot of potential. The 1156 socket has offered everything from the venerable i3 to the powerful i7 and Xeon x34xx series. With the socket getting decommissioned early 2011 this means cheap CPUs for future upgrades. The H55 chipset is a proven performer with the IGP. The dual PCIx16 slots allow for PCIe card without limits on interface, while PCI slots allow for cheaper legacy cards. 4xDIMM slots, GigE, 6 SATA2 ports, a single IDE, DVI/HDMI/VGA all in a mATX form factor to allow it to be used in smaller more compact cases.
  • The i3 is more than capable of handling the host O/S and multiple VM’s with low to moderate demand. If I need more power the the i7-860 or x3440 are not far away.
  • 8GB of ram filling only 2 slots is a good starting point, with the ability to expand up to 32GB.
  • The LL B-10 case is a little bit of a luxury, but its made to last, excellent cooling features, front door and side panels are insulated to tine down HDD whine rack holds 4 drives with the ability to add to the 5 5.25 bays. With drives increasing in size each year and prices falling I’m sure this is more than enough room for expansion. Front door is lockable to to keep accidental resets and power button pushes to a minimum. (I have a toddler)
  • The Corsair CX400 has been a workhorse on many of my systems. Never had an issue solid stable power with plenty of connections.
  • The Host O/S drive, the 500GB, is divided into 2 partitions the host O/S has 200gb, with backups of the guest drive residing on the second 300gb partition.
  • The 300GB VR drive holds the VMs for all of my guest installations.
  • WD GP 2TB HDD’s. These are the data drives that are directly attached to the storage VM.

Some system build pics for your enjoyment.

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Installation is pretty straight forward Server08 isn’t much different than Windows 7 (makes sense). Creating the VM’s is as simple as deciding how much resources you want to dedicate to the VM, then just install the guest o/s. Simple! If you choose to go with baremetal install of Hyper-V follow wodysweb’s 2 part series on the HSS Blog.

HV MGRDisk Management

Originally I wanted this to be a headless unit, but I find myself on this a fair bit of time. So I’ve decided to keep using a 20” monitor. A Microsoft ARC keyboard and a Logitech wireless mouse round out the interface duties. Allowing them to remain active but under the desk & out of the way until needed. IMG_6913

So how does it run? Pretty much flawless and as designed. Power consumption under normal load is only 40w. Heat in the system is low even with the stock intel cooler and well managed. The case mitigates noise very well as the whine of the drives is nearly inaudible. The CPU and RAM are capable and show no signs of being overloaded. I think that I’ve achieved what I set out to do with this build and with only minor upgrades can be made more capable as needed.

If you have any questions comments and suggestions please post them in our forums.

—Michael Martis (no-control)—

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Category: BYOB Hardware, Windows Home Server

Comments (1)

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  1. Adam says:

    I like the idea of an ESXi build, because even though many of us have access to Technet, ESXi really is free. Previously, I was thinking of building a dedicated WHS 2011 box. But, an ESXi box with WHS 2011 and Win7 for media center recording would be sweet. It seems as if Media Center recording is the only thing missing from WHS 2011. DE is less and less of an issue.

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