Virtual Machine’s for the masses.
Ever since I read my first article on the subject I was intrigued by the concept of Virtual machines. I was eager to know how practical, easy, and effective it really was to use in an everyday situation. My approach was not to try and achieve new technical ground or challenge my own capabilities, but rather to see how practical these solutions were for the average user. I wanted to better understand what skill level was needed to make this work. In addition, I wanted to see how practical the approach is for running a WHS in a VM in the real world. To avoid any issues with existing hardware/software, I built up a fresh test system out of some extra hardware I had laying around (see below for pictures and specs of my test build).
As this was my first experience with a virtual machine, I did some homework and proceeded to download a few of the more popular solutions. I downloaded Hyper-V, VMware Player, VMware Workstation. and MS Virtual PC. My purpose besides experimenting with VM’s was to see if I could effectively use one machine to run Windows 7, WHS, XP, and possibly experiment with something like Chrome OS.
A quick install of Hyper-V told me that the complexity of the VM setups and skill level required was a bit high for the average person that wanted an easy way to setup a VM. Not that it is not powerful and flexible, but they are not tailored for the casual user who just wants to run a second OS such as WHS on top of their Windows Media Center PC. In reality, the Hyper-V and ESXi are much more powerful approaches but they also raise the bar for skills required to effectively setup.
That left me with VMware’s Player (free for personal use), VMware’s Workstation (30 day trial, $189 after trial), and Microsoft’s own Windows Virtual PC (which is also free to users of Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate). These appealed to me more since they could be installed on top of an existing windows installation which fell more into the category of “main stream” I was after for this experiment (I used Windows 7 64 Bit Professional for testing).
First up was VMware’s Player. The installation process was painless and within minutes I had a virtual machine ready to install a new OS. Since by default, VMware Player likes to use an ISO to install the OS, I used the ISO from the WHS trial version as my test bed and pointed to the ISO that was located on my drive. The installation process started and continued for a few minutes before giving me an error “Hard drive capable of hosting Windows Server was not found”. I tried several more times including a few attempts installing from the CD but no matter what I tried the error persisted. I found a few hints on Google on how to resolve it but nothing seemed to work. Not wanting to give up, I then upgraded to VM workstation thinking that might help resolve the issue but the result was exactly the same. After a few more attempts, I decided it was time to try Microsoft’s own Virtual PC.
The installation of Virtual PC is as painless as it gets and is not much different than installing any other application. Once installed, you are ready to create your first VM. After you define the parameters of your virtual machine by answering a few prompts, Virtual PC creates the virtual machine on the specified hard drive. To install your new OS, all that was required was popping the install CD/DVD in your drive, double clicking on your VM within Virtual PC windows, and walk through the install of your OS. The installation went all the way through without a glitch however I noticed it took a bit longer than on a standalone machine. Overall the process was painless, easy, and very straight forward.
Once I got it running, I was able to go back into the properties and add more storage by creating virtual drives (VMware’s Player does not allow full editing of the VM once it is created and you have to create a new one to make changes). After the Virtual hard drives are created, they appear in WHS console and they can be added as either storage or backup. I realize that this solution does not offer you the sheer power and flexibility of Hyper-V or ESXi nor does it presently support 64 bit OS’s, but for 32 bit OS’s like WHS it works perfectly and for most users this is a much easier solution.
My personal impression when I completed this experiment is that, like most things in life you have to understand what you want and the tradeoffs you are willing to make to get it. Using any type of VM in a home environment is great for testing, experimenting, and works for some people. Someone who has a PC on all the time running WMC and wants to throw the functionality of WHS on top of it. It works well for all these things but running two OS’s on the same hardware does affect performance a bit. It is not significant but it is there none the less. Although in the right environment it works great, you should really think carefully as to whether or not running WHS on a VM is right for you. In some cases, it might be easier, cheaper, and safer to buy two smaller systems dedicated for a specific task such as a WMC or WHS. Since it is not a Hypervisor and it sits on top of an existing OS you add a level complexity that may not be worth the trade off. One last point, if you plan on sharing WHS and another OS on one machine you might consider that in the event of hardware failure you may will lose both machines. Using WHS in a VM environment will also make restoring much more complicated. It also defeats the purpose of using WHS as a back up at least for that machine. All in all I would say that most of the products I experimented with worked pretty well (except for the error message from the VMware products) however after running a VM for a couple of weeks now, I am convinced I will stick to a dedicated WHS and use VM for experimenting, learning, and playing with other OS’s.
|Case:||Lian-Li Lancool PC-K7B|
|Motherboard:||Gigabyte GA-G31M-ES2L Micro-ATX|
|Memory:||G.Skill DDR2 4 Gigs (2×2)|
|Power Supply:||OCZ ModXtream 500W|
|Hard Drive #1||300 Gig VelociRaptor|
|Hard Drive #2||WD 500 Gig Green Series Drive|
|Hard Drive #3||WD 1T Green Series Drive|
Pictures (Test System)