For a small office or home office lab like mine, where the customer facing and public facing services are hosted at co-lo facilities, I'm always needing scratch servers and temporary trial run equipment in addition to my local mail and development server. VMWARE always seemed to make sense for this, and I'm very pleased with how it works on my PC's using their free "VMWARE Server" product. The ESXi product is a next step up. This is what they call a "bare metal hypervisor" -- which means it doesn't run under any operating system, but instead it runs as its own special purpose OS directly on the hardware. The promise of drastic performance benefits is compelling.
The problem with VMWARE ESXi is that it is extremely limited in terms of what kind of hardware it can be run on. Generally, this is meant for big data center gear and that's very expensive. What I needed was generic hardware that could run it so I could get the benefits of a data center grade virtual environment without the expense. Now that it's built, I can share with you what worked.
TIP: Buy your hardware VERY carefully. ESXi will not install at all if you don't have compatible hardware. Included in this is the network card -- most are not supported. I strongly recommend getting one of the Intel Pro/1000 cards, most of which are supported. I ended up using a Pro/1000 MT, but will probably also add a Pro/1000 PT dual port adapter as well so I can use one of the vm's as a firewall without exposing the management port to the internet.
Once I had the hardware compatibility issues resolved, installation is a complete breeze. Download the ISO from VMWARE and burn it to a CDROM. Boot with the CDROM and if the hardware is all compatible you'll be up and running in about 5 minutes. If the hardware is NOT compatible (including the network card, which must be able to obtain an address using dhcp initially) you'll end up with a very unhelpful error message and go nowhere.
Plans for this Machine:
In my office/lab, this will replace virtually all the other boxes acting as servers, firewalls, and proxies. This "one machine to rule them all" should be able to handle my primary mail and development server, test servers in two different version levels (7.x and 8.5.x) in both Windows and Linux, as well as several use-as-needed Windows XP clients that are customer specific (for customers who need me to use vpn and/or specific anti-virus software to connect to their network). In addition, VM Appliances will handle firewall, web proxies, and other such things. Even with all that running, plenty of capacity remains if I want to try out a Sametime server, Quickr, or maybe a Microsoft IIS based server for something.
At present, I'm not using a RAID configuration with this server. Though it is supported, I prefer to allocate the drives individually and then add smaller drives to use for transaction logging and other performance needs. While not as fail-safe as a fully RAID enabled environment, I will have Tivoli Storage Manager installed (on a vm) and backups using that will go to an external NAS based RAID array. For me, that's good enough backup even if it isn't 100% uptime safe.
Hardware I used:
Case: Ultra 923 Mid Tower
Features lots of cooling, and lots of room for drives.
Power: Ultra LSP750 750w Power Supply
Not my favorite, but good and it came as part of a nice hardware bundle price
Motherboard: Asus P6T
Uses the Intel X58 Chipset, supports a ton of ram and 8 native SATA ports
CPU Intel Core i7
4 64 bit cores, each with hyperthreading -- WAY faster than Core 2 Quad
Memory 12gb triple channel DDR3 1066mhz w/ attached heatsinks
Core i7 has built in memory addressing and no FSB to choke on
Drives (3) WD Caviar Black 1TB SATA HD 7200/32MB/SATA-3G
Currently the fastest SATA drives on the market
Network Intel Pro/1000 MT
* VMWARE ESXi won't install without one if the few supported network cards
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