WHS on VMWare Server 2.0 with a Windows 7 host

After trying Virtual Server 2005R2 I decided to try VMWare Server 2.0, another free solution.  After a quick Windows 7 reformat (to completely wipe the Virtual Server modifications/workarounds), the installation of VMWare Server went without a hitch. I had a 100Gb partition for Windows 7 and then the rest of the 1Tb drive was broken into another partiotn where I stored the WHS virtual hard drive (not pre-allocated, equal to the remaining space). Later on a second 1Tb hard drive was put in the machine and I created a second virtual hard drive equal to the size of the drive.

With WHS it is important to make the virtual hard drives equal to the entire size of the disk so that you do not have 2 virtual hard drives running on the same spindle. That is because when you enable duplication in WHS, it makes sure that the files are not stored on the same spindle and takes away the task of manually managing storage. However, if you have 2 virtual hard drives on the same spindle and that drive fails, you can potentially lose data that you thought was successfully duplicated on another physical hard drive.

I have been running Windows Home Server (WHS) in VMWare Server for close to a month with fairly good results. I am able to record live TV with Windows Media Center and have it transfered and archived onto the WHS. WHS has been successfully performing nightly backups of my primary desktop, laptop, and host machine. However, the one major issue I am having is with the transfer speeds.

I initially was on a 100 megabit network but my transfer speeds between the WHS and other PCs was usually under a measly 1MB/s. After some troubleshooting and suggestions I looked into disabling TCP Offload which has seemed to work for others, but did not make much of a difference for me. I found a good deal on a gigabit switch and figured I might as well try increasing the availiable bandwidth (although 1MB/s is not being restricted by a 100 megabit network).

I do not know why, but after installing the gigabit switch I saw a speed increase to a range of 8-15MB/s. But this was still much slower than expected. Perhaps these transfer speeds are severely limited since I am running a full blown host os and WHS on the same hard drive (not a raid array).

One realization that came up while using VMWare server was that all my precious data is stored in these large (~1Tb) virtual hard drive files (vmdk). If anything happens to the host machine and I needed to retrieve the files I would first have to set up a new host, virtual machine, installation of WHS, etc. Meanwhile one of the features that WHS offers is that all of the files are stored in standard format and the hard drives can be plugged into another computer to retrieve the files. So to me, locking all of my files in these virtual disk “coffins” and manually trying to manage the placement of these virtual disk files seemed to go against some of the main advantages of WHS. Additionally, the scary thought that my data has 2x the chance of being lost since the VMDK file could  get corrupted OR a spindle could die.

Both the slow transfer speeds and the disadvantages of virtual hard disks in WHS pushed me towards looking for another solution.

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