Tag Archives: virtualization

Installing Xen or Xen Cloud Platform from USB

When downloading Xen or Xen Cloud Platform you get an iso which I initially tried loading on my usb stick using unetbootin which is my typical go-to for linux installations. However, I was having troubles and wasn’t able to boot into the installation.

I found the following directions from darkod on the Ubuntu forums here which enabled me to successfully complete the installation.

1. Open the usb stick and in the root rename syslinux.cfg to syslinux.old
2. In the folder boot/isolinux, find and rename isolinux.bin to syslinux.bin, isolinux.cfg to syslinux.cfg
3. Go back and rename the whole folder isolinux to syslinux

Install VMWare ESXi on a USB stick

Next I wanted to try to set up VMWare ESXi. I also read about how you can run ESXi off of a flash drive and I thought I would give this a try so I could dedicate the entire physical hard drive to running WHS.

I read that I could run through the installation normally and just tell it the installation destination is the USB stick, however this did not work for me as it said it was unable to find a location to install to. And after loading the installation files I was forced to restart and try again.

I did find these great instructions that guided me through the process in a lot less time then it would have taken to run through the standard installation. I used Method #2 with WinImage and the whole thing took under 10 minutes.

I stuck the USB stick into the PC and it booted right into ESXi, obtained an IP address, and I was able to download/install the VI Client to manage the server very easily. The VI Client is very overwhelming at first but once you understand its layout it becomes manageable.

Hyper-V, Physical hard disk access & CPU virtualization support

A way to avoid using the virtual hard disk files would be by using Hyper-V which has the ability to attach physical hard disks directly to virtual machines. That means I can set the physical hard drive as offline to the host operating system and dedicate it to the virtual machine os, giving the vm os direct and dedicated read/write access to the drive. Using the physical disk access you can avoid using the virtual hard drive “coffins” to store your files, and instead, the files are stored normally, directly on the physical hard drive that can be plugged in and read by any computer. This allows you to reap the full benefits from Windows Home Server’s Drive Extender technology that I have discussed in a previous post.

Hyper-V sounds like a great solution with the exception that I would have to give up using my TV tuner on this computer since only the host os has direct access to the tuner cards. Hyper-V does not support USB passthrough devices like VMWare ESXi does which eliminates the possibility of using a USB tuner. So in order to get TV tuner functionality I would need to get something like the Silicondust HDHomerun network tuner, but it is still possible and something that I would be willing to settle on for the time being.

BUT when I tried to install Hyper-V it said that my CPU does not support virtualization, which for AMD is the AMD-V technology. I was under the impression that I would be able to run Hyper-V without AMD-V but I would not be able to run 64-bit guest operating systems, but that was obviously not the case. I was completely unable to install the Hyper-V role in Windows Server 2008 without cpu virtualization support.

On to ESXi…

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.

Virtual Server 2005R2 running on Windows 7 HTPC

The first thing I tried was Virtual Server 2005R2 running on top of Windows 7. This appears to be a very good solution because it allows a single machine to act as a PVR server, a HTPC front end, and a backup server.

I installed Windows 7 x64 on my secondary pc with my TV tuner installed. Since the plan was to attach this computer to the TV for everyone to use, I wanted to keep the host os locked down. I created a passworded user account to act as the administrator and an open account to be used soley for HTPC duties.

Virtual Server 2005R2 was selected as opposed to something like VirtualPC or VMWare Workstation because it runs as a service and therefore has the ability to start the virtual machines when the computer boots without first logging in. Also it has nice remote management functionality that is done via a web interface.

While attempting this, I learned that Virtual Server 2005R2 and Windows 7 do not work well together. Ben Armstrong has posted a great workaround for this issue. Ultimately I decided that for a system that I wanted to be a stable backup server I did not want to have to hack around getting the program to work. I also had slight issues with the web interface.

Virtualization, Windows Home Server, and HTPCs

Right now I’m focusing on virtualization, windows home server, and HTPCs. I will be exploring different configurations to find the optimal setup able to achieve my goals.

Goals:

  1. Computer backup
  2. Virtualization – testing/experimenting
  3. Media streaming server
  4. PVR
  5. HTPC front end – for playback of DVD rips and recorded TV
  6. BitTorrent machine
  7. Automate the process of media downloading, organizing, metadata/fanart

My primary desktop is used for gaming so I want to accomplish as much as possible on my secondary pc (complete specs). For virtualization I plan to experiment with VMWare ESXi, Hyper-V Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V, VMWare Server 2.0, and Virtual Server 2005.

I hope this blog can serve as a reference for others who are interested in a similar setup, because I know how difficult it was to find information on these topics.