The time has come for me to leave the safe confines of wordpress.com and go to a hosted installation.  When I started blogging, it was the best option for me and with minimum of fuss.  However, now I need a bit more freedom in what I want to do on the blog and hence the move.  As I’ve grown with WordPress and I know the format, the platform will remain the same.

This post is just to announce that the blog is moving to http://atherbeg.com – Nice, short and simple :-).  I’ve already moved all the content so it would be great if you point your RSS feeds or bookmarks to the new location.  Soon, I will be putting a redirector in so everyone should get redirected seamlessly but please do let me know if you notice something that I’ve missed.  I’ve also gone through all the posts and adjusted the links but would appreciate a mail if there are broken links.

Apart from Father’s day activities, that was pretty much my weekend so I hope you approve the new look.  I’ve tried to make it such that the text and layout is easy on the eyes.  I’ll be very interested in your comments so please drop a few words with your views!

Ather

There are times when a virtual machine might start rebooting or shut down completely, due to one or more snapshots for that machine getting corrupt.  Depending on the type of failure, recovery from such a situation is possible and at times, with all data intact.  For example, when a backup solution takes a snapshot as part of its backup process, that snapshot might immediately get corrupted.  As it has just been taken, there might not be a lot of changed data in the snapshot at that point.  A complete recovery in this example is achievable.

Common symptoms for this kind of problem are:

  • Virtual machine starts displaying the message in the console:

“The redo log of .vmdk is corrupted.  Power off the virtual machine.  If the problem still persists, discard the redo log.”

  • Pressing OK to the message mentioned above, causes the machine to display the message again.
  • Powering-off the virtual machine might not be possible and could be displaying the message in the console:

“The attempted operation cannot be performed in the current state”

I wrote this blog post (originally for my company blog) as I felt while different KB articles document the process in parts, I couldn’t find one that guides someone through the whole recovery process.

Assumptions

I’ll be making the following assumptions for the purpose of this post:

  • The failure is occurring on virtual machine(s) with one or more snapshots, created either manually or via an automated mechanism e.g. a backup solution.
  • The virtual machine is displaying errors about inconsistent, corrupt or invalid snapshots.
  • The person going through the process is familiar with VMware operations and can deal with minor variations in the discussed scenario.
  • The process to force shutdown of a virtual machine is required for ESXi 5.x hosts (while syntax for other versions will be different, the process remains the same).

Virtual Machine Restore Process

Step 1: Save Virtual Machine Logs

The first action is to save logs for this virtual machine, which can be found in the virtual machine folder on the datastore.  A new log file is created every time the machine restarts and the last seven files are maintained in the folder on a rolling basis.  Saving these will ensure valuable diagnostic data is not lost due to continuous reboots.  Due to the state the virtual machine is in, it might not be possible to save vmware.log but the other log files should be copied directly from the datastore to a safe location.

Step 2: Shutdown Virtual Machine

This is to avoid having any further damage to the current snapshots before a copy of the machine is made.  It’s possible for vCenter to lose control of the virtual machine in such situations and power operations might not work from the VI Client.  If that happens, refer to “Force Virtual Machine Shutdown Process” section near the end of this posting for techniques to force shutdown of the machine.

Step 3: Make a copy of the Virtual Machine folder

Once the virtual machine is shut down, make a copy of the virtual machine folder to another location on the same or another datastore.  Name the folder something appropriate e.g. <Machine Name>-Backup.

Note: A clone is not what is required and it probably won’t work in such a situation.

Step 4: Attempt to fix the snapshots

First check if the datastore has enough space remaining as snapshots do become corrupted if there isn’t enough space available.  As there might be other snapshots going on in the background, estimate generously and if there isn’t enough space, use Storage vMotion to migrate machines off that datastore, to have a safe amount available.

Once there is enough space available, try taking another snapshot and if successful, try committing it.  This operation might fix the snapshot chain and consolidate all data into the disks.  If this process fails, then follow the remainder of the process to manually restore the machine from remaining snapshots.

Step 5: Confirmation of existing virtual disk configuration

Go into virtual machine settings and confirm the number and names of the existing virtual disks.  As there are snapshots present, the disk(s) will be pointing to the last-known snapshot(s).  Also, make note of the datastore the machine resides on.

Step 6: Command-Line access to ESXi server

Gain shell access to an ESXi server in the cluster which can see the datastore with the virtual machine in question.  The ESXi server should also have access to the datastore where the repair will be carried out.  If using SSH, it might be disabled (it is by default), in which case, you may have to start the service manually.

Note: Seek approval (if security policy requires it) before this is done.

Once SSH is enabled, use PuTTY (or a similar tool) to connect and login using “root” credentials

Step 7: Confirmation of snapshots present

Once logged in, change directory to:

 /vmfs/volumes/<Datastore Name>/<Machine Name>

and run:

ls *.vmdk –lrt

to display all virtual disk components.

Make note of what “Flat” and “Delta” disks are present.  While it can vary in certain situations, the virtual machine’s original disks will be named the same as the virtual machine name by default.  If there are more than one virtual disk present, it should have “_1” appended to the base name and so on.  If there are snapshots present, they will have “-000001” appended to each disk name for the first snapshot and “-000002” for the second and so on, by default.  Make note of all this information and confirm that it is in line with what you noted in Step 5.

Step 8: Repair of the virtual disks

Start with the highest set of snapshots and for each disk in that set, run the following command:

 vmkfstools –i <Source Disk> <Destination Disk>

where <Source Disk> is the source snapshot.  Please note: <Source Disk> is the base .vmdk name of the snapshot i.e. not the one with –flat, -delta or –ctk in the name.  <Destination Disk> is the new disk, where all disk changes need to be consolidated.  The new name should be similar to the source but not identical.  <Machine Name>-Recovered.vmdk is one example for the first disk.  Keep the same naming convention throughout for all disk names e.g. <Machine Name>-Recovered_1.vmdk, <Machine Name>-Recovered_2.vmdk and so on.

For example:

vmkfstools –i <Machine Name>-000003.vmdk <Machine Name>-Recovered.vmdk

for the first disk from the third snapshot set.

vmkfstools –i <Machine Name>_1-000003.vmdk <Machine Name>-Recovered_1.vmdk

for the second disk in the same set and so on.

Repeat the process for all disks in the snapshot set identified earlier in step 7.  If the process is successful, move on to step 9.  If there is failure on one or more disks in the set, the following error message may be displayed:

Failed to clone disk: Bad File descriptor (589833)

If that error occurs, skip that disk and keep running the process for other disks as they might still be useful.  However, the set will likely be rejected to run as production so the next recent snapshot set should be tried.  Follow the same process until all disks in a snapshot set are successfully consolidated into a new disk set.  If this is an investigation into the events leading up to the failure then additional sets might have to be consolidated in the same way.  All sets should now consolidate successfully.

Step 9: Restoration of the virtual machine

Using the “Datastore Browser”, create a new folder called “<Machine Name>-Recovered”, either on the same datastore or another.  Move the newly-created “Recovered” vmdk file(s) to the new folder.  Also, copy <Machine Name>.vmx and <Machine Name>.nvram to the new folder and rename both files to become <Machine Name>-Recovered.vmx and <Machine Name>-Recovered.nvram, respectively.

Download <Machine Name>-Recovered.vmx to the local machine and edit it in Wordpad.  Replace all instances of <Machine Name>-00000x (where “x” is the last snapshot the machine’s disks are pointing to) with <Machine Name>-Recovered.  Repeat for other disks if present e.g. _1, _2 and save the file.  This should make the .vmx match all newly-consolidated disks.  Rename the original vmx file in the datastore to <Machine Name>.vmx.bak and upload the edited <Machine Name>-Recovered.vmx back into the same location.  Once uploaded, go to the “Datastore Browser”, right-click the vmx file and follow the standard process of adding a virtual machine to inventory, naming it “<Machine Name>-Recovered”.

Once in the list, edit the virtual machine settings and disconnect the network adapter.  It might require connecting to a valid virtual machine network first but the main thing is that the network adapter should be disconnected.

Once done, take a snapshot of the virtual machine and power the machine up.  At this point, a “Virtual Machine Question” will come up.  Answer it by selecting the “I copied it” answer.  If the disk consolidation operation was successful for all disks, the machine will come up successfully.  The machine can now be inspected and put into service or investigated for a problem.

Once operation of the machine has been tested and the decision has been made to bring it into service, shut down the virtual machine, reconnect the virtual network adapter to the correct network and power it back up.  After boot is complete, login to the machine to confirm service status, network connectivity, domain membership and other operations.  If all operations are as expected then the restore process is complete and the snapshot can be deleted.

Force Virtual Machine Shutdown Process

First Technique: Using vim-cmd to identify and shutdown the VM

While connected to the ESXi shell and logged in as “root”, run the following command to get a list of all virtual machines running on the target host:

 vim-cmd vmsvc/getallvms

The command will return all the virtual machines currently running on the host.  Note the Vmid of the virtual machine in question.  Get the current state of that virtual machine as seen by the host first, by running:

vim-cmd vmsvc/power.getstate <Vmid>

If the virtual machine is still running, try to shut it down gracefully using:

vim-cmd vmsvc/power.shutdown <Vmid>

If the graceful shut down fails, try the power.off option:

vim-cmd vmsvc/power.off <Vmid>

Second Technique: Using ps to identify and kill the VM

Warning: Only use the following process as a last resort.  Terminating the wrong process could render the host non-responsive.

While connected to the ESXi shell and logged in as “root”, list all processes for target virtual machine on the current host by running:

ps | grep vmx

That will return a number of lines.  Identify entries containing vmx-vcpu-0:<Machine Name> and others.  Make note of the number in the second column of numbers, which represents the Parent Process ID.  For most of the lines returned for that machine, this number should be the same as in the second column.  One line belonging to “vmx” will contain that number in both first and second columns.  That is the ProcessID of the target virtual machine.

Once identified, terminate the process using the following command:

kill <ProcessID>

Wait for a minute or so as it might take some time.  If after that, the virtual machine hasn’t powered-off, then run the following command:

kill -9 <ProcessID>

The method in the section will not result in a graceful shut down but it should terminate the machine, allowing for the recovery to take place.  If the machine still cannot be terminated, further investigation will be required on the host and the only option left will be to vMotion other virtual machines off this host and rebooting the host in question.

Final Words

The beauty of virtualization is that one can test most service scenarios without actually causing impact to service and this process is no exception.  For that reason, I would strongly recommend practising this process in your lab environment so that you are well prepared in case disaster strikes.  Any virtual machine with some changes between snapshots, should be a good example to test with.

So, what are you waiting for?  Have a go and it would be great to hear your feedback on how the process went.

This article is a slightly modified version of my post originally posted here on the Xtravirt Blog.

vExpert Logo

It was announced today and if you are a virtualization enthusiast, it might be old news to you by now.  It’s an honour to be part of such a knowledgeable community of people, which I consider to be the best in the computing industry.

I have been blogging for a few years now but never thought of applying for the accolade.  Of course, I was aware of the prestige that comes with it.  I thought I had no chance of being selected, given the quality of contributions I saw from existing vExperts.  When I joined my current company Xtravirt, I met some of my vExpert colleagues.  Their participation encouraged me to apply this year.  I guess, you have to be “in it to win it” 🙂

It’s a big deal for supporters of the program.  For that reason, there will be a lot of chat and discussion on this in the coming days.  For me, I know that my passion for virtualization will be fuelled further by being recognised by the program.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to renew my vExpert status for years to come.  I am fully aware that I’ll have to work hard for it but that’s what I intend to do anyway.

In the end, I would congratulate all fellow vExperts – new and old, but also thank John Troyer for putting so much effort into going through and validating all the applications for the program.  That must be one enormously tedious task but is done every year diligently.  If that’s not passion, I don’t know what is!

There are times when one needs to “quickly” find out what time a machine was last rebooted.  Now I know that there are events in the “System” log that announce starting of the event log service but logs can be truncated after last boot and going to the event log and filtering, can take some amount of time/effort.  A quick way around that problem is to open a command window and type:

net statistics server

Running it, results in an output similar to this:

Output of the command "Net Statistics Server"

Output of the command “Net Statistics Server”

Event IDs change sometimes but this command has remained the same since NT days and is still valid.  Of course, the command is actually there to display network statistics but it has this useful feature that displays the time when the service started.  As it starts quite early during the boot process, it is as close as you can get to the last boot time and is quick to do.

Bonus: net statistics workstation – does the same! 🙂

Hope this helps!

One of my colleagues is currently researching cloud services.  Like me, he is also very interested in VMware Hybrid Cloud and created an account as soon as it was made available.  However, despite using supported browsers, he ran into problems trying to delete a virtual machine that he had created earlier.  Every time he tried, an error was returned:

There was an error running your last operation.  Press CTRL + E to refresh the page and try again or logout and log back in before trying again

He obviously tried refreshing and was unsuccessful.  In case there was something wrong with his browsers, I offered my help as I had a freshly built virtual machine.  This is what the problem looked like when deletion was attempted:

Problem Screen

So, the deletion failed on my new machine as well, proving there was a bigger issue present.  I decided to fire up vCloud Director as that’s where I go for more control.  Once there and in the “VM” pane, this is what I saw:

Partially Running VM

It seemed very likely that the “Partially Powered Off” status was causing the problem.  As the machine was up for deletion anyway, I forced a power off:

Powering Off

Followed by a deletion:

Deletion of VM

This time, the machine went without issues and it was all clean:

VM Gone!

After that, I went to the regular vCloud screen.  The error machine was still there but one needs to “Reload”, to clean up the interface.

Back in vCloud

Once done, the machine was gone.  I reported back to my colleague who was then able to create the new machine he wanted.  I thought this is worth documenting as a quick blog post because the error message being seen wasn’t accurate enough and other people might see the same thing.

Moral of the story: When in doubt, use the vCloud Director interface! 🙂

In the past couple of years, the term “cloud services” has become very fashionable.  Every company wants to be on it.  So, even if your day-to-day job is not virtualization, it still makes sense to know about it.  Now, even though a cloud service is just a platform outside your own private environment, to someone who hasn’t worked with it, the concept seems alien.  There is also a mental hurdle in going to a cloud service provider and entering your financial details, even to get free resources for a period.

Fortunately, VMware has just made its “VMware Hybrid Cloud” available for evaluation.  Like every other VMware enthusiast, I felt compelled to try it out and see how it works.  This service is great as it’s completely free for 90 days and there is no requirement for payment details.  So, if you want to play with cloud services to see its potential, I would strongly suggest having an account set up today and start playing.  Aim of this article is to document the steps required so that you can get up and running quickly.  So here goes:

The first step is to go to the “Evaluate vCloud” page and click on the “Free Trial” button.  It takes you to the “VMware Hybrid Cloud Evaluation” page, where you need to provide your Name, Company Name, Business Email and Phone number.  You also need to read and accept the terms and conditions.

VMware Hybrid Cloud Eval Registration

Once done, the next page presents you with contact details for phone activation.  However, if the phone number you’ve provided is a mobile number, you also get an option to have a verification code sent to your mobile.  Once chosen, you should receive a code within a few seconds, which if you enter on the page, you’ll have your request approved immediately.  The result is a mail in your mailbox, with login, password and a link to the service.  While you can try going to the site immediately, it tells you that you might need 15 minutes or so before you can log in.  In my case, it was a few hours but that could be due to the enormous load that they must be experiencing immediately after the announcement.  Eventually, you will be able to log in and see this page:

Summary Screen

That’s where the fun begins.  I would recommend using Firefox with this as I’ve found it to be more responsive but Internet Explorer is also a good choice.  Chrome users will be a bit disappointed as the vCloud Director environment won’t work with it.  Notice the “How do I create a Virtual Machine?” link.  Click that for an excellent introduction to the process.  The process lets you create machines using pre-built templates i.e. you don’t even need the media and the machines are ready in a few minutes.  As long as you remain within the resource limits and have no more than two machines, it’s all free for 90 days!  You can also install “Applications” e.g. a WordPress Server.

Let’s create a server then!  The next tab in the interface is “My Cloud”.  Clicking on it, displays the following options:

MyCloud_AddANewServer

Clicking on “Add a new server” should bring up the interface that allows you to build a new server.  As a test, let’s build a Windows Server 2008 R2 machine, with minimum resources.  Choose the following options:

Windows2008R2BuildOptions

Click “Add New” and the process of building the server starts.  It’s as simple as that!  Wait for a few minutes and it’s done.  At the end of it, the screen looks similar to this:

MyCloud_AfterWin2008R2Build

One thing the process forgets to mention is the password for the machine you’ve just built.  Not to worry.  To see that and other details, you need to click the small button on the right (highlighted).  With that, the details are displayed, along with the password:

MyCloud_AfterWin2008R2Build - with dropdown

Of course, you can’t see the password here as I’ve erased it :-).  It should be where I’ve indicated in the picture above.  Also, you should have IP Addresses listed, assigned to you depending on your selections.  You can use the same process to create any of the machines listed in the OS menu or even build application machines.

Now you can click on the screen shown and “Run Console”, which should display the console screen, after installing a plug-in and allowing a pop-up in your browser if required.  You could also click on “View in vCloud Director” to open a new tab where a proper vCloud Director style window will open and present you will all the familiar options.

vCloud Director

This is where Chrome users will feel disappointed as the option doesn’t work with it.  That said, you don’t have to use vCloud Director and you can interact with the machine while remaining in the “View my Public Cloud” screen.  The machine needs to be powered-on to connect ISO etc. and if the plug-in is installed, the console will also run fine.

Please note: If your browser has just been upgraded by Microsoft to Internet Explorer 10 recently, then the console will still throw up a warning but click on “Continue Anyway” and it works (correct at the time of writing 16/03/2013 12:15 GMT).

If you’ve followed the process so far, clicking on “View my Virtual Networks” reveals the following screen:

View my Virtual Networks

The red boxes mark the areas where you’ll have IP addresses assigned to your machine.  As you can see, you can control what talks to the machine you’ve just created.

It’s all well and good to create machines that already have templates but what if you want something not available up there.  Again, there is an option for that.  Not very obvious but if you click on “Administration”, you can find:

View my Media and Templates

Click on the link “Upload New Media”.  I won’t repeat what is mentioned there as it’s a well-documented process and does exactly what it says on the tin!  Essentially, an MSI package gets installed and once done, you can upload your own media and templates to use as you please.  Remember: It’s your responsibility to ensure that all licensing requirements are in place for the media you upload and use.

Once uploaded, you can use that media with another option that is available while creating your machines: The “bare-metal” option.  Here are the options I selected to create a custom machine:

ESXi Build Options

At the end of the creation process, you might see this error:

Bare Metal Error

This is nothing to worry about.  The process tries to apply a customization process to the machine but with no OS present, it doesn’t make sense.  VMware will probably fix this later.  Click “OK” to continue but I would strongly suggest editing the machine’s configuration (in vCloud Director) to untick “Enable Guest customization” as having it enabled, might interfere with booting up of the machine later.

Guest OS Customization

At this point, you may find that your newly created machine disappears from the list.  If that happens, click “Reload” on the right-hand side on the menu bar above and the machine should return to the list.

ESXi After Creation

Now the eagle-eyed reader will have noticed by now that I am trying to create an ESXi server in the cloud.  Granted, this might not have much use up there but it would have been quite simple to create any Windows or Linux machine and I needed a challenge :-).  Note that the machine gets created as a “CentOS 4/5/6 64-bit)” machine and as ESXi requires 2 CPUs and 2 GB RAM, that will allow just one machine for me.

Power-on the machine, attach the ESXi ISO and you will probably need to reboot the machine to boot from that ISO.  Alternatively, you can fire up vCloud Director with either Firefox or IE and attach the ISO before booting up the machine.  Either way, the machine successfully boots up and arrives at the ESX Installer welcome screen.

ESXi Installer Welcome Screen

Rest of the process follows as normal.  The only thing to report is the issue with Hardware Virtualization not being enabled but hey, this was just a test to prove a point.  I tried ticking the box that is available in the “Hardware” tab (while editing the machine in vCloud Director) but it can’t be ticked on my set up as either the underlying architecture either doesn’t allow it or the free version doesn’t.

Hardware

I hope this quick run-through will prove to be useful as a starter.  Next step would be to link up a couple of servers to my internal set up to make it truly hybrid but that would be a post for later.  I would highly recommend anyone to have a go at this free service.  Idea: Maybe you can place an external mail server to cleanse and discard unwanted mail before it hits your network?  Will save a lot of bandwidth! 🙂

I am glad that VMware has finally decided to enter this arena as a bit of competition between the big guns, can only be a good thing for consumers like us 🙂

Hope this helps!

Recently, I built a new machine for my lab (for those interested in the story, here are Parts I, II and III).  I put a 512GB SSD in the new machine with the aim to thin-provision all virtual machines but still get good performance, due to the high number of IOPS/read/write you get from SSDs.  Once built, I wanted to transfer some of my pre-existing thick-disk virtual machines from another machine (placed on a traditional RAID 10 array) to the new one.  Obviously, I also wanted to convert the disk format to thin in the process.

There are a few ways of doing it in vSphere, either from vCenter or command-line.  However, when it comes to VMware Workstation, there isn’t an option in the GUI.  A quick search reveals that people tend to suggest VMware Converter as the tool to do it.  In this quick post, I just wanted to remind people of another built-in but often forgotten command-line utility, bundled with VMware Workstation for years:  VMware Virtual Disk Manager.

Not only the utility has existed for a good few years now, it hasn’t changed much and can carry out all sorts of disk-related tasks, including creation, deletion, expansion, de-fragmentation, consistency checks, repair and importantly for me, conversion into the various formats e.g. thin.  It even converts the disk for transfer to ESX.

So, I used this utility to convert my thick-disk based virtual machines to thin.  It’s pretty fast and skips the white spaces so doesn’t take very long (depending on disk size).  Here is the command that I used:

vmware-vdiskmanager -r “Source Disk.vmdk” -t 0 “Target Disk.vmdk”

As I didn’t want to split the disks, I chose the “-t 0” option, however, other options are also available.  In my case, the machines went from VMware Workstation 8.0 to 9.0 but that didn’t make any difference as version 8.0 machines are also supported in 9.0.  I also converted some of the machines to version 9.0 later without any issues.  All machines have been working fine after conversion.

If you haven’t already, have a look at this utility.  I am sure you’ll find that there isn’t any disk-related task that you can’t do with it.

Hope it helps!

In the first and second posts of this series, I covered my thought process for deciding what hardware and software to use for my new lab machine and then what I actually bought and built, respectively.  In this last post of the series, I intend to cover some optimizations I did after the build, some benchmarks and a verdict on how I think the machine is performing.  So here goes:

SSD Firmware Upgrade: First things first: Whenever using SSD in a system (especially when it’s also used to boot), I always check if there is a firmware upgrade for it and if one exists, I apply it.  While installing the OS, I had already noticed that every now and then, the system wouldn’t recognise the boot disk and the system sat there waiting for it.  A reboot always fixed that problem.  My suspicion immediately went to the firmware.  Upon checking, I found there was an update available, which I immediately downloaded and applied.  Lo and behold, the problem disappeared completely!  This is a good idea not just to fix boot issues but it usually also results in performance improvements.  In case you’re using the same SSD (512GB Crucial m4 2.5-inch SATA 6Gb/s (SATA III)), you can find the upgrade here.

Optimise for Best Performance: By default, Windows 7 chooses what’s best in terms of performance and visual appearance.  While animation, fading, thumbnails etc. look good aesthetically, they are pretty taxing on the processor.  If the reason this machine exists is to run virtual machines, you probably are not that interested in visuals.  For that reason, I switch those luxuries off and set the machine to “Adjust for best performance”.

Adjusting for best performance

Adjusting for best performance

Switch off Page File: If I have loaded my machine with lots of RAM and I intend to set VMware Workstation to “Fit all virtual machine memory into reserved host RAM”, then I can’t see why I can’t switch off the page file.  It’s quite useful if there is a shortage of RAM but there is a severe penalty in terms of disk access.  That said, even more important to me in this case is wastage of precious SSD storage.  With 32GB of RAM (with a possibility of 64GB), I get a default page file of exactly that size.  Why should I waste that space?  Sure, switching that off might cost me a machine or two but I won’t be compromising on speed.  Core dump is also one thing I’ll be missing out on but let’s hope I don’t get an unstable OS.  If I do, I guess I won’t be running virtual machines at the time and I can always switch paging back on.

Page File Disabled

Page File Disabled

Switch off Hibernation: Now this is a tricky one.  I prefer to do that, to save space on my SSD as the space consumed is equal to the amount of RAM installed.  However, if you have a UPS connected directly to this machine, it might complain that automatic shut down of the machine can’t happen in that state.  So, make your own decision on that.  I do have a UPS connected and don’t get many power failures and if I do get one, it’s usually a minute or so.  So, I’ve decided to take a chance and if the lab does go down some day, it’s just a lab!  I’ll bring it back.  At least, I’ll be saving precious SSD space in the meantime.  In case you want to do that, here is a good link.

Indexing: Another thing you can quite safely switch off and improve performance, is indexing.  Searching for files still works fine – it’s just slower!  For the very rare event that I might want to search for something on this machine, I guess I’ll just accept the delay.

Indexing Option Switched Off

Indexing Option Switched Off

These are the main optimizations I’ve implemented.  I guess one can keep going forever but soon it becomes a case of diminishing returns so for me, this was enough.

With this out-of-the-way, I did some quick benchmarking.  Here are the results:

RAID 10 Drive Performance for the Xeon-based Server

RAID 10 Drive Performance for the Xeon-based Server

SSD Drive Performance for new Core i7 machine

SSD Drive Performance for new Core i7 machine

As you can see, the single SSD drive has much higher read/write performance as compared to the four (7200 RPM) drive RAID 10 array on the Xeon machine.  Write seems to max out at 260 MB/sec but Read occasionally goes above 550 MB/sec.  Obviously, these tests are just an indication as the real performance depends on how the virtual machines behave in normal operation but like for like performance comparison between the two storage types, validates my decision to go SSD for this build.  As prices for SSD come down, I intend to build an SSD array, which should give me even more performance.  Another issue the array should resolve is risk of disk failure.  This is a one disk set up so I could suddenly lose all my machines.  That said, I am not too concerned as it is meant to be just a lab and while it will be very inconvenient to lose the machines, I can still rebuild them.

Just in case, I did another quick test using HD Tune Pro:

SSD Drive Performance for the new Core i7 machine (Using HD Tune Pro)

SSD Drive Performance for the new Core i7 machine (Using HD Tune Pro)

… and the results are pretty much the same!

Happy with the disk performance, I transferred some of my machines from my Xeon server to this new machine, after converting them to thin (possibly subject of another post soon).  The set I’ve transferred initially consists of:

  • Windows 2008 R2 DC
  • Windows 2008 R2 machine with SQL 2008 R2, running vCenter 5.0, Update Manager, Composer
  • Two ESXi 5.0 servers, with a few nested virtual machines running
  • View Connection server
  • Windows 7 desktop

Bringing them up was a joy!  Having all this performance meant that machines came up lightening fast and became stable very quickly.  Generally, when machines are left running for several days, paging kicks in and they start to become sluggish.  There is nothing of the sort in this case: Running the machines for a couple of weeks continuously has shown no sluggishness and they are as responsive as they were on day 1.

As I mentioned in the last post, partly due to cable management and also due to absence of hard disks with spindles, the system runs very cool and I haven’t yet seen a need for extra cooling.  With all these machines running constantly for more than a couple of weeks, the processor runs between 22-24 degrees Centigrade and the machine remains between 32-34 degrees Centigrade.  For that reason, fans are running at very low-speed and therefore, the machine is virtually silent.

Verdict: Needless to say, I am pretty happy with the machine so far.  As you know, I went for cheap/unknown brand of RAM so I was a bit worried but it’s working absolutely fine so far so I’ll most probably go for another 32 GB.  I’ll probably also go for a couple of additional 512GB SSDs in the future and make a 1 TB RAID 5 array – although, I suspect that will take a bit longer.

My results have been pretty good and exactly what I was expecting.  I hope this series of posts help/encourage you to build a system with this or similar configuration too.  Please do feel free to post comments/questions if you have any queries.  I’ll be glad to help!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 22,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 5 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

In my last post, I discussed the things that are important to me when I am considering to build a new machine for my lab and my reasons for choosing certain options when building a new one.  I promised to report on what I bought and built after making the decisions above and how it went, so here it is!

Hardware:

Motherboard: Decision made in the last post was to go for a white box solution, rather than a branded one.  So, the question was: Which motherboard to go for?  As you know, there is no shortage of good motherboards with varying capabilities.  To me, supporting the latest type of processors and capacity for a large amount of memory was important.  So, I started looking at motherboards which supported “Sandy Bridge” line of processors and supported 64 GB of RAM.  There were a few available that met the criteria but I went for an Asus P9X79 PRO Motherboard.  There also is a “Deluxe” version of the motherboard available, which offers some extra connectivity and built-in WiFi but I didn’t need any of that.  Even though I am not using it initially, I quite like the SSD Caching feature and would like to keep it in my back pocket, in case my plans change for this machine.

Processor: I wanted to get the best price/performance ratio and yet didn’t want to go for something that will be outdated as soon as I buy it.  After comparing speed and the premium I would pay for it, I decided to go for an Intel Core i7 3820 Quad Core CPU.  Reasonably priced and suitable for my set up!

Memory: As mentioned before, I needed a motherboard with 64 GB of RAM.  This was to ensure that I am not restricted to a certain number of machines due to insufficient RAM capacity.  Initially, I am going to put 32 GB in and see how things work.  If required, I’ll put in the rest.  In my Xeon-based machine, quality of RAM mattered quite a bit but this time, I wanted quantity and not necessarily quality.  As long as it works and is reliable, I am happy.  For that reason, I took the cheaper option and didn’t go for the “branded” option.  I bought Komputerbay 32GB (4x 8GB) DDR3 PC3-12800 1600MHz DIMM with Blue Low Profile Heatspreaders.  They go nicely with the motherboard (in terms of colour as well :-)) and haven’t let me down yet.

CPU Cooler: I mentioned in my last post that I try to build my machines to be as quiet as possible.  To make this one quiet as well, I went for my tried and tested brand: Noctua.  Their coolers are big but very quiet and are perfect if you don’t want to go down the liquid cooling route.  This is what I bought: Noctua D14-2011 Dual Radiator PWM CPU Cooler.  Now if you’re going for this cooler, make sure it’s for your socket type as there are other versions of the same cooler.  Also, you would want to make sure that you’ll have enough clearance in your chassis and above the RAM slots after installation so that you don’t run into problems.  Once I was happy that everything will fit OK, I went for it.

Case: Initially, I was going to use the same case that I had for my retiring computer.  However, once I decided to go with the Noctua cooler, I had to go for a new one.  I started looking for something that can fit lots of fans (if required) and possibly a water cooling kit as well.  I was also thinking about proper built-in cable-management and a “tool less” chassis.  Lots of expansion capacity was also a consideration.  Bearing all this in mind, I chose Corsair Carbide Series 400R Mid-Tower Gaming Case.  It has all the features I was looking for (just look at the number of fans it can accommodate!) but also has USB 3.0 connectors on the front panel and built-in compatibility with SSD devices – something I was going to use right from the start.  It also has enough depth to easily accommodate the Noctua cooler and still have space to spare!

Power Supply: Fortunately, I was able to re-use the power supply from the old system.  I don’t have the link to it but it’s an Enermax 600W power supply.  I always buy power supplies of rating way over what I actually require.  That ensures stability even at high load and even if I add things to my machines later, the supply is able to cope easily.  One thing you don’t want in your system is a dodgy power supply!  Over-spec’d power supply also means I can re-use it years later, which I am doing in this case :-).  One issue that I do have: It does not have modular cables as such power supplies were rare in the days I bought this.  Generally, it’s not a problem but cable-management in my new system means routing them through holes in specific places, requiring longer cables.  Everything else was fine but the 12V DC connector falls a bit short if I route it properly.  For that reason, I’ve taken a short cut for now.  I plan to buy an extension soon.

Storage: As mentioned in my first post, my plan is to use an SSD with thin-provisioned VMs to have more IOPS available on the system.  The SSD I bought for this purpose is: 512GB Crucial m4 2.5-inch SATA 6Gb/s (SATA III).  Again reasonably priced but should also fit enough thin-provisioned VMs to fill up the RAM.  For VMs that may require a lot of disk space, I plan to run them on my other machine, which has a RAID 10 set.  Time (or maybe my next post :-)) will tell if this decision worked as well as I hope it will.

Graphics Card: Again don’t have a link for it as it’s also from my retiring system but this motherboard doesn’t have built-in video so you require a card for it.  In this case, it has to be a PCI Express card.  As we’re not really after graphics capability here, my old card will do nicely but if you are the gamer sort (or want to take advantage of better graphics support in VMware Workstation 9) then there is no reason why you can’t use a higher-end card.

Software:

OS: This one is easy.  With VMs, you want a stable OS and everything fully supported on the host environment.  A smaller footprint also helps.  For that reason, I’ve gone for Windows 7 and even though, I tested Windows 8 briefly as I had the chance, there is no chance I am going to run that on my new machine for now.  The bundled drivers don’t support Windows 8 as it’s too soon so I guess it was a given anyway.

Hypervisor: As mentioned in the last post, I chose VMware Workstation as the platform to run my VMs.  What I didn’t mention was that I am going for version 9.0 on the new machine.  It has native support for Windows 2012 and Hyper-V and I like simplicity. 🙂  I’ll keep version 8 on my other machine so that I have both versions running on different machines – in case, I run into version issues.

With all this hardware/software gathered, I went to my kitchen table, created a lot of space and put it all together.  There was nothing unusual about the install to write about, apart from the one issue where the 12V DC cable fell a bit short via cable-management.  After installation, the system looks like this:

Fully Built Lab Machine

Lab Machine After Installation

Due to chassis design, absence of bulky hard disks and cable-management, there is good airflow naturally and the system runs so cool that the BIOS started throwing up errors saying the fans are running too slowly!  Maybe I need to put some load on the system :-).  After that, Windows 7 was installed, updated and all drivers were installed from the support CD.  All devices were detected without issues so all drivers provided, work OK.  The system is now in my study, connected to my dual-headed KVM and working nicely.

That’s it for this post.  I do intend to have another post in the series, to report on how the system fared in comparison to the old system and if the choices made in building this system were valid or not.  This post took too long to get out, due to work commitments but I will try to get the next one out as soon as possible.

As always, please feel free to ask if there are any questions on this or post a comment to share your experiences.  It’s always good to know what other people are doing!

Update: Part III of the post is here: Building (or Upgrading) a Virtual Home Lab Machine – Part III

Categories

Latest Tweets

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

Follow Me on Twitter

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 190 other followers