VM Experimentation

I am the type of programmer/IT person who enjoys having all my experimentation of systems done inside a virtual machine. That way if I break something, I can easily role back the virtual machine or just delete it. As seen in my last post, I recently built a new NAS. The original plan was to turn my old server into a Proxmox or ESXi box, the downside to that plan I found out quickly; the old box used DDR2, and at this point to get DDR2 memory it is quite expensive. That, along with my worry of power usage on the old box, I decided to give another solution a try.

After researching around I found my local Fry’s Electronics had the Intel NUC in stock. This is a tiny tiny PC that can take up to 16GB of RAM, has an Intel Core i5, and only uses 17 Watts. The box also has Intel vPro; what is vPro you ask? vPro allows you to remotely manage the system, so I can remote into it without buying a fancy management card, I can also remote power the box on and off, or mount a virtual CD. not bad for a ~$300 box. The model I got, DC53427, is a last gen i5, so it was a little cheaper, at the cost of having only 1 USB 3.0 port. It came with a VESA mount, so the NUC could be attached to the back of a monitor, that was a nice feature. I got USB 3.0 enclosure for 2 older 500GB hard drives, and used those as my storage. I installed Proxmox  on the system since my work has been starting to use that software more and more, and this was a chance for me to learn it.

A quick note about Proxmox to those who have not used it, I had come from a VMWare background so my work was my first experience with Proxmox. It is a free system, the company offers paid subscriptions for patches and such, without that the web page bothers you one time when you login, and you just dismiss the message. The software is a wrapper around KVM and some other Linux virtualization technologies. It can handle Windows and Linux systems without a problem. The interface is completely web based, with a Java virtual console; if you don’t update to the latest patches the java console can break with Java 7 Update 51. The software works well enough. There are still some areas that is needs improvements; in VMWare if you want to make a separate virtual network you can use their interface, on Proxmox that’s when you go to the Linux console and start creating virtual bridges. But once I got everything working, it seemed to work well. I don’t know how long I will keep it without trying another system, but for now it is nice. Since the system relies on KVM, it can do feautres like Dynamic memory allocation, if a VM is only using 1 GB of ram but is allocated 6, it will only take 1GB at that time. Also KVM can do deduplication of memory, so if two VMs are running the same OS, it only stores those files in memory once, freeing up more memory space.

I ran into one problem during install of Proxmox, the NUC is so fast, that it would start to boot before the USB 3.0 hard drives had been mounted. After searching around everywhere I found a fix on http://forum.proxmox.com/threads/12922-Proxmox-Install-on-USB-Device; adding a delay in the GRUB boot loader allows enough time for the system to mount the LVM disks correctly and then start. At first I just went to the Grub boot menu, hit “e” then added “rootdelay=10”, to the “linux /vmlinuz-2.6.32-17-pve root=/dev/mapper/pve-root ro rootdelay=10 quiet” line. After the system loaded I went into /Boot and added the same entry to the real Grub menu. Now I had a Intel NUC with 1TB of storage and 16GB of RAM. I could have used the NAS with iSCSI, but that was a lot of config I didn’t want to do; along with, I was setting up some Databases on the system and didn’t want the overhead of using the NASs RAIDZ2 at this time.

I have been using it for a few weeks, and its a nice little box. It never makes a audible level of noise (although it does sit next to its louder brother the NAS). Down the road if I want more power I can always get another NUC and put Proxmox into a clustered mode. These boxes keep going down in price and up in power, so this can grow with my needs.

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