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Virtualisation: Virtualising MY SOHO Infrastructure

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I’m in the process of migrating my existing physical infrastructure into a virtual environment. There’s nothing like “eating your own dog food” (there’s got to be a better expression than that) for testing out your beliefs on how technology should be implemented, so it’s only fitting I virtualise the IT infrastructure I rely on.

In summary, I run a “production” Windows AD domain, Exchange, IIS and file services. This is a typical scenario for many small businesses, with perhaps a few variations thrown in for good measure, such as SharePoint. I’m moving to a virtual environment that is built on ESXi v4.0, a custom design Intel-based server with 2x Quad Core Intel 5420 processors and 16GB of memory. Local hard drives include 2x SAS 7.2K 500GB drives and 2x 73GB SAS 15K drives.

Storage Choices

The first question I posed for my infrastructure is to decide on a storage platform. As this is a SOHO type deployment, I don’t have the luxury of a fibre channel SAN environment. I expect that many SMBs will feel the same and not want to commit to fibre channel deployments when the alternative options out there are low cost and probably more suitable. Therefore here are my choices:

  • Internal drives. I have over a terabyte of internal storage but unfortunately its not RAID protected. The disks are deployed on SAS connectors on the motherboard rather than through a dedicated RAID card. Although I could change the configuration and include a card, there are a number of issues; (a) increased cost (b) downtime to replace failed drives (c) physical intervention and downtime on the server to replace drives. My goal is to deploy this infrastructure to run 24×7, so having to take the system down to replace a drive is not an option. I also think that internal drives wouldn’t give me the scalability I might need.
  • iSCSI. In this environment, iSCSI is a great solution; there are lots of SMB iSCSI solutions on the marketplace today, offering low cost storage with simple operations. iSCSI is definitely a possibility.
  • NAS. Using NAS (more specifically NFS) for storage on VMware provides lots of flexibility. The management of the filesystem itself moves to the NAS hardware and so any VMware host files appear as standard files on the NAS device. When people see this, they usually get the “light bulb moment” as they realise the possibilities this kind of deployment offers. Whole virtual machines can be cloned, backed up or even simply copied as files around the infrastructure. NAS offers easy access to log and configuration files too.

So, for me the choice is NAS. I have iSCSI deployed, but for my production environments, NAS will be used to store my VMware hosts. This is for a variety of reasons, however there’s one additional benefit I haven’t discussed and that’s portability. Placing my vmdk’s on NAS means I can move them around at will. I can replicate them, I can back them up and I can move them easily to another NAS device without using ESXi as the data mover.

Stay tuned for more discussions as I evolve my setup.

About Chris M Evans

Chris M Evans has worked in the technology industry since 1987, starting as a systems programmer on the IBM mainframe platform, while retaining an interest in storage. After working abroad, he co-founded an Internet-based music distribution company during the .com era, returning to consultancy in the new millennium. In 2009 Chris co-founded Langton Blue Ltd (www.langtonblue.com), a boutique consultancy firm focused on delivering business benefit through efficient technology deployments. Chris writes a popular blog at http://blog.architecting.it, attends many conferences and invitation-only events and can be found providing regular industry contributions through Twitter (@chrismevans) and other social media outlets.
  • Bill Ruehl

    I chose a QNAP TS409 Turbo NAS for my home environment. I’ve currently got 4 1.5TB drives on it. It works well for CIFS shares and the pro model will do NFS as well as CIFS, along with a myriad of other serving tasks. I guess the model you’d want to look at is the TS-439 pro.

  • Chris Evans

    Bill, this looks an interesting device. When I can afford, to I might get one to evaluate! (unless of course QNAP want to provide a test box).


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