Ramblings From The Litter Tray of Life

Posts Tagged ‘VMWare’

HP Proliant MicroServer

Posted by graycat on 20 June 2011

HP have not long ago released a new tiny Proliant server named the HP Proliant MicroServer. This machine is about the same size as a basketball and has a dual core processor wit up to 8Gb of RAM. It also has a hdd bay for up to 4 disks and provides RAID 0 or 1 natively however you can add a controller card to get full RAID5 etc if required. Other than the size one of the most astonishing things about this machine is the price – base unit (1Gb RAM + 1 x 250Gb HDD) is less than £200 …….. And there’s a £100 cash back offer going on at the moment!

I originally got one of these in to see if it would be able to work as a test server for either myself of one of my team. Short answer – yes, kinda.

The box itself is really easy to work on and I maxed out the RAM and HDDs pretty easily though I did have to install a CD drive as it doesn’t come with one as standard. the hardware is really easy to work on as you would expect with a HP Proliant server. As I intended to use this to test virtual machines, I installed a 4Gb USB stick I had spare directly onto the motherboard (very neat BTW) and had a 10k RPM hdd installed in slot #1 to host the vmdk files.

Installing VMware ESXi 4.1 was easy as pie – download and burn to CD, boot from CD and select where you wish to install the program (ie: the USB stick) …. then just leave it to get on with it. it really is as simple as that.

With ESXi installed, the 10k drive in slot 1 I added two 250Gb HDDs into two free slots and added them into ESXi. This was as simple as ever as you would expect from VMware as it is the same base product I’m using in our clusters.

Creating a few test machines and generally building networks was simple and snappy but towards the top end the server did start to struggle. The bottleneck is definitely the small CPU bout unless you’re planning to run 6+ virtual guests then you should be ok. Probably even more if you’re careful with hardware subscription.

If you’re looking for a cheap but solid rig to test a few different virtual guests then this will definitely suffice. You can even keep the costs down by buying non-HP parts (RAM, HDDs etc) if you’re not worried about hardware support.

I would even rate this server so far as to say that if you need a small server for a tiny office of only a few people then this would definitely suffice. Windows Server 2008 would definitely run well with the 8Gb or RAM and with four drive bays you can get a very useful amount of space. I would be tempted to go further and install ESXi on the hardware and then add a few separate Windows Server installs to separate out the roles however i’m still working on the details of this plan.

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New Test Lab

Posted by graycat on 20 June 2011

The time has come for me to upgrade my previous testing kit and create a dedicate area diverse of the production network. Presently I’m using virtual machines on one of our VMware clusters are the sites to test WinXP, Win7 and various software packages or settings on Server 03/08. Whilst this is great for that it is part of the production network and in some cases the domain too which is starting to make me uncomfortable so time for a new setup.

I want to test slightly more than the existing Windows kit going forward and need to get involved with VMware clusters including HA, DRS, DPM and their underlying configuration.

Traditionally you would have to have a lot of expensive physical kit to create this and whilst I’m not destitute that would be outside if my budget. That was until I ran across a VMWorld Best in Show winner – the vTARDIS. [link: vinf.net]

Basically the vTARDIS is a HP ML110 (I think!) running ESXi which then has many further virtualised ESXi hosts clustered on it with even further virtual guests running off of those! Now he’s not quite avoiding the laws of physics by running this all on a low powered HP server as you’ll see from his website however he is using some very intelligent over subscription of resources along with a few more tricks. I’m not going to go into them here as it’s his baby, not mine.

After seeing this and a few other articles on virtualising ESXi I’ve decided that that’s the route for me. Along the way I’ve also evaluated another bit of kit for one of my other admins who’s requirements aren’t as high as mine. All of which will be posting about as I progress.

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VMware ESX 3.5 and 64 bit OSs

Posted by graycat on 25 June 2010

Quite a few people out there make use of the excellent server virtualisation software produced by VMware so I thought I’d lay this tip out there for 64bit OSs.

It seems that VMware ESX 3.5 will not recognise your host server as being 64 bit compliant until you enable the right flags within the CPUs. In my case where I’m using a HP DL380 G5 which is 64 bit compliant then you have to enable Intel’s Virtual Threading (VT for short).

To do this, shutdown all of the hosted VMs and place the host into maintenance mode before shutting it down fully. Then boot back into the host BIOS (hit F9 after the HP splash screen). Once in the BIOS settings go down to “Advanced Options” and select Intel’s Virtual Technology / Threading. Exit out and here is the key point – you must full shut the server down.

This means all power cables out and left for a good 60 seconds at least! Miss this step out and you won’t get anywhere fast.

Once VT has been enabled spool the VM back up and create 64 bit virtual machines to your hearts content.

Extra tips:

  • I’ve heard that any VM created prior to this change will not register the change in CPU so will have to be created again.
  • Paravirtualisation should also be turned off. Whilst this should only affect the *nix kernels there have been reports of it messing with Windows OSs if set prior to initial build.
  • Anything prior to a G5 will most likely not be x64 compatible so no dice.

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Expanding a VMWare Array on HP kit

Posted by graycat on 2 May 2009

Greetings on this wonderfully sunny Saturday! Yes, it’s Saturday and Captain Graycat is being rushed into service once more!

[cue cut away to a battlefield somewhere on an unknown planet]

“Captain!” screams Major VMware with increasing urgency as he ducks incoming laser and projectile fire

“WHAT?” replies our intrepid hero, sparing only the most minute of attention away from his continued effort to track down that darn laser bunker. “Well, tracers work both ways, old boy” he mumbles as he drills a reply volley into the nest with alarming accuracy.

“Captain! We need an array expanding and you’re the only one for the job!” cries the Major in mild dispair as he throws himself down next to Capt. Graycat

“You need a what doing to who?” replies our slightly distracted hero.

“An array expanding! We’ve already sent in Lieutenant Ears but he just panicked and is now a gibbering mess.”

“Oh dear lord, not again.” mutters Graycat ducking into cover to discuss with the Major “Ok, what’s so difficult about this one that needs me?”

“It’s an impossible missing, sir! It just can’t be done on an HP system like that but we must have it or the battle is lost!”

“There isn’t a system built that I can’t give a good kicking to, son. Watch and learn!” cries our hero as he shoulders his firearm of knowledge and leaps over the cover to charge into his latest mission

“Wow, that’s some kinda guy” mutters Major VMware as he watches the legend that is Capt Graycat disappear into the fog of war and tries not to think about his slightly soiled underwear that requires changing very soon.

[cue cool opening credits to The Adventures of Captain Graycat]

Ok, so it’s not really all that glamorous but it does need doing every now and then. Expand an array as well as changing your underwear!

It’s a bit of a good news / bad news situation for us really. Good news – you can run ESX server on HP kit. Bad news – there are no plugins for HP kit so you can’t control it via the GUI.

According to HP support the only way you can do this is using their SmartStart CD so I’ll go through that method first.

  1. Download the latest CD from here (Link)
  2. Extract iso and then burn boot disc
  3. Shutdown all your VMWare machines, kick the ESX server into “maintenance” mode, slap the boot CD in and reboot
  4. When the HP SmartStart menus come up wander through to the Maintenance section and then Array Configuration Utility
  5. Have it scan for the controllers and pick the one you want (mine has an onboard P400 for the internal drives and a P800 for the MSA70 external array)
  6. You should now see some extra drives not included in your RAID array or logical disc. Select Extend on the right hand window and select the extra drives to add to the array
  7. Select Extend and enter the final RAID / logical partition size you want. There will be a maximum available size listed so I just plumped for that. (See later for array / logical drive sizes info).
  8. L0cate the save button, hit it and watch all the pretty lights flash as the array extends and expands to cover the new drives.

HP sugest that it’ll take 15 minutes per Gb so if like me, you’re got a 1Tb+ logical drive now well you’re going to be in for a bit of a wait whilst it sorts itself out.

You can check on the progress by selecting the logical drive and hitting “More Information” in the righthand window. It’ll then show you rhe progress at the bottom of that page.

Just one word of warning though – VMWare can not deal with logical drives larger than 2Tb, I’m told. So stay lower than this for the moment. I think it’ll be resolved for later versions though which’ll be great!

Another method I’ve heard of but don’t have the balls / skills to try is do ssh onto the ESX server itself, download the command line version of the Array Configuration Utility for Redhat linux and then use that to do the expansion. It looks viable but as ESX is not a “proper” linux installation (eg: wget is missing completely) and this is a production machine for me …. I’m going to leave that one to braver people than I!

Well, I’m off to check on my server and see how the expansion is going. Toodle pip!

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Installing my first VMWare Server (Part 1)

Posted by graycat on 19 July 2008

Well the day is now upon us when it is time to install my first VMWare server. So here’s an account as I go through the process. I’ll update it as I go along and try to keep the swearing to a minimum.

[wavy flashback fade out]

It’s a hell of a week. My last day off seems so long ago. Probably because it is and I’ve worked through my last weekend or two … or is it more? Can’t remember.

As I said, this would be a really bad time to give up smoking if I smoked. The week started ok on Monday and then dived like a concrete glider on Tuesday. Things got so bad we were about 30 mins away from calling in Microsoft but managed to work it out in the end (more on this in another post or two). The up shot is I’ve got to build our new VMWare host and rapidly! No prep time and having to chase for the software licences, just bite the bullet, grab the bull by the horns and go for it!

Friday afternoon was spent unpacking our shiney new HP ML380 server and accompanying MSA70 external drive array. Unpacking it was no problem, getting it into the rack was more interesting.

Yes, we’ve got 4U free.

No, they’re not together. Great.

I’ve always wanted to move some kit in that rack anyway so might as well do it now!

The installation of the hardware went fine with it all fitting into place nicely. The only issue was the KVM wasn’t showing the new server but as it was gone 6pm already on Friday in a week I’m already pushing 70hrs+, I think I’ll leave it for the morning.

[relocated to that evening and the Graycat Mansion]

Curled up on the black leather sofa, drinking a glass of wine and browsing online install guides on my black MacBook I’m nothing if not colour coordinated and the epitome of casual suave-iness (new word by the way).

After a relaxing evening of reading and socialising with the housemates who turn out haven’t been abducted by aliens and are infact alive and well, it’s time for a serious cat nap ready for the morning’s fun and games.

[Wavy flashback fade out as sleep takes hold]

To be continued ……

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Going Virtual!

Posted by graycat on 16 June 2008

Well it seems like it’s the hot topic at the moment in the server arena and I can finally say that we are dipping our toes into the virtual server paddling pool and I’ve brought my costume too!

My reasoning for a long time is that we are very very server heavy to the tune of one server for every 3-5 people. Now that is heavy even if he is my brother. This is partly due to the geographical spread of our sites with each site requiring certain local resources and offsite DR capabilities. However, I think the real reason we’ve grown to so many servers is the fear of putting eggs into a single basket – no matter how nicely it’s weaved, something is going to get broken eventually. Over time this has meant that we’ve got servers that just do this one job, or this few jobs or this and this but nothing else mainly for the fact that the servers were unstable and when, not if, they went down then you lost all the rolls at once. Not good, as they say. This sad state of affairs was, in my opinion, exacerbated by buying “custom” or white box servers and not maintaining them sufficiently for them to function for a long and happy life. More often then not the failures would be hardware related so the theory went “it you can’t trust that bit of kit, best we get another one and put this role on it over there”.

Not a bad theory and it did work.

However we’re now in the situation where the sheer importance of the IT infrastructure has been acknowledge throughout the upper echelons of the company and we are allowed to implement “care and support” of the servers as it should be. Things that seem no brainers now like separate comms rooms from the general office space, run and standby cooling, actually cooling of any type was a major fight in some places not to mention redundancy in power and backups. Because of this shift in attitude it is now very rare that we have any hardware failures.
When this is combined with an agreed rolling replacement of servers and an eye to consolidating to fewer physical machines vitrualising servers becomes very attractive.

From a support point of view, I’ve found that the one thing that causes the most outages is the OS itself. The hardware is now very high quality and redundant within each server so if you do fail a drive, the server just keeps on rocking. However, if you kill the OS …. you’re basically buggered. On this basis alone, why buy over-spec’d servers that will at more be 20% used?

So after floating the idea a few times over the last few months (usually to be confronted with a big “Not going to happen. We need all these servers”) I’ve got approval to run a test case and consolidate three existing servers onto the one VMWare rig as a proof of concept. If all goes well, we’ll look to expand the rig with more RAM and hard drives and move more servers over as thing are needed.

Our initial build will be a HP ML380 with two Quad Core 3GHz CPU’s running 12Gb of RAM with ~1.5Tb of external storage on a SCSI array. This can easily be expanded up to over 20Gb of RAM and another 1.5Tb external array or even directly on to a SAN if required ….. but that’s a long way off yet.

The servers we’re looking to consolidate have a variety of roles but the main ones are an existing “IT” server, a print and application server and SharePoint test machine. All of which are well over 3 years and most likely beyond 5 years too if memory servers me correct. Our initial plan will be to do a “physical to virtual” cloning of these servers and see how things go. However, once the dust has settled I’m planning on separating the application server into separate virtual servers for each application.

Why? You might ask. Won’t that just make more servers for you? Well, yes and no. The issue we have is not so much the number of servers but the number of physical boxes that all need looking after. With making them virtual we will be able to separate out those tricky applications that even after almost a decade of working with them, I still consider them to be just so much black magic and voodoo. If we have a completely clean OS install with just the application on-top then it can be customised to suit and completely sandboxed from other interferences. Trust me – for some of these applications when even if you update it then remove the update as per the guidelines they still won’t work, this is a great bonus!

So it looks like I’m going to be getting a crash course on VMWare Enterprise in the very near future. Not that I’ve got nothing else to do (anyone need a job? Got a helper spot or two going!) but I’m actually really looking forward to this …. and it looks like I’ve been given it as my baby too so fingers crossed! I’ll write about anything interesting I come across. Probably.

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