Paul Young has an interesting description of his experiment running Windows Home Server in a virtual machine on a system that’s also serving as a full-time Media Center. It’s an experiment I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and seems like a logical idea to combine two functions onto one physical machine.
Paul’s biggest mistake, in my opinion, was starting with weak physical hardware. This is a three-year-old PC that wasn’t exactly a top gun when it was new, and it is clearly straining a bit to handle Media Center duties. Asking it to take over Home Server chores is a little much. It also sounds like he had some flaky hardware, which affected performance and reliability.
For what it’s worth, I’ve been running Windows Home Server in a Hyper-V virtual machine under Windows Server 2008 for the last six months or so. The hardware is a $500 Dell Inspiron 530 with a Q6600 quad-core CPU with hardware virtualization enabled, and WHS barely breaks a sweat running in the Hyper-V environment. Performance is very good, and I’ve configured the system to use a virtual disk that occupies 100% of the space on a physical disk. Works great. Here’s the CPU load on this physical machine as the virtual Home Server performs a backup of one of its client PCs:
Hardware virtualization and the quad-core CPU really make the virtual task easy, don’t they?
A few tips for anyone thinking of doing this:
- If you’re using x86, be conscious of memory limitations. I would install a full 4GB on that system, even though you only get to use 3.3GB of it. For this task, the extra 300MB is meaningful.
- Set aside 768MB of RAM on the virtual machine. That should be sufficient for all native Home Server tasks plus a couple of add-ins.
- There’s no need to configure separate virtual disks as Paul has done (and as I did originally); I recommend putting the OS and data on a single virtual hard disk (VHD) with no duplication. Just back up the VHD file along with the rest of the server and you’ll be protected from any damage to the VM and its data.
- If you do have multiple virtual disks, install Home Server on the largest one. That sounds counterintuitive, but it is in fact the way to get best performance. (The same advice is valid if you’re using physical disks, by the way.)
- You don’t need USB support on the virtualized Home Server. If you want to add a USB hard disk, add it to the physical machine, create a VHD on it, and add that virtual disk to your Home Server installation.
Unfortunately, Hyper-V doesn’t run on Windows Vista, so I can’t replicate this setup on a system that’s also handling Media Center duties. I suspect that on a similar system running Vista Ultimate, VMWare Workstation would run just as well. It’s on my “Science projects I’ll tackle someday” list, but isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. Not with Windows 7 Inside Out at the top of the stack.
Is anyone else out there thinking of doing this? The Media Center/WHS combox is certainly an unconventional configuration and fits the very definition of “edge case,” but I think in 3-5 years it could be a mainstream product.
(via Philip Churchill)