Wednesday, July 8, 2009

My Virtual Lab Gear (Developer)

As developer/architect if not already you would eventually want a place where you want to be able to load up all the necessary Microsoft stack of servers and applications and tinker with it. If you look the laptops that we all consultants carry around, they do not have all the horse power to run bunch of servers and all the versatility you would need. (Although the new Dell lap tops seems to show off support for more RAM like 16GB and more Processing power, but you will end up paying dearly). Then I started looking at the Server hardware.

Before we delve in to more server story, lets look at what is that we want in the lab system?

  • First of all I guessing you are thinking virtualization. Lets look at our options:
    • Although I liked the VMware ESX its lot more expensive (~$5K+ that is way to much money for me to shell out from my personal pocket).
    • So I choose the new Microsoft Hyper-V. That means you will be installing the Windows Server 2008. Then I chose the standard install and not the new CORE (With CORE, you will need to remotely manage your server and I don’t have an alternative Windows 2008 or Vista, at the movement there was no support for remote managing Windows Server 2008 CORE from Windows XP ) More on this later…
    • If you are a VMWare Workstation fan and have a license (VMware Workstation is not that expensive, I got it at discount price for ~$120+) you can install the Workstation software on your server hard ware alternatively.functionalities.
    • The why not MS VPC? Well there is no SNAP Shot option among other missing features.
  • You want to be able to have full fledged domain with DC, Exchange server, SQL Server, your specific technology services, a development box etc.
  • Then you want to be able to generate lot of snap shot, so you would need ton of cheaper hard disk space to keep the snapshots away.
  • You want more processers or core and more RAM to be able to host more machine instances.
  • Ok these are some very high level needs

Let look at my research details (Took about 6 months to finally order my hardware stuff).

I looked up many server/PC hardware and finally realized, either you end buying the server based hardware, bare bones or all custom. It all depends on how much you are willing to spend. Well I had cap from our finance controller (Yep my wife).

  • Server Hardware:
    • You can look up many pre build rack type servers, both from sources like Anadtech, NewEgg, Cnet etc.
    • At the time I was researching the cost was around $2500+ for the base models.
    • Then I started looking at barebones machine. Most of these lacked what I was looking for. (More RAM like in the range of 8-16GB and type of RAM supported, More CPU Core/Processors support, better FSB, support for port types.
    • Bottom line, the pre build server hardware were expensive.
    • I don’t want to spend ton of money on just the server hardware with base CPU and RAM.
    • You will need to spend a ton for RAM and other stuff (We will cover that below)
    • I don’t have to build a Class A server.
  • Mother board.
    • Then I started researching the motherboard market.
    • Lot of the motherboards are developed for the more PC enthusiastic oriented, specifically for gamers.
    • So you will see the South bridge and north bridge with type of Chip set supported and there capabilities etc.
    • This was all irreverent for what I wanted to get out of.
    • But these PC based motherboards are lot cheaper, like under $100!
    • So I dwelled more in to going with PC based mother board and building it up.
    • First choose which CPU you want to the mother board to support for. I choose AMD, they are lot cheaper than Intel.
    • Then the size matters. there are ATX and micro ATX (smaller). Refer to below The box for more details.
    • I researched the mother board that is more stable, (read the reviews) and is been in the market for while.
    • Some of these had in build RAID support with SATA ports. Be aware that some of these SATA ports are RAID only supported, you cannot simply have them connect to your external ESATA port and try to hook up an ESATA external hard drive. I ended up buying additional ESATA card and source it out to hook up my external ESATA hard disk.
    • Looked up other below relating factors.
  • RAM
    • For the mother board I looked I also looked at the maximum RAM supported
    • For the RAM I looked at type of possible speeds.
    • At the same time researched on the available RAM module denominations.
    • At the time I saw PC motherboards with maximum 16GB support but with the slots available and the compatible RAM modules available there was no way to get 16GBs loaded. So I concluded that I have to stick with the 8GB Max for which I saw many options.
    • So I ended up choose a mother board and the RAM that matched with the highest speed and maximum and still fit my budget.
  • Hard Drive
    • Now a days hard drives are very cheep.
    • So I chose a 10,000 RPM hard drive (these are usually smaller to just support the base OS boot) and it was about 120GB
    • The choose additional 7200RPM SATA drive with 1TB, to store all my VM stuff.
  • Graphics CARD:
    • Although not very relevant, I choose the basic with at least 512MBr on board RAM, and look out for the resolutions you are expecting. Weather you want to use multiple LCDs. I am sticking with just the host LCD for now.
    • Although my mother board supported dual graphics card, its not needed for what we are trying to do.
  • Network Card:
    • You could buy an additional network card to support for your virtual network alone. Look for Gigabit.
  • Power Supply:
    • For all the pieces you are buying, calculate power (the wattage).
    • I think for the most part around 500-800Watts is just sufficient for what we are doing.
    • Look for connector types you would need for all the peripherals you are buying and need power.
  • Other peripherals
    • You can choose any type of DVD drive, read write with light scribe as well. I think the market is just beginning with this technology, I am still sticking with my external hard drive with ISO images that I can directly mount. So its really your choice and they are cheaper.
    • Floppy drive is not necessary unless you want to create a Windows Recovery Disk.
  • The box:
    • I choose the Tower style. This would take less space on the ground to keep. Also these are lot less noisy that the rack style and I don’t have a rack to place it in.
    • With tower there are ATX and micro ATX sizes.
    • I choose ATX as I could place any mother boards and gives me more room inside to attach various components you would need to buy and more room to ventilate.
    • Look for all the front and back fan options, ability to open and close the box, be prepared to be able to open and close as you would need to until you get everything settled which will be for long time.
    • And again read the reviews.
  • Keyboard, monitor, mouse.
    • You can choose what ever you like and is not relevant in this discussion.

Here is what I bought for my year old server from

Product DescriptionPrice
COOLER MASTER Centurion 5 CAC-T05-UW Black Aluminum Bezel , SECC Chassis ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - Retail53.99
Item #: N82E16811119068
Seagate Barracuda ES.2 ST31000340NS 1TB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive - OEM289.99
Item #: N82E16822148278
Western Digital Raptor WD1500ADFD 150GB 10000 RPM SATA 1.5Gb/s 3.5" Hard Drive - OEM169.99
Item #: N82E16822136012
Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Compound - OEM5.99
Item #: N82E16835100007
Sony Optiarc Black IDE DVD-ROM Drive Model DDU1615/B2s - OEM17.99
Item #: N82E16827101131
ABS Tagan BZ Series BZ700 700W ATX12V / EPS12V SLI Ready CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified Modular Active PFC Patent Piperock ... - Retail179.99
Item #: N82E16817814015
MSI K9A2 Platinum AM2+/AM2 AMD 790FX ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail154.99
Item #: N82E16813130136
Patriot Viper 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model PVS24G8500ELK - Retail ( Two Quantity)229.98
Item #: N82E16820220299($114.99 ea)
AMD Phenom 9850 BLACK EDITION 2.5GHz Socket AM2+ 125W Quad-Core Processor Model HD985ZXAGHBOX - Retail235
Item #: N82E16819103249









If you research now, you may end up with entirely new set of products as market changes every day and there are new and better choices available. Hope this helps get your that dream project started…

I will cover in the next post how I build up the server …(rather building it still)

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