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Re: [Xen-users] Recommendations for Virtulization Hardware

  • To: xen-users@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • From: ShadesOfGrey <shades_of_grey@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 23 Sep 2012 23:45:41 -0400
  • Delivery-date: Mon, 24 Sep 2012 03:46:26 +0000
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Sorry for the late response, I've had a lot to digest.

On 09/21/2012 12:30 PM, Andrew Bobulsky wrote:
(CC'ing Casey on this, as I recommend his setup for an Intel-based solution)

Hello ShadesOfGrey,

Hehehe, talk about timing ;)

As one of the folks on the list who has done this---probably to the
most extreme degree---I can tell you it's good stuff.  It brings the
joys of datacenter consolidation to your gaming desktop, and also to
your wallet ;)

While my setup is now slightly dated, the 990FX chipset is still at
the top of the AMD offering, so you can shop around on CPUs, and buy a
cheaper "secondary" USB controller if you're not looking to cram in a
4-to-1 ratio.  I've never had much success passing through the onboard
USB from an AMD system, so I highly recommend picking up a little PCIe
x1 controller at the least.  That said, I'm convinced that highpoint
has one of the coincidentally-best products on the market for people
looking to do this, but I digress!

Take a look at, specifically, this post I made to the list some months
back, and I'll follow with some errata:
I'd like to support AMD... I really would!... if for no other reason than I'd hate to see what would happen if Intel were the only choice for x86 CPUs.  But I just can't see myself justifying an AMD build.  IIRC, the AMD FX-8150 was roughly on par with an Intel Core i5 2600.  I don't think I'll be able to get the level of performance or longevity (five to ten years) I want from an AMD processor.

From what Casey DeLorme said in his response, I don't think I'll have a problem with USB if I follow his advice on motherboards.  But I'll certainly keep in mind that I may need to pick up additional hardware like an USB HBA.  But I'm more concerned about audio.  You said you used a "Generic Piece of Crap" USB adapter and advised getting several in case of failure.  I'd prefer to get something, shall we say, "more reliable." ;-) To that end, I was thinking of picking up a PCIe or PCI sound card from the Xonar series.  But there's a potential problem when passing the PCIe versions through:  From what I understand, the PCIe Xonar cards use a PCI to PCIe bridge, which is not uncommon for a lot of hardware.  The problem arises in the way in which ASUS implemented this bridge.  IIRC, the sound device doesn't appear to be recognized by Xen (or the VM, I forget which), even though it is present.  Unfortunately, I can't find the exact reference now.  But this posting on the Xen Development list sounds like it resembles the issue I read about.  Assuming that's the issue, has Xen been patched to deal with this?  If not, could someone recommend  a decent PCIe sound card that either doesn't rely on a PCI bridge  or presently works with Xen (if not KVM, too)?  Of course, this would be moot if I go with a motherboard that has legacy PCI slots.  But one of the candidates I was considering is PCIe only.
First, I've tested all of the hardware in the build that I
recommended, and indeed ended up building a four-headed unit. It works
like magic. Came in handy a few weeks ago when several of my friends
and I piled into a couple cars for a vacation where we wanted to play
games (yup, we're total nerds), but we couldn't fit four desktop cases
in addition to our stuff in the cars. :)
That sounds sweet.  I might ask later how exactly you multiplexed things so you could get four users playing games, at the same time. Because, I have two cases where my original plan may not work as expected.  First case, I was going to use Synergy to handle sharing the keyboard and mouse.  But that may not work for all potential VMs, as Synergy may not be available to the given OS of a specific VM.  Secondly, I have an adolescent nephew who is always disappointed when he visits.  The reason being that the only system I have ATM that has the hardware for gaming is a Linux box.  Unfortunately for me, he doesn't like any of the Linux games I can acquire (and that my sister would let him play anyway), save one.

Second, by the time I got around to building it, the Antec One Hundred
wasn't available. Finding a case that supports 8 expansion slots is a
tough thing, but I found another similarly priced one, and it was a
dream to build.  I recommend it highly if you think you may want to
max out your slots and/or go deeper down the rabbit hole with
consolidated desktops:

Aside from being a very solid case for the price point (good features
for screwless installation as well), to give you an idea of the size,
it is laid out in such a way that I could fit dual-GPU cards in it
(Radeon 5970s).  I ultimately had to remove the HDD mounts to pull it
off, but you shouldn't have that problem... Mostly because AMDs dual
GPU cards won't work for this, so don't buy one for this build.  It's
a problem with the PCIe switching hardware (well, the firmware
thereof, probably) that they use.  I'll save you the rambling, but
let's just say that it should work, but doesn't :(

Also, the case does look good! ;)
Personally, I've gravitated toward the Xigmatek Elysium.  Yeah, it's quite a bit more expensive than either the Antec or Lian Li you recommended.  But, then again, it is a monster of a case.  My only regret is that I couldn't find the CCC-HSA0DS-U04 model anywhere (well, within the states anyway).  Now it appears my second choice, the CCC-HSA0DS-U03 version has been discontinued (per Newegg) and is considerably more expensive than other the models among the retailers I found that carry it...

Sorry for the mini-rant.  I just never could comprehend the windowed side panel fad.  And the two remaining available SKUs (U01 & U02) for the Elysium case have side panel windows.

Finally, and this is unfortunate, for the AMD build, *I* recommend you
use ESXi. While Xen _does_ work with the hardware that I've listed,
I've never been able to get the VMs to work properly with the GPLPV
drivers, and these are crucial to performance.  I really, really want
to bring this project back up on Xen though, and will try again now
that 4.2 has gone RTM.  If you aren't buying anytime soon and would
like to hit me up in a few weeks, by all means drop me a line, and
I'll let you know if I've gotten around to it.

Would you happen to know if the "free" version of VMware's vSphere Hypervisor is a capable 'alternative' to KVM or Xen for what I'm looking to do?  VMWare's FAQ concerning vSphere states that it "was formerly known as VMware ESXi Single Server or free ESXi (often abbreviated to simply “VMware ESXi”)."  But the VMWare Compatibility Guide, doesn't have an entry for vSphere and the the FAQ doesn't specify which version of ESXi vSphere it is based on.

I'd like to at least test as many 'free' solutions as possible.  As long as they have the potential to meet my stated requirements, anyway.


So, for the Intel route!

Casey DeLorme has, just this week, posted a fantastic set of detailed
videos and documentation on his setup, where he basically does exactly
what you're trying to accomplish.  You can find links to all of the
documentation, which I'm pretty sure covers his exact hardware, along
with videos of the installation process he used and a detailed,
written guide. Fine work if you ask me ;)


As far as his hardware goes, I'm not sure if it's the latest Intel
chips or not.  I've been eyeballing the i7-3770 myself (NOT the 3770K,
that one will not work, as [in my opinion] Intel has a pension for
artificially crippling their products for profit).  Haven't found a
board yet, but then again I started eyeballing hardware a day or two

It. Is. An. AWESOME. Thing.

If Casey hadn't written such a guide, that's what I had intended to do myself.  I may yet do so if I use different hardware and/or software...  Or perhaps he'd be so kind enough to allow me to piggyback off of his wiki entry if I (as I suspect) settle on Xen?  Anyway, as he said in his response, he has upgraded his hardware since writing the guide.  And the motherboard he is currently using was one I originally selected as a candidate for my build.  Though, I'm now considering other motherboards.  I've already exceeded the upper limits of my budget and I have yet to factor in the cost of a discrete GPU.  I was looking for more information on how well any given GPU would behave under virtualization and meet certain use-case scenarios,  Robin Axelsson really helped there.

So, finding way to cut costs here and there, without sacrificing core functionality, really wouldn't hurt. ;-)

I do have to agree with you about Intel and their artificial profit centers.  I was surprised they bothered with VT-d support in anything other than the Xeon line after all I had learned.  Besides the inconsistent support for VT-d among K series Sandy Bridge Core i processors, there's the issue of chipset support.  The Zxx desktop chipset is intended for enthusiasts, yet VT-d support is not 'officially sanctioned' by Intel on that chipset.  Some nonsense about it not meeting their internal testing standards.  No, instead you either use the Qxx or B75 desktop chipsets, switch to server chipsets (and the various tradeoffs that come with them), or hope  that your chosen motherboard manufacturer 'unofficially' officially support VT-d on motherboards with other chipsets.  As ASRock does and Gigabyte may unofficially support through 'beta' firmware versions (I still haven't nailed down whether the G1.Sniper 3 has really and truly has VT-d support).  MSI might, but so far their motherbaord offerings haven't appealed to me in a more general sense.  Anyway, the confusing nomenclature and vague technical specifications from Intel all remind me of the 386/486, SX/DX days.  And this is why I really hope AMD can get their act together.  Without competition, Intel will go back to really gouging its users!

Andrew Bobulsky

Thanks a heap, Andrew.

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