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We planned to move our physical servers over to virtual VMware machines for quite some time now and finally purchased and set up our new system at the end of last year. As our experience might be useful for some people who plan the same, I decided to describe our solution and comment on the actual performance.

Our new physical server contains a Core 2 Duo E6600, 4GB RAM and 4 x 320 GB disks set up as RAID 5 with a spare disk. It’s very important to have lots of RAM for VMware, as each individual virtual server needs as much RAM as a normal physical box, so the more RAM the better. We decided to go with 4GB as it’s currently the most economical choice and should be enough for our needs.

On the physical box we just installed Windows Server 2003, Active Directory including DNS/DHCP and VMware Server. We decided to install Active Directory directly on the physical machine instead of a virtual one because the server is also acting as our file server. And because virtual machines don’t provide the same good IO performance as physical machines, we wanted to have the file server directly on the server.

VMware Server in action

We then set up the different virtual servers and moved all services and data files like our Subversion repository, emails and so on to the new servers. We also moved our virtual build machine to our new server. The build machine contains many IDEs and is responsible for compiling new versions of SmartInspect and building the help and setup files. When it’s building a new version, it consumes a lot of CPU and IO performance and we were curious how it would perform on our new system.

After using our new server(s) for some time now, I can say that the performance is much better than we actually hoped for. We can start a build on our virtual build machine and everything else like our email and Subversion servers are as fast as normal. And the 4GB RAM gives us enough capacity for more servers and development/tests machines in the future. The actual performance and required hardware obviously depends on the actual number of users you have and our two users are probably not very representative.

But based on my observations and tests, I suspect that such a server should easily handle all the common services like Subversion, E-Mail, File Server, Active Directory and web based applications for up to 10 users or more and therefore makes it a very economical solution for small ISVs. And besides the space and cost savings such virtual servers provide, it becomes ridiculous easy to backup entire servers just by copying or burning the virtual machine files.

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