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I have a Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) HTPC. I've been considering getting Windows Home Server to complement the HTPC. While I'm still learning about the features/benefits of WHS, I'm curious to know if there are any caveats to running Windows Home Server within a virtualized environment.

My VM host (Citrix XenServer) has more than enough resources in terms of CPU/RAM/Disk, so is running WHS in a VM detrimental to what WHS is supposed to do? Does anyone else run WHS in a VM? Are there any WHS requirements that may cause problems for running it in a VM?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

Windows Home Server is designed to do a few things well:

  • Automated backup of connected computers
  • Centralized store of media to be shared among computers over the network
  • Remote access (via a web interface) to allow you to access shared folders and computers while not at home
  • Disk management (Storage pooling)

Part of backups is having a sense of redundancy, otherwise if one drive fails you could lose important data (within the home server). WHS handles this by making sure that folders/shares that you designate 'important' (aka Replicated) are automatically kept on two physically separate disks (if available). In a virtualized environment, WHS wouldn't be able to make sure that files were duplicated on separate physical disks (unless you set something up through your XenServer, which defeats the purpose of using WHS for disk management anyway).

If you're not going to use WHS for disk management, then you're primary uses for WHS are going to be remote access and centralized backup/storage. Remote access will work well whatever it's hosted on. Centralized backups will happen auto-magically whenever you specify. If you're not using WHS for remote access or centralized storage/backups, then it's a waste of money. You can put shares on any virtual machine and make it accessible to your network to complement your HTPC, you don't need a Windows Home Server for that.

If however, you're going to use centralized backups, then get it. WHS works effortlessly with backing up your Windows based machines and makes it easy to manage multiple machines for a home user.

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Thanks for your input. As far as disks go, I'm running everything on a RAID 1 mirror so that redundancy is taken care of. I would like WHS for backup purposes solely for my Windows clients. My Mac/Linux clients are taken care of via alternative means. I would like WHS to become a centralized video recorder or library for all recorded content so that my XBox media extenders could play content as well. Is that possible or is there another mechanism for that? – osij2is Feb 19 '10 at 21:25
It's designed to be a repository for Recorded TV. Actually recording content on the WHS itself is another matter entirely though. If you're interested in checking it out, I think DVBLink might be what you need: – Cory Plastek Feb 19 '10 at 21:49
Many thanks Cory for mentioning DVBLink! – osij2is Feb 20 '10 at 5:14
Actually, WHS can make sure it's on two separate disks in a VM, if your hypervisor supports pass-through devices. I don't know about Xen, but I do just this on VMWare Server using SCSI pass-through devices to allow my WHS VM to control 3 raw physical SATA drives (2 internal and 1 eSATA for backup). – Burly May 19 '10 at 1:03

You'll find that WHS will benefit greatly from at least 1gb of ram. Also, on an up-to-date WHS installation (all Power Packs installed) you really won't need the boot disk larger than the minimum 80gb MS requires. All of your data will be placed on the drives you specify as being an additional part of the storage group. As for running WHS in a VM, It would be no different (except for one caveat) than any other server version of Windows. The one caveat I will mention is the way a background task called "demigrator" runs. (I like to call it denigrator.) This task can bring a system to it's knees if there is a lot of storage (large number of files) in the storage pool. I have found from personal experience that using my drives outside of the storage pool and using normal windows shares speeds the system up immensely as demigrator no longer has anything to do. Good luck!

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+1: Thanks for the great response! I wasn't aware of 'demigrator' and the possible landmines ahead. Thanks for pointing it out! – osij2is Feb 19 '10 at 18:44

There is one reason that running WHS in a VM is a great idea: it allows you to make your WHS resilient to hardware failures. For example, how quickly will you recover from a PSU failure?

A significant problem is that if your VM host's OS drive fails, you can't restore a backup, because you can't run the VM. But you can avoid that problem, too:

The trick is to make each virtual WHS disk be a whole, physical, external disk. If your VM host ever fails, just disconnect the WHS disks and plug them in to any computer that has VM software installed. Even a basic laptop is powerful enough to get your WHS up and running right away.

(I wrote this up a couple years ago here, BTW:

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Very cool, Jay! Thanks for the link. – osij2is Mar 1 '10 at 16:46

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