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I find myself in this similar bind at least once a year. The bind whereby I'm either upgrading a motherboard, or an OS hard drive. It drives me crazy to have to reinstall Windows, Visual Studio, all my addins, reconfigure my settings etc... every single time. I have a layout and I like and I want to stick with it.

My question is...

Is there a Bare Metal Hypervisor on the market that will enable me to virtualize my consumer grade workstation? I really want to avoid Host/Client virtualization. Bare Metal is definitely a better way to go for my needs.

Is this a good approach, or am I going to suffer some other undesirable side effects by doing this?


Clarification

My machine has very limited purposes. My primary use is Visual Studio 2010 Professional where I develop ASP.NET MVC Web Applications. The second piece of software that I use (that's system intensive) is Photoshop CS3. Beyond that, my applications are limited to Outlook, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Chrome, LinqPad, and various other (small) apps.

Beyond this, I'm considering working on a node.js project and might run on the same hypervisor if possible.

System Specs:
Gigabyte Motherboard
Intel i7 920
12 GB Ram
basic 500GB 7200RPM HDD for OS
4 VelociRaptors in Raid 1/0 for build disk
Dual GTS250 (512MB) Graphics cards (non SLI) for quad monitors

On a side note

I also wouldn't be opposed to an alternative suggestion if the limitations are too great. I could install the ESXi (or Zen Server) on my box, and build a separate "thin client" to RDP into the virtual machine. It appears as though RDP supports dual monitors.


Edit (Dec 9, 2011)

It's been nearly a year since I first asked this question. Since then, there have been a lot of great strides in Hypervisor technology... AND MokaFive is now released for corporate use.

I'd love to dig into this question a little more and find out if there is a solid BareMetal Hypervisor for workstations running consumer grade components (IE: not Dell, HP, Lenovo, Etc).

share|improve this question
    
Why not Dell, HP or Lenovo? What's etc? –  trolle3000 Dec 15 '11 at 0:30
    
@trolle3000 xenClient runs on the Big Brands (Dell, HP, Lenovo) but not on computer shop hardware like Gigabyte, Asus, etc. I'm looking for a Type1 Hypervisor that will work across the board. –  Chase Florell Dec 15 '11 at 23:51
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etc = et cetera, a Latin expression meaning "and other things" or "and so on". Not a computer brand :) –  kobaltz Dec 15 '11 at 23:57
    
See my post about Proxmox. I have it installed on consumer grade desktops. Works perfect as long as you have Virtualization Hardware (Core i3, i5, i7, etc.) –  kobaltz Dec 15 '11 at 23:57
    
Honestly, I've played around with Proxmox on several hardware systems and haven't found one yet that had hardware compatibility issues. ESXi sucks for non-expensive-as-hell hardware. –  kobaltz Dec 16 '11 at 0:49

10 Answers 10

It's not a good idea to use a Type 1 hypervisor like VMware ESX/ESXi, Hyper-V, Xen, etc, for a desktop workstation. They are designed for server use, and you will not be able to use USB or Firewire ports or use hardware accelerated 3D graphics.

You would be better off using a hosted virtualisation program. I think VMware Workstation would be ideal for your use, until MokaFive becomes available.

EDIT: There is a trial of MokaFive available on the website.


New Information

You should have a look at Citrix XenClient, which is a component of the XenDesktop suite, but is also available standalone for free, for up to ten clients.

Unfortunately, it seems to be only compatible with certain OEM brands of laptops and workstations (where the hardware is known).

I've not got around to trying it out myself yet, but I plan to use it soon.


Best Option: Hyper-V (free)

I have only just now noticed that you are open to using a separate thin client and server setup. This will allow you to use a Type 1 hypervisor intended for servers, for workstation use through RDP. The VMware ESXi hardware compatibility list is quite restrictive, while Hyper-V can run on just about anything. Hyper-V also has a very big advantage for what you want to do - RemoteFX. This will allow you to use hardware accelerated 3D graphics cards on your Hyper-V host (your graphics cards are supported!) through RDP. I think this will work very well for you. You may want to investigate if a gigabit switch and dual-gigabit NIC teaming will give you even better performance with this setup with powerful graphics cards.


Latest Update

Windows 8 includes a bare metal hypervisor which it runs on top of - Client Hyper-V.

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks for the comment. The VMWare forum says that with the new release of VMWare vSphere, I can get USB Support. –  Chase Florell Jan 18 '11 at 19:17
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It's a Type 1 hypervisor for the desktop - the first of its kind. I've not tried it yet myself, but I have been hearing about it for months. –  paradroid Jan 18 '11 at 19:37
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That is correct. –  paradroid Jan 18 '11 at 19:39
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@ChaseFlorell: Oh, I only just noticed this old comment from you. So you already know about XenClient, and it looks like it is actually only intended for laptops. I'll leave it in my answer as it may be useful to others. Luckily for me, I am only planning to use it on ThinkPad laptops myself. –  paradroid Dec 15 '11 at 10:56
1  
Looks like you're right! RemoteFX should "just work" with modern consumer-class GPUs (assuming it has the required features)! Link 1 and Link 2. Link 1 has a demo with some screenshots. Link 2 has several blog posts with GPUs that the author claims to have tested to work with RemoteFX. –  afrazier Dec 16 '11 at 15:06

At least you can try. Create dual boot with some linux OS as a host and install your Windows as a guest with VirtualBox.

Linux will provide you better HDD performance due better disk caching.

If you like the setup, just keep backing up the virtual's machine image, you even can create 2 instances for Windows - one for work, one for experiments (not running simultaneously due licenses)

If you have big files - i.e. your multimedia files, you can keep them outside guest - using VirtualBox shared folders to keep VM images not too big

you also will love to browse i-net and check emails form outside Linux, use virtual desktops, use different Window managers (KDE, Gnome, LXDE, XFCE), run some servers (Apache, MySQL, SVN, Git, Wiki) also copy Windows image back and forth betweeen different PCs

Even you can move the entire HDD to another machine without issue.

If partitions in fstab are mounted by ID instead of device numbers, you can boot the disk from another machine with eSATA port without open the case with your entire environment

share|improve this answer
    
I agree @jet - If a Hypervisor is not the answer due to monitor limitations or other limitations, I think a light linux OS (bare bones) might have to be the answer. –  Chase Florell Jan 18 '11 at 19:32
    
@rockinthesixstring: ESXi is based on Red Hat Linux, although highly modified. –  paradroid Jan 18 '11 at 19:36
    
I've made one more "side note" edit to my question. –  Chase Florell Jan 18 '11 at 19:37

I am not aware of VMWare ESXi, so I am not sure if this question of mine is in context here, but it explains my experience trying to use a virtualised OS : How does it hurt to use Linux (Ubuntu) as a guest OS for all my tasks?. Later I added a 'Note' to my post, explaining how I hit a wall eventually. Now I dual-boot.

(Maybe I will have a something to learn from this thread.)

share|improve this answer

ESXi would work and make your regular hardware rebuilds much easier.

However, you asked what undesirable effects there could be. My question to you is what do you use your Windows system for? Unless something has changed, VMs are not known for blazing video performance. If you like to play high-end games you'll have to scale the graphics way down, if they run at all.

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You need to be aware of the limitations of using a virtual machine such as the rubbishy graphics card but if you are happy with these limitations then you may as well try it.

If you get the right version of the hypervisor it won't cost you any money.

I'd definitely use a hypervisor rather than a full blown operating system with VMWare Player or similar if I wanted to have everything in the virtual machine. VMWare Player (or Virtualbox or... ) is good where you are not spending a lot of time in the virtual machine and is rather wasteful because you have two full operating systems running.

You can get the free verson from here; hit the main link in the body for 64 bit hardware, the link at the bottom of the page for the previous version if you have 32 bit hardware.

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks @Neal - I agree that running two full blown OS's to accomplish a single task is a bit retarded. I'm definitely leaning towards a hypervisor, however the Citrix one seems to be a little more polished, I suppose I'll have to just try them both out when I grab the appropriate Mobo. –  Chase Florell Jan 18 '11 at 19:16

I have been using Proxmox (http://www.proxmox.com) for almost a year now. I have to say that it is amazing. Much like ESXi, this is linux based. It is a free OS based on Debian. Even if you do not know a lot about linux, you can install and get this going in no time.

My current configuration is:

Server 1:
Core-i3
16GB DDR3 RAM
500GB HDD
2x1GBps Link Aggregation NIC

Server 2:
Core-i3
16GB DDR3 RAM
500GB HDD
2x1GBps Link Aggregation NIC

iSCSI SAN:
3.9TB RAID5 (4x1.5TB 7200RPM)
3WARE Raid Controller

Their user community is extremely helpful in situations where you may need to SSH into the server. Their wiki and other documentation is outstanding for performing the basic tasks; adding another node to your cluster, backing up VMs, restoring VMs, migrating VMs to other nodes, and typical setups.

They do have a new version in beta right now that is a little buggy so I am not using that on my current environment, but it has a complete makeover UI using EXTJS which is a fancy UI.

OLD UI OLD UI

NEW UI NEW UI

Since you have full access to the console, you're able to install whatever tools you need via apt-get. Personally, I run a Hamachi server on the nodes so that I can access my servers from anywhere in the world without having to open up the servers to security risks. The only ports open to my VMs and servers are 80 and 443.

I run several different types of VMs on these including Ubuntu, Ubuntu 64bit, Windows Server 2003, Windows Home Server 2003, Windows Server 2008, Windows XP, etc.

Proxmox also supports a variety of network adapters to use with the VMs. You can easily add extra hard drives, 1GBps Virtual NICs, and more.

The backups on the VMs are very easy to setup and configure. You can upload ISOs to the server or use their Appliances (no Windows ones obviously). However, their appliances are awesome and easy to configure. You can get a Out of the Box Wordpress, Drupal, Ticketing Management, CRM, EYEOS, and more.

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I think what you should do other than purchasing ESXi is use the free software that VMWare provides called VMWare Player. You don't need to buy a license to use it for personal user. It can import and export machines as you want. You don't have to worry about hardware compatibility with the VM or for using the software (i.e. you don't have to buy a special motherboard just to use VMWare Player). If you have any questions, comment.

share|improve this answer
    
My deal is that I want bare metal so that I don't need a client OS to run the VM. ESXi has a free edition, and I just looked, and there's a free edition of Xen Server from Citrix as well. –  Chase Florell Jan 18 '11 at 18:49
    
Ahh... I was just looking that up too... Wow, it seems that it would be a good idea if you want to pay a little extra for special hardware. –  David Jan 18 '11 at 18:50
    
It appears as though the only special hardware requirement is that it's x64 hardware with VT technology. blogs.vmware.com/esxi/2009/06/… and citrix.com/English/ps2/products/… –  Chase Florell Jan 18 '11 at 18:52
    
I just got another idea @rockinthesixstring! You could put the host OS(Windows) on a flash drive and have your computer boot to it, then access your VM through the host (like using VMWare Player). I just thought it was a neat idea. If VT Technology costs more, you might want to try this out. :) Good Luck –  David Jan 18 '11 at 19:03

why not do a system image instead? use drivexml to copy your entire c: drive. total cost. 1 harddrive. new motherboards come with a cd of drivers. simply install the mobo then drivers. backup a system drive or backup a virtual machine image. nightly differentials can be done with some free drive backup progs. google it

share|improve this answer
    
not sure how that works with dissimilar hardware. –  Chase Florell Jan 24 '11 at 5:51

You could possibly go for another approach - run windows, and have your personal folder and software running on a application virtualisation layer. I swear by SVS - you can create a layer that would have your user folders, and have seperate (or a single) layer for software. If you reinstall, just move over and activate the layers, and bobs your uncle.

If you want an alternative, you could use App-V

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If you are using Windows 7, you could transform your old computer into a VHD and then boot into it.

This will mean that you will need to reinstall only Windows into a new machine, while all your applications will come from the virtual machine, and this while using only Virtual PC and not any hypervisor.

Here are some articles that will help you on the way :

Local P2V Migration Using Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010 and Sysinternals Disk2VHD
Windows 7 – VHD Boot – Setup Guideline
Leveraging Windows 7 Boot to VHD to Test Visual Studio 2010
Windows 7 Boot from VHD – A Few Gotchas

share|improve this answer
    
This is a great suggestion. One "added" possibility is that I might start dabbling in node.js and developing in a Linux environment. –  Chase Florell Dec 10 '11 at 17:07

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