RECAP AND REVIEW:

This is the second part to our adventure into the world of Virtualization. You can read the first part that serves as an introduction piece HERE.

I hope, we now have the basic understanding of what Virtualization is, how it works and its advantages. You may have spent some time experimenting with the Type-2 or hosted virtualization software I had suggested in the first post and now are ready to take it to the next level.

Well first things first, we must either build our own server to install Type-1 or bare metal Hypervisor or allocate old hardware to this purpose. I will take the first option and try to build an Affordable Virtual Server.

IMPORTANT STUFF:

What’s your budge? My budget is $300-$350 AUD - I agree it’s not much to play with but it will do just fine.

I have already ruled out enterprise server (i.e. Dell PowerEdge series). Power consumption, heat generation and the fan noise quickly disqualified them for a home environment. Besides when you factor in the cost of maintenance on old server hardware, all the glory fades away.

If you have a bigger budget, then small, silent and low-power options offered by Supermicro may interest you. I don’t recommend it at least at this stage, simply because highly priced server hardware doesn’t provide any noticeable advantage for typical home usage. However it will ultimately be your choice and for reference I will provide couple of links below.

Supermicro Atom C2750

Supermicro SuperChassis

Let’s come back to the original topic: the Affordable Virtual Server. I intend to run this server 24/7/365 therefore low power consumption is a top priority. I also have plans to run my NAS server as a guest Virtual Machine and make use of the 3 x 4TB drives I already own, so sufficient space in a small case is crucial.

Why does it have to be a small case or enclosure? I will keep my Virtual Server next to the TV in the living room and a big and bulky case is a bad fashion choice. The ideal candidates are HTPC/Media-Centre cases such as Silverstone Milo Series ML04, however that will stretch my budget more that I would like to.

FINALIZING THE FEATURES:

Essential non-technical features:

  • Affordable
  • Small, spacious and ‘pretty’
  • Low power and noise

Essential or preferred technical features:

  • Hardware virtualization enabled CPU (VT-x will suffice, VT-d capable hardware is neither available in our price range nor is needed for our use ) WHAT IS VT-X VT-d?
  • Quad or more CPU cores
  • Capable of addressing of up to a minimum 16GB of memory
  • Minimum of 4 SATA ports
  • Minimum of 1 Gigabit LAN port
  • Preferably integrated CPU or motherboard CPU combo
  • Preferably fan-less CPU cooling (less noise, power and maintenance cost)

GOOGLE SEARCH:

Yes Google sometimes has the answer to everything, I kid you not!

I learned that mini-ITX is definitely my best option for size and SoC or CPU integration. It would also narrow down my search for suitable cases. You can also find many great posts about NAS and home servers that may be useful and informative.

Useful Websites (Australia):

THE END RESULT:

I found only a handful of suitable motherboard and CPU combos - all Intel-based - and finally decided to go with ASRock Q1900-ITX. This tiny board packs all the features I need as noted earlier.

Surprisingly there was really no competition from AMD in the same price range and features and I was not keen on taking the conventional route of buying the motherboard and CPU separately when this board was available for an amazing price of $125 AUD and 10W TDP!

The only annoying feature, which I discovered later, is ASRock’s BIOS requirement to have a monitor connected to boot! There’s fortunately a work-around to trick the BIOS and boot headless, but this is an annoying bug.

Moving on to the enclosure, I opted for the cheaper and smaller CoolerMaster Ellite 110 case at $55 AUD. Although I am still using this case with no issues, I do not recommend it unless you absolutely can’t stretch your budget. There’s very limited room inside and installation or removal of hardware and cables can become laboursome and frustrating. Another disadvantage is that you can only install three (3.5”) drives and I highly recommend one that provides space for a minimum of four disks in case you wanted to expand. HINT: Silverstone Milo Series ML04 at $109 AUD.

I specifically chose a PC case that could house a regular ATX PS2 power supply because they are widely available at a cheaper price compared to SFX or TFX. The supply unit doesn’t have to be powerful or hi-tech, as long as it is a known and reliable brand, provides at least 250W of power and costs up to $50 AUD, you will encounter no issues.

Now MEMORY! I decided to pick up a generic 8GB DDR3L-1333 kit (2 x 4GB) from a local shop (MSY) for $78 AUD. Having had more experience with virtualization now, I recommend to either buy one 16GB kit (2 x 8GB), or go for the single 8GB module if your budget is limited, and expand to 16GB later. Running just a few VMs will claim most of that 8GB very quickly.

My setup will have one hard drive for storing Virtual Machines, and one USB stick to hold the installation of our VMware ESXi Hypervisor. I picked up a 320GB drive and a 16GB USB flash drive to stay within my suggested budget. However you may choose to have SSDs for your setup or a different combination.

THE FINAL LIST AND PICTURES:

Here is the short list of computer parts discussed in this post, and some pictures of the final product.

  • ASRock Q1900-ITX $125 AUD - ASRock N3700-ITX is the new kid on the block There’s also a Gigabyte one with double NIC! It is definitely a good choice for NAS/Virtualization build, however I have yet to test it myself.
  • 8 GB DDR3L-1333 RAM $78 AUD
  • ATX PS2 power supply unit $45 AUD
  • 320GB Hard Disk $40 AUD
  • CoolerMaster Ellite 110 $55 AUD
  • 16GB USB flash drive 10 AUD

Total cost: $353 AUD


WHAT’S NEXT? In the next post, we will download and prepare all the required software and installation media to start configuring our newly built Virtual Server.