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10/30/2008
04:08 PM
Joe Hernick
Joe Hernick
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XenServer 5.0 In The Lab

The world was a different place the last time we ran a full review of XenServer. In July 2007, we called XenSource's XenEnterprise 3.04 a virtual bargain, and suggested that it was rough around the edges but a viable ESX alternative for smaller shops. It's not so rough anymore. You might even say it has smooth edges.

The world was a different place the last time we ran a full review of XenServer. In July 2007, we called XenSource's XenEnterprise 3.04 a virtual bargain and suggested that it was rough around the edges but a viable ESX alternative for smaller shops. It's not so rough anymore. You might even say it has smooth edges.Fifteen months later, Citrix has transformed itself into a virtualization vendor, adding virt tags to damn near every product. The wholly absorbed XenSource team has rolled out XenServer Enterprise 5 this autumn; conversations with acquired folks lead me to believe Citrix has given the Xen team free rein. I've tinkered with interim releases; now we're putting 5.0 through the paces as part of InformationWeek's rolling review of VM hosting platforms.

No gotchas so far.

Initial impressions are positive; we a grabbed a 300-MB ISO off the Citrix site for the hypervisor install package, XenCenter management tool, and supporting docs. Citrix wants to get this product out in the wild; installation and support documentation are clear and thorough, the try-before-you-buy license seems to provide full functionally, and we were up and running with our first base Xen host 25 minutes after booting from CD.

One of our concerns with v3.04 was management of storage resources. Strong Linux command-line skills were a requirement for even mildly complex subsystems. Citrix has spent time and effort to make this right; you still need to have a good plan and a firm understanding of your shop's storage setup before you begin. (I'm sure everyone reading this has up-to-date shop docs covering NFS paths, Initiator IQNs, iSCSI targets, CHAP passwords, and/or LUN info at hand, right?)

After accepting the EULA and working through base configuration, moving to the Disks and Storage Repositories setup menu lets an admin configure mounts to existing NFS, iSCSI, NetApp, FC, or Dell EqualLogic arrays. Since we just happen to have EqualLogic gear on loan, we were able to configure the secondary local SAS RAID array on our HP test beds and virtual disk storage on our EqualLogic SAN as mount points for guested VMs. The NFS and generic iSCSI setup options seem equally straightforward. Management of storage options shows a significant improvement versus last year's product.

We had two base XenServer Enterprise hosts up and connected to a SAN in less than an hour. Each of out HP ProLiants are initially configured as four-way Opteron sporting 12 GB of RAM and six 72-GB 10K SAS drives split in two RAID 0 + spare arrays.

The Xen boot ISO also includes P2V conversion and migration tools, so you'll get a bunch o' use out of that CD. I'd recommend burning more than one if you don't have a decent network boot setup in house... We're getting comfortable with XenCenter and rolling up our sleeves on conversions of physical W2K3, W2K8, and Debian servers. Next up, we'll be installing 5.0 on some less-powerful hardware platforms to reflect older boxes repurposed as VM hosts. We're always curious to see how those minimum hardware requirements play out.The world was a different place the last time we ran a full review of XenServer. In July 2007, we called XenSource's XenEnterprise 3.04 a virtual bargain, and suggested that it was rough around the edges but a viable ESX alternative for smaller shops. It's not so rough anymore. You might even say it has smooth edges.

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