Virtualization

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I'm on the computer committee of the Beaverton SDA Church and we need to replace the old server (which is used mostly for file storage among the 4 office staff). Some believe it to be at least 8 years old. We're all amazed it's still running. It has SCSI drives that are starting to make a lot of noise and we're getting quite nervous. So at a recent meeting, we decided to not push our luck (or faith) too much further--it's time to to get a new server.

Well, being a non-profit organization and trying to be good stewards with donated money, we don't want to spend any more than absolutely necessary. If all we're using the server for is user authentication and file storage, couldn't we get by with Linux? And if we DO need some sort of Windows server in the future, we could just add a virtual server on top of Linux and be set, right?

That was my suggestion at the meeting and of course I was volunteered to actually do the installation and teach everyone else how to support it! Gulp! Uh, sure--no problem. OK--off to the bookstore to read everything I can on how to actually implement this cool technology I had read about.

Meanwhile, better start the Linux downloads. The distribution? CentOS, of course. After all, I am already familiar with one of the oldest and most popular Linux distributions, Red Hat Linux, and CentOS follows Red Hat Enterprise, so it's probably a pretty good choice.

So I went to the web site and clicked on Downloads | Mirrors | CentOS-5 ISOs. Hmm... Do I want 64bit or i386? You'd think I'd know the answer to such an obvious question, but hardware naming conventions have gotten rather obtuse over the last few years and there are so many more specs to consider now than just the raw CPU speed or how many processors, and... Well, looking up the model and processor listed on the packing slip, and confirming what I found with a quick peek on Dell's web site assured me that our new Dell PowerEdge SC440 runs a 2.8 Ghz Pentium D, which is quite capable of running 64-bit operating systems. (It's even more comforting to see Red Hat Enterprise 5.0 listed there, specifically! :-) )

Good--got those started. Now, let's read up on VMWare for the virtualization software we might need someday to run Windows on top of Linux. A check at VMWare's site told me I was on the right track, but I needed to know which station to get off at. I'm learning that, like all other technology, things never stop advancing. Many moons ago, when I first heard of VMWare, there was only one product. And I've used Microsoft Virtual PC--just one version. My have I been asleep or something! There's a whole new class of virtualization services available. There's virtual-com, virtual-appliances, virtual-players, virtual-servers, virtual-infrastructures, virtual-API... I might need a virtual consultant! But I had opened my big mouth and now everyone was counting on me to know what I was doing. This of course, means I have to learn about what I am doing!

Back to Powell's, I found just the book--no, it's not Virtualization for Dummy's, but it does start from the beginning. Of VMWare's 4 major project categories, it covers the only free one: Virtual Server. I think this one will work for us.

However, while downloading CentOS, I started reading the manuals and discovered something very interesting: Red Hat Virtualization! Perhaps I won't need VMWare after all. It's usually better to have an integrated product rather than some external piece sitting on top trying to work with the underlying system. I guess I have a lot of reading to do!

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