Category Archives: PC & Server Hardware

Windows 8 running on a Samsung Series 7 Tablet

Today my employer hosted an internal conference and Microsoft just happened to be there which I wasn’t expecting.  Specifically, they were there showing off Windows 8 running on a Samsung Series 7 11.6” tablet. I had ran the Developer Preview of Windows 8 on my older HP tablet which was an OK experience but the hardware was not optimized for Windows 8.

The Series 7 is designed for Windows 7 but I have to say that the early experience was impressive.  The hardware is not as portable as my iPad but I consider this tablet to be a different use case than the iPad.  MS had a wireless keyboard and the very stylish and sleek docking port for the tablet.  I quickly imagined this being my portable solution.  I’m actually tempted to get the existing setup running Windows 7.  My current laptop is more of a desktop replacement machine and every time I travel I wish I had something along the lines of an ultrabook but the flexibility of a tablet.

My early experience with Windows 8 running on this tablet was pretty nice.  The MS rep pulled out his phone and compared the Metro interface on the Windows 8 Phone to the Metro Interface running on the tablet.  He spoke to a couple of use cases with factory workers and integration with ERP applications.  It is a compelling story from an enterprise support and application development perspective.

I’m looking forward to getting a couple of these in the lab and really stretching it out a bit.  I’m really interested in the Intel platform and seeing how end users actually take to these devices and what type of real world battery life they get.

Onlive to compete with Citrix?

The streaming game company Onlive.com recently introduced a managed streaming desktop service.  Currently the only client available is for the iPAD.  I’ve used several streaming Windows desktop products for the iPad including XenDesktop, Logmein and GoToMyPC and I have to tell you this is one of the more fluid and enjoyable experiences I’ve had to date.  I’m really tempted to sign up for the paid service once they release the PC client.

The long range business plan is to offer managed desktops for the enterprise.  IBM has been offering desktops in the cloud for a while and I’ve often wondered how this desktop delivery method would actually work from a practical since when the data exists within the enterprise and the desktop outside.  I can see a market for small business but as for the enterprise I’m not so sure at this point.  As far as the technology is concerned?  I’m impressed with what I’ve seen so far.

ESXi on Dell 6410

Just a quick post to confirm that I was successfully able to install and run ESXi 4.1 on my a Dell 6410 with an i5 processors and 4GB of RAM.  Not much to talk about other than it works.  The install took all of 15 minutes and no special adjustments.  ESXi seems to generally like Dell PC class hardware.  So far I’ve been able to run ESXi on my Dell XPS 420 and now a 6410.  I actually use my XPS 420 as a production host on my home network.  It runs a Windows Home Server, a Windows 7 image from an older machine I had and an Windows 7 machine I use for jump box into my network.

Windows 8 Developer Preview on HP TouchSmart Laptop

Windows 8 on HP TouchSmart

I’ve been toying with the idea of installing Windows 8 Developers Preview on my HP TouchSmart 1025dx Laptop.  In theory this should be a decent preview of Windows 8 Tablets to come.  The TouchSmart laptop is a Multitouch and Pen based Windows 7 ready laptop and should make for an interesting experience.

Install

The target system has an AMD Turion X2 64-bit CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 320GB HD.  It previously ran a 64-bit copy of Windows 7 Professional.  I wanted to install the 64 bit version of Windows 8.  I’ve installed Windows 8 in a VM and it took about 45 minutes to install.  I wanted to see if there was an upgrade option so, I launched the install from within Windows 7.

There was no option to upgrade from my current OS to the developer preview.  I had to perform a clean install and as a result lost all my data. It took approximately 75 minutes from the launch of the setup to the completion of the install.

Experience

The experience was overall pretty lacking.  Windows 8 is currently only in a developers preview.  Windows 8 itself is an exciting new approach to desktop computing but a little raw.  The larger problem is that the hardware and software weren’t strongly integrated at this case.  None of the hardware shortcut buttons worked.  Also the automatic screen re-orientation when rotating didn’t work. All of the native Window 8 applications launched.  I did have some issues with IE.  Once I launched it no key stroke/touch combination would allow me to exit.  I had to place the machine in sleep and wake it up to switch between IE and the new Windows 8 start screen.  I had other experiences similar to this such as artifacts within IE 8 when scrolling the webpage.

These are all OEM software and driver related issues.  The 1025 is a couple of years old so as expected all the basic system drivers were there for things like wireless and video.  Multitouch did work and I was able to switch from Touch and Pen based input at will.  I was also able to swipe the screen which gave me a preview of what the full experience would be on hardware designed for Windows 8.  I look forward to the full experience.

My XPS 15 VMware Workstation 8 Lab

I originally intended to use my old Dell XPS 420 as a lab machine.  I installed ESXi 4.1 on it and started to load it with VM’s and it turned into my production home server.  The VM’s became too valuable to shutdown and free resources for my home lab.  And to boot it can only be expanded to 6GB of RAM.  This for an ESXi host is extremely light.

So, I decided to put my shiny new Dell XPS 15 to work using VMware Workstation 7.0.  I’ve since migrated to 8.0 and couldn’t be happier (well I could use more RAM).  I’m able to run 3 ESXi hosts, vCenter and an Openfiler SAN.

I’ve been extremely impressed with the labs I’ve been able to run with this setup.  I’ve been able to run nested VM’s within the ESXi hosts with the storage located on the virtual Openfiler SAN.  This has allowed me to do advanced scenarios including vMotion and FT and HA labs.  For the HA labs I’ve had to scale the ESXi hosts down to 2 hosts to allow 4GB of RAM for each ESXi hosts.  I’ve found you need a minimum of 4GB of RAM to do HA.

This is actually my only complaint about the lab within my production laptop.  16GB of RAM would allow me to do a great deal more within VMware workstation. Oversubscription obviously works very well within VMware workstation 8.  I have a total of 2TB of disk space thin provisioned on a laptop with a 750 GB HD and only use 100 GB total space which includes my production data.  The VM’s total 8.5 GB of RAM not including the overhead of my host OS.  And, I’ve assigned a total of 9 vCPU’s.  My total utilization rarely goes over 20% even with some of the advanced labs.

Just like production networks my bottleneck is almost always memory.  Disk I/O can be an issue at times but not as much as memory.  This is why I’m still leaning toward purchasing a desktop with a minimum of 16GB of RAM.  I’m debating because my laptop’s performance has pleasantly surprised me.  I’ve taken to using it as my primary machine and cannot complain about performance for everyday computing and it almost meets all my needs for a Virtualization lab.

XenClient Install and First Look

A while back I wrote how I thought Windows 8 should be a bare metal hypervisor.  I won’t revisit the many advantages including VDI but, I’d be really excited to see a client based bare metal hypervisor with wide support.

That’s why I got really excited when I heard about XenClient.  I didn’t even know it existed, which for a virtualization geek is a bad thing.  I imagined of all the major vendors VMWare was the closest to delivering a client based Hypervisor for general distribution.  Citrix however, has announced the tech preview of their second .0 release of their client based hypervisor OS XenClient.

I was extremely anxious to get it in my lab and play around with it.  I have a pretty decent home and work lab.  But most of my resources are geared toward server based OS’s.  It took me a great deal trial and error to find a machine that could run the OS.

The biggest obstacle I ran into is that XenClient only really supports an all Intel platform.  Intel and Citrix markets machines supporting Intel vPro as a solution.  I didn’t have anything in my lab at home that had vPro and I figured a minimum of v-XT would be needed to run a 64-bit hypervisor.  I assumed my Dell XPS 420 with a Core Duo Quad Core 9300 would do the trick.  The problem was the video card.

The Xenclient install completed but since the NVidia GPU isn’t supported the OS fails to boot completely.  My 420 sports an NVidia video card.  I also had an older Core 2 Duo Laptop with Intel graphics but the Core 2 Duo doesn’t support v-XT and the same with my general purpose white box server.  The only machine I had at my disposal that would meet the specs was my brand new 3 day old Dell XPS 15.  It has an Intel i7-QM2630 processor and NVidia discrete graphics.  However, the great thing about the i7’s is that they have Intel graphics built on the chip.

Luckily, I had brought an Intel 40 GB SSD drive a few weeks ago on an impulse.  That turned out to be the perfect device to throw in to test the configuration.  Installing multiple operating systems on a really fast HD makes a world of difference.

One of the great features of XenClient is support for 3D graphics.  Unfortunately, XenClient relies on Intel v-XD technology to pass 3d capability along to the guest OS.  My XPS 15 doesn’t seem to support v-XD.  No matter what I tried I couldn’t get 3D features working as I couldn’t find any reference to the technology in my BIOS.  For my test environment 3D would have just been a bonus but in production I would think it would be a hard requirement.  I wanted to see just how far Citrix had come with XenClient.

Installation

Once I found a hardware platform that would work installation was fairly straight forward.  Not a lot of options and ways to go wrong.  XenClient is obviously Linux based.  The entire install took about 10 minutes.

v-XD error message

Guest OS Install

The number of operating systems supported is limited.  I’m not sure why but Vista 64-bit wasn’t listed as an option while Windows 7-bit was listed.  I decided to install a Vista and XP image.  I found the build times to be rather long.  But, I believe this is more to do with the fact the XP and Vista’s installs both take a long time.

I did notice that the default for the number of virtual processors was not nearly enough CPU.  I had to upgrade the Vista partition from the single core to 4 cores not to notice a delay in the guest system.  I could however notice the lack of graphics acceleration in Vista.  The interface was beautiful on my 15.6 inch 1080P display but sluggish at times.  XP was well XP.

OS Selection Menu

Networking is handled at the hypervisor level.  XenClient found my Intel based wireless adapter and I had no problem connecting to my WiFi network.  XenClient presents the network as wired Ethernet to the virtual guests.

Conclusion

I really want to like XenClient.  I actually like what I’ve seen so far.  My biggest complaint is that of my original article.  The lack of universal support across multiple machines will limit the potential of the solution.  I commend Citrix for under taking this challenge and putting it out there for geeks like me to play.  The hardware requirements are steep.  I really want the flexibility of using the solution as a bring your own PC to work solution.  But the requirement of vPro prices most home users out of this platform.  The lack of AMD and NVidia support also make for a limiting solution.

Citrix has done an admirable job on XenClient.  For a technical preview it’s a really cool example of what can be done using client side virtualization.  I just really wish they had the resources to expand the HCL beyond the few officially supported systems.  Until there’s broader support I can only see this as a niche solution.

If your interested in playing around with it you can download it here.

update: 5/31/2011

Thanks to Dominic Pedroza for pointing out another solution that may be a little more mature MokaFive Baremetal.  A short article on The Register can be found here.

Magny Cours

Wow!!! August since the last blog post.  It makes sense because I’ve relocated to Maryland where I started with Lockheed Martin supporting their Washington Data Center in September.  I’ve been extremely busy working on virtualization projects, e-discovery and disaster recovery.  Not to mention I’m still working on my MS in Project Management.  But, I have decided to take more time and make sure I blog about Virtualization.

I’ve been spending a bit of time coming up with different ways to approach a virtualized environment.  At least differently than I have in the past.  My past couple of large projects, HP Blade systems fit nicely into my needs for larger efforts.

Now that the AMD 6100 12-cores have been out for some time, I’ve been looking at using Dell’s R815 platform to get denser deployments.  I’ve found that one of the problems that arise from using a platform that can have 48 cores in one chasis is that I/O becomes a greater consideration.

In theory you could get 192 (48*4) single vcpu VM’s in a single physical server.  If you have a rack of 20 of these beasts that’s potentially 3840 VM’s in a single 42U rack.  That’s a lot of I/O.  Storage and network become huge consideratios for your infrastructure if you are looking at hosting at this level.

The great thing is that I’m learning more about storage than I have in the past and the other is I get to brush off my networking skill and deal with some of the complexities of a virtualized infrastructure.  I’m looking at solutions like Arista’s 7100 series 1U 10GB switches.  I’m also looking more smaller SAN storage solutions like Netapp and EMC’s Celera line of SAN’s. 

I’m looking forward to continuing to share my experiences and look forward to an active year of blogging.