My school has a powerful server, idling, and a mess of sissy servers, also idling. Server consolidation is in order. They all run that other OS. They need a server running GNU/Linux to run various web applications. The solution: VirtualBox from Sun Microsystems.
Virtual Box is a hypervisor for virtual machines. One installs VirtualBox, creates and configures as many virtual machines as one needs and installs an operating system in each. I chose GNU/Linux because that is what I am most comfortable using and I have tons of free software for it. On the first one, I installed LAMP (GNU/Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP). This lets me add server scripts in PHP to do some very useful things:
- collaboration/knowledge database with WikiMedia
- huge number of text files indexed with SWISH-e and searched with swishe.php
- searchable image gallery with Gallery
- Moodle course management system
Then, I can create other virtual machines to hold the functions of the lesser servers, mostly print, file-sharing and database.
The only problems I had with this project?
- the underlying OS was 32bit so I could not install more RAM than 4gB
- it was tricky to use the NICs on the machine
Even the devotees of that other OS can use this technology and when they want to get off the Wintel treadmill, they can migrate their host OS and their virtual machines one by one making the job much easier. I can OpenSSH into mine to tweak and to manage. I can also control that other OS using Rdesktop (RDP protocol). That works better from a GNU/Linux machine than using the native Remote Desktop from my XP box. The print server no longer crashes weekly if I use GNU/Linux Rdesktop. Interesting, and very real. So, time moves on. If I keep beating my head against that monopolistic wall, it will move.
Lo, and behold, SUN has a new release which deals with both issues.
When my organization is comfortable with GNU/Linux as a guest OS (my boss already uses GNU/Linux at home), they can switch services one at a time to GNU/Linux guests and eventually, only a few databases will remain for compatibility with the mother ship.
So far, VirtualBox has been solid for us. It just works. I did find that the emulated SCSI drive was much faster than the emulated IDE drive which is no surprise if well emulated. The big server is still lightly loaded but now it actually does useful stuff for us besides authentication and DHCP. It could for instance run a basic GNU/Linux terminal server in one of the virtual machines to give a new lease on life to the old thick clients that populate our system.
Virtuality is a wonderful use of the modern multi-core system. I have previously used LTSP which virtualizes the desktop. Now we can enjoy virtualization of the server for similar comprehensive benefits:
- lower cost of maintenance
- lower parts count
- easier administration
- easier integration of GNU/Linux
- lower power consumption
- less congestion in the server room