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I'm in the process of setting up a VM server to virtualise a lot of my home use/home lab activities, and as I get closer to system setup, I realise that I'm actually still confused/not clear about my best choices of VM platform software.

What I've got so far is the hardware and a good idea of my likely use/needs, and a fair bit of general knowledge:

  • VM server hardware + network enviroment - broadly adequate, Xeon v3 8 core (can't remember the model at the moment), large amount of ECC ram, 10G dedicated Chelsio T420 links to LAN and to FreeNAS file server (with fast Intel P3700 NVMe ZIL to handle sync writes), thin-ish ITX board clients locally, offsite replication server, no local DNS/AD or interest in running them (IP addresses and NetBIOS/iSCSI/NFS shares only).

  • Expected VM server uses - most of the heavy work will be 4 or 5 Windows 8.1 desktops. The base OS for these will essentially be the same. Most of their use will be heavy 'power user' multitasking of desktop software (WIMP based rather than touch or 3D gaming).

    Some bonuses are, fully remote desktop allowing identical use from any location and ability to 'pick up' sessions from any permitted 'thin' client, live snapshots on the file server, enhanced resilience, rollback to snapshot after a crash or user error, and ease/low cost (maintain one heavy duty server that's well utilised rather than multiple less well provisioned PCs).

    Non-Windows-8.1 use includes Windows 10, a single Mac VM, a couple of Linux boxes, a few dedicated lightweight servers (squid, radius, updates, email, logging, etc), and some lightweight lab/test use (mainly FreeBSD and other *nix).

    While these add up to several servers, at any given time most of them will be dormant or paused, or idling, or only have very negligible low/intermittent load (another benefit of virtualising all of it). The overall load is probably equivalent to 2 power users + 2 lightweight users (web browsing/Word/email type use) + 3 lightweight dedicated *nix servers.

    Its only the desktop VMs where latency/slowness/freezing matter much or will be particularly noticed.

  • VM software options - I've probably got a default preference for something in VMware's product range (I think) due to maturity, flexibility, and agnostic nature (the latter is an issue for Hyper-V) and because my uses will probably vary quite a bit. (Not so worried about cost vs free). Also because I've been using their Workstation product for years and like it, and because it integrates well with FreeNAS which I'm also setting up.

    But VMware make many products and their website info targets knowledgeable corporates so its hard to figure what is best. So I admit I haven't looked much at the alternatives, nor do I know even within VMware's products which is the most suitable. Within the VMware product family, I've tried to understand which is best suited, out of 'bare' ESXi, ESXi+vCentre (what difference will that make to server admin?), or VMware Horizon or another desktop-dedicated VM system - or whether to run the desktops under one VM system and the rest under another.

    Really I'm confused and can't figure out how to choose the most appropriate VM software (whether one of VMware's products or someone else's) and what the best choices or even best shortlist is for me.

    I'm also open to considering container systems similar to Docker, since the heaviest load will be similar Windows 8.1/10 OSs which could share the core OS, but I prefer the certainty of complete separation, snapshotting, highly stable + minimal host OS, and its not clear how a container platform can handle the other VMs that aren't Windows. I haven't ruled out running Docker under VMware as an option for the desktops (only), though.

  • Graphics handling/latency note - I'm wary specifically, of the processor power and protocols needed for desktop use, because desktop graphics handling and latency will be a key area where any latency/insufficiency shows up (a lot of desktop programs use 3D behind the scenes and a lot of desktop use is graphically demanding even if it appears to be 2D). I'm open to some kind of graphics card/VSGA to help out, but can't afford GRID and having 4 or 5 dedicated video cards all on passthrough isn't elegant or really sensible. (While mainly a hardware issue, some VM servers may handle this better than others)

I know a lot of this is a bit vague, perhaps there are questions I haven't though of. But I think I need to ask the best VM platform to go for initially at least. (I can always refine my initial choice in future if things change)

  • You give a lot of details, but it seems to me that they are hardly relevant. It's too much about hardware. What are your requirements for the software? What does the software need to be able to do? – Thomas Weller Dec 16 '16 at 12:08
  • I also miss a clear line between the requirements and what you have tried successfully or not successfully. Leave out all the stuff you're uncertain about - that'll be part of the answer. E.g. IMHO Docker does totally not fit into the concept of virtualization as you need. Docker provides virtualization to server side apps whereas you need virtualization for client side operating systems. – Thomas Weller Dec 16 '16 at 12:11
  • I've decided most of the hardware, it's given for completeness/responder info only. I've put what I can think of about the software and its planned usage, specifically related to the VM platform recommendation. That's what I'm actually after. Its possible that I don't know the right questions, but I would have thought the detail of usage given would be enough to kick start suggestions for the best platform choice, or at least questions needed to narrow down the platform choices. (Docker is mentioned in case I'm missing some lateral thinking and I ought too approach it differently. I don't th – Stilez Dec 16 '16 at 12:13
  • ...think that's the case but someone else might think otherwise) – Stilez Dec 16 '16 at 12:19
  • Basically you need: 1. run 5+ Windows machines and 2+ Unix servers inside 2. make backups over the network 3. support a lot of RAM, CPU and disks 4. something special about graphics cards (leave the graphics card topic in). I think this can be written in a few lines only – Thomas Weller Dec 16 '16 at 12:20

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