For quite some time now I am using ESXi 5 update 1 for my lab server and I’m very happy with it. In my lab environment I am not too picky what to run and do not worry about support too much. It’s not production!
One area of concern has been the support for Oracle’s own kernel: UEK or Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel. UEK comes in two editions, one based on 2.6.32, just like Red Hat’s kernel for Red Hat 6. The difference is that you can get UEK/1 (2.6.32.xxx) for Oracle Linux 5.x as well instead of 2.6.18xxx which is otherwise the default.
Oracle’s second iteration of kernel UEK is unsurprisingly named UEK2 and it’s initially based on 3.x but keeps the name to 2.6.39.x for compatibility reasons. UEK2 has some really nice features taken from the Upstream kernel and it is also supported for the Oracle database.
OK so I have to admit that I was very sceptical at first about any non-paravirtualised hypervisors. Mainly because my knowledge about virtualisation seems to have become a little dated. I thought that anything that’s para-virtualised will clearly outrun anything else. Based on my experience with my older hardware this was actually true.
However, a couple of months ago I bought a new lab server, and because VMware kindly provided the licenses for ESXi 5 through the guru licensing scheme I gave it a try. I had a few initial problems with the fact that ESXi 5 doesn’t have the same shell as its predecessor, and it also uses the GPT format which didn’t work well with my Oracle Linux 6 installation using grub 0.97, which cannot deal with the MBR on a GPT disk.
Update: the Oracle Linux memory problem is solved: http://martincarstenbach.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/kernel-uek2-on-oracle-linux-6-2-fixed-lab-server-memory-loss/
As part of an on-going research project I have invested a little bit of money towards a new lab server. Sadly my Phenom II X6 with 16GB RAM was not on the HCL for ESXi 5 which I required. Before I knew that ESXi can itself be virtualised I looked at a number of options.
After much consideration and calculations I decided to buy a machine. I have already rented a Core i7-2600 with 32GB of RAM from Hetzner (which is superb value for money for their EX4-check it out!) but needed something more flexible in terms of OS installation and virtualisation. Although the team at Hetzner is most helpful and skilled, installing ESXi or Oracle VM 3.1.x would have been quite a task. Especially hardening the setup!
A few twitter posts have already indicated that I have a new machine in my study-a Supermicro server with the H8DGi6-F motherboard, 2 12-core AMD 6238 processors and 32 GB RAM. And since I have been given a vSphere 5 Enterprise Plus license, what better to test than this combination! I have to say the installation of ESX5i is very straight forward: get the ISO image, burn it, install it. Done-and ESX5i has support for the AMD 6200 processors built in, which suffer from L1 cache invalidations in certain situations.
I have to say that ESX5i is a data center product: I haven’t been able to attach a USB hard disk to it in order to copy my ISO images. Apparently there is a way for ESX 5i (and 4i) to mount vfat formatted USB disks to automatically mount the devices as “NO NAME” but I haven’t been able to get this to work.