Saturday, 30 March 2013

Further adventures of XenServer on the HP N40L Microserver

We all know my delight in using the excellent N40L for all sorts of things. Recently a client of mine had issues with their Dell server - a server that had cost them over $20,000 5 years ago. It runs Windows SBS2003 and does a bit of file serving and not much else. I've migrated them to Google Apps for mail/calendar etc so they aren't even using Exchange. Unfortunately this client has fallen on hard times with the GFC so when this huge and expensive server of theirs began to fail, they asked for a low cost option to save their data and have a minimum of downtime.

I had just purchased an N40L for my test lab and as their disks continued to decline was able to get a complete image of the system. What surprised me was they had a 5 year old server with 7 year old disks in it! What the? I acquired some Western Digital Red Drives and installed them and 8 GB of RAM into the N40L. My initial idea was to use Acronis or similar to do a Universal Restore of the data to the N40L, update drivers and software and put the machine back in. After all, this server lives in their main office space - you can imagine what a Dell 2950 Tower server sounds like in your ear day after day.

Unfortunately my imaging project was unsuccessful. Windows SBS 2003 did not want to play the game and so I was left pondering my next move. I could buy a new copy of Windows SBS (2011 in this case) and migrate data across, a time consuming effort and with the Microsoft Tax on Australian software not an inexpensive option. I could do something dodgy and get a.... no no no. Life is too short to pirate software. At any rate, the option of a physical to virtual migration was available. So I installed XenServer 6 on the HP N40L. I installed to one disk and set up the hardware (really software) RAID via the BIOS. I'm not sure if this mirroring will actually work, because XenServer only sees the two disks. I reasoned that if software RAID is running and I install to one disk, then the BIOS level RAID should mirror both the disks.... when I have the leisure I'll test this. At any rate, 15 minutes later XenServer was up and running and ready for stuff to happen.

Because I was in a hurry I slammed a copy of XenCentre on my notebook, connected to the server and configured a Windows 2003 SBS guest with roughly the same parameters (disk, RAM etc) as the original server, imaged it across as if it was a physical server and held my breath. The server booted in the virtual environment successfully! It was running like a bucket of pus, but after installing the Xen drivers it was running better than the previous version - this made my clients very happy. I configured an external USB drive to act as the back up device and kicked a backup off. It failed and has continued to fail - there seems to be some odd conflict with the device.... at any rate, the server is running and now I need to put a small NAS in for backup purposes - one which I will mirror to an offsite location.

So for a relatively short amount of downtime and much less than a new, full sized server they are operational. When it's time for a proper new server, I'll set it up another XenServer - using hardware RAID this time (which will work) and simply migrate. The server isn't forward facing and the firewall allows only file serving with all other services disabled or firewalled off. It makes for minimal disruption for the client and once I manage to convince them to migrate to FreeBSD or GNU/Linux for their file serving the basic platform will be ready to go - I won't even need to buy another server, simply configure an additional VM and away we go.

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