Building a clustered test lab with Windows Server 2012 RC and SQL Server 2012 RTM Evaluation

I have already described what my test lab at home looks like, however I find it interesting enough to provide details how to set it up. This post will be first in series and will cover planning and preparing the environment. Next posts will be about:

  • installing Windows Server 2012 in a VHD and enabling Hyper-V role
  • preparing virtual machine template and setting up virtual machines
  • preparing environment for setting up failover cluster 
  • installing SQL Server on 2-node cluster

I am using concepts shown in a blog post by Jose Barreto describing this setup with Windows Server 2008 R2 and SQL Server 2008 R2. We will use Windows Server 2012 and SQL Server 2012 but main idea is the same. To build this lab you require:

  • a PC which:
    • has a CPU that supports virtualization in hardware (for Intel you want a CPU supporting VT-x technology, for AMD – AMD-V) – most non-low-end CPUs do
    • has minimum of 4 GB RAM (8 GB or more recommended)
    • has 50 GB free HDD space (up to you)
  • some software – all available for free:
    • Windows Server 2012 RC or Hyper-V Server 2012 RC installation media (I will use “full” Windows Server as I didn’t do it using command-line/PowerShell in Hyper-V Server) – I don’t recommend using VHD provided by Microsoft since it expands from 8 to 40 GB during boot time and you’d need lots more disk space ;
    • SQL Server 2012 Evaluation – valid from 180 days, but it’s more than enough for start (you might try Developer Edition if you have one – you don’t have to worry about expiration then)
  • whole procedure takes about 8 hours (depends on your system speed, mainly I/O, so if you’re blessed with RAID 0 on SSD drives you might actually do it much faster) – be warned!

What we’re going to do is we will install fresh Windows Server 2012 operating system in a VHD (so as not to mess with existing setup – you may install on a physical disk if you don’t mind, performance-wise it’s negligible) – I assume that a main OS on the PC we’re using is Windows 7/Server 2008 R2 or newer, because XP does not support native-boot from VHD (not sure about Vista/Server 2008, but does anyone use it anymore? :P). Within this newly installed Server 2012 we will enable Hyper-V role and set up 4 virtual machines using one base template and four differencing disks. Then we will configure those machines like this:

  1. First machine is a domain controller and a DNS server – clustering requires a domain and Active Directory requires DNS.
  2. Second machine is storage controller – in the post by Jose (mentioned above) separate download of iSCSI Target is required for Windows Server 2008 R2, however it’s incorporated in Server 2012 – we don’t have to install anything, only enable additional OS features and configure them.
  3. Third machine is an active node of SQL Server failover cluster.
  4. Fourth machine is a passive node of SQL Server failover cluster.
  5. You may add more nodes to the cluster or consider setting up AlwaysOn.

This makes our lab completely standalone, so it can operate even if there is no connection to the outside. If it’s not required to have it this way, for example – you have a domain controller – you may skip creation of first VM. If you have a NAS/SAN, you may use it and skip the second machine. You may also consider combining first two machines into one (if you’re low on resources and don’t want to spawn a horde of machines). AD services in case of a domain so huge as this one will not be very demanding, definitely we’re not going to have a workload on storage impact a domian controller significantly. On the other hand you may also try setting up additional machines to see how it works – I made some with System Center 2012 RC, but you can also build a load-balanced SharePoint farm with a clustered database engine.

When it comes to network – no additional configuration will be done as clustering in Windows Server 2008 removed the need for dedicated heartbeat, so as long as our VMs see each other it will be fine (you may try to include DHCP server in this setup but remember to keep it contained so that it does not try to provide addresses in every network it may find). Just remember – live system may not have exactly the same architecture and whatever works for our homemade cluster may not be enough when it’s deployed into production (but hey, that’s a lab we’re building!).

When it comes to resource assignment for VMs I use the following pattern (I have Phenom II X4 CPU and 16 GB in my rig):

  1. For domain controller – 2 CPUs and 768 – 1024 MB RAM.
  2. For storage server – 2 CPUs and 768 MB RAM.
  3. For SQL Servers – 4 CPUs and 2048 – 3072 MB RAM.
  4. Rest – whatever I feel like/need.

When I’m setting this on a laptop where I have memory limitations (4 GB RAM) I cut down first two VMs to 512 MB RAM and SQL Servers to 1024 – 1280 MB. This allows me to remain operable, however sacrificing a lot of performance. Therefore 8 GB RAM is recommended.

And this concludes our preparation. Next post will get us through host setup – we will install Windows Server 2012 in a VHD and make it bootable so stay sharp!

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