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!

My home lab and virtualization challenges

This time I’m going to write about something less SQL Server related. It’s about my home lab and I’m planning to do with it in the next couple of weeks.
First few words about the hardware. Since I’m always tight on budget, I’m on AMD team since 10 years and as they have been doing some marvellous job in Athlon XP and Athlon 64 era, last five years are completely dominated by Intel. The only field where AMD remained competitive is price – past tense is not by accident, because I consider last year’s release of AMD FX CPUs (also known as Bulldozer) as marketing move without necessary (or promised) technical advantage. I use 3-year-old Phenom II X2 550 with 4 cores unlocked and I’m extremely satisfied with performance of this little 100$ worth CPU. However, if I were to buy a new computer at the moment, I would definitely go for Intel’s i5-2500 or i7-3770 – their performance is simply mind-blowing, not to mention their overclockability (they easily reach 4,5 GHz). Looking at the performance charts (for example at you will see that today’s desktops have higher performance ratings than three year old dual socket servers.
The Phenom II uses AMD AM3 socket which backwards compatible with AM2+ motherboards, therefore the CPU has two integrated memory controllers – one for DDR2, second for DDR3. I tested both and found that two sticks of DDR2 and DDR3 are no problem for it, however it has some issues with 4 DDR3 sticks – requires dropping down memory frequency and loosening tmimings to work correctly. I use 16 GB (4×4) of DDR3 RAM and I’m quite happy about it – it really allows to have fun with virtualization.
Speaking of virtualization, I use virtual machines a lot thanks to wonderful guide by Jose Barreto – before reading it I had three separate machines creeping in size and hardly manageable. After reading and utilizing techniques inside I became resource-hungry since my VMs started to consume all RAM I had, so I expanded in one year from 4 to 16 GB. It also helped me get some basic acquaintance with Active Directory, clustering, DFS and System Center. I recommend setting your own environment like this one to every Windows administrator – fantastic educational purposes. It really does not cost you a lot – you might consider using your laptop for it and if you don’t like to mess with another OS on it – install Windows Server 2008 R2 on USB drive or even flash stick (I used PWBoot together with Windows image – confirmed to work with Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Hyper-V Server 8 Beta).
In short how this environment looks like – you need Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Enterprise or Datacenter Edition – you may even use Evaluation which is available for free from Microsoft. SP1 is highly recommended – it extends significantly Hyper-V role features giving it for example Dynamic Memory option. You install in on a physical machine, configure to get it working, apply necessary patches and enable Hyper-V role. Inside Hyper-V, you require one base virtual disk for each operating system you are going to use and a number of differencing disks relating to base drives. Base virtual is obtained by using following procedure:

  1. Create a new machine with an empty dynamically expanding VHD
  2. Adjust VM parameters as needed (CPU, RAM), mount OS image and install it
  3. Apply latest Service Pack and security updates
  4. Perform sysprep with generalize option and shutdown the machine

After those steps the base VHD is ready and you can start spawning VMs by creating differencing VHDs linking to this one. Then you create virtual machines, assign an empty differencing VHD to each VM, configure parameters (CPU, RAM, network) and start it. This way you can have 5 new VMs operable in about an hour – it saves a lot of time if you install the OS only once. By the way, sysprep is supported for each system since Windows NT 4.0, so if you want to do a lot of experiments you can build your base virtual disks library by expense of less than 100 GB and then just create ready-to-use VMs with a few mouse clicks.
My home lab contains following VMs at the moment:

  1. Domain controller
  2. Storage server – using iSCSI Target
  3. 2 clustered file servers
  4. 3 clustered SQL Servers (using 2008 R2 and 2012 RTM – it’s a multi-instance cluster)
  5. System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 RC
  6. System Center Operations Manager 2012 RC

I rarely have all of them running – no need for that, but this setup fits just fine in 16 GB – if I wanted to add more VMs to this, I would definitely require more RAM or build another Hyper-V host and play with Quick/Live Migration.
Since there are two factors limiting me at the moment – RAM and disk space – I’m thinking of doing something spectacular with this but don’t have too many options. At first, I considered building a massive NT 4.0 environment, but since NT 4 allows only 2 servers to be grouped in a cluster, it’s not that interesting (on the other hand, spawning 50 NT 4s in an hour seems feasible with help from SCVMM, but it’s of little use, apart from pure fun). I might also consider using Windows 2000 but Advanced Server requires 128 MB RAM, the same as Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition. So it needs to be decided – maybe 8-node failover cluster of SQL Server 2005 on Windows Server 2003 is not that far away.
Definitely I need a facelift for this lab – upgrade from Windows Server 2008 R2 to 2012 once RC comes out end of June. This will also allow me to rebuild whole environment since it’s got a bit messy during last year. I might scrap SCOM in favor of Sharepoint 2010 and have some fun with new BI features of SQL Server 2012. I’m also considering playing with big data by distributing the load between a number a virtual computers.
Well, that’s it for now, so if you have some comments on a home lab design or want to ask something, please comment, I’m awaiting responses.

Migrating virtual machines from Virtual Server 2005 R2 to Hyper-V

I was tasked with migration of two virtual machines from Virtual Server 2005 R2 to Hyper-V in order to prepare them for upgrade from SQL Server 2005 SP3 to SQL Server 2008 R2 SP1. Unfortunately, not everything went as smoothly as initally planned, mostly due to incosistencies in the environment.

First of all, the upgrade is quite straightforward:

  1. Shutdown the VM in Virtual Server.
  2. Copy the VHDs to Hyper-V server.
  3. Create new VM in Hyper-V and assign resources – CPUs, RAM and network. Do not create VHDs in the wizard.
  4. Attach previously copied VHDs.
  5. Start the virtual machine.
  6. Install Hyper-V integration services (requires several restarts).

Now there are few things you need to remember:

  • You need to have Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 Virtual Machine Additions (VMA) installed in the VM to allow upgrade to Hyper-V Integration Services. The lowest version possible is 13.813 (previous version summary available here).
  • If you have earlier VS 2005 R2 VMA prior to SP1, either uninstall it or upgrade it to SP1. Now, upgrade of VMA = uninstall old version, install new one. Remember to have correct ISO at hand – you can’t uninstall VMA version 13.552 (2005 R2) using version 13.813 (2005 R2 SP1).
  • Upgrade of VMA does not take place automatically – you have to do it yourself, otherwise you may have a VM with 2005 R2 additions in VS 2005 R2 SP1 which impact VM performance.

There are many benefits in upgrading VMs from VS 2005 to Hyper-V:

  • ability to assign multiple CPUs to a machine
  • support for large (up to 127 GB) VHDs
  • better integration with host operating system (especially when running the same system in host and guest)
  • in Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, dynamic memory allocation based on guest demand

In my case I struggled to uninstall VMA because I had no source prepared, but finally managed to do it by ripping it off VS 2005 R2 installation. The refreshed machines are happy working with additional resources avialable.