The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Upgrades to Silverfir’s Xenserver hosting environment

Posted by Deliverator on February 11th, 2015

It has been almost a year since my last post about Xenserver. Silverfir’s Xenserver environment has remained relatively static over that time. I ended up purchasing the Asrock Avoton C2750 motherboard mentioned in the previous post and using it as the basis for a Xenserver pool master / redundant server. I also topped up the Core 2 Duo machine with its max 8 GB of ram. The older Core 2 Duo machine actually turned out to be a better choice for primary host for the Silverfir VM, as the Avoton C2750 based machine had a tendency to lock up hard every 2 weeks or so. Plenty reliable for desktop purposes, but not for a computer intended as a low maintenance server. One nice thing about the Asrock motherboard is that it features an IPMI interface which allows one to perform basic management tasks like bouncing a box remotely, as well as IP KVM type stuff. The IPMI is really quite impressive, but is small consolation if the underlying platform it is designed to manage isn’t stable.

Recently, Citrix released a new version of Xenserver, version 6.5. I decided to upgrade all the cluster’s boxes to the new version. Installation was as simple as burning a CD, popping it in and doing an in place upgrade over the existing installation. While I was at it, I checked Asrock’s website and they had released a fresh bios for the motherboard as well as a new firmware for the IPMI. The release notes mentioned numerous stability improvements, so I figured what the hell and went for it. So far, the Asrock motherboard has been 100% rock solid since the upgrades. If this stability continues, I will switch to using the Avoton machine as the primary host and keep the Core 2 powered off and use it just as a cold backup. The Avoton should be much more power efficient.

Before doing the upgrades, I took the precautionary measure of making a full backup of the Silverfir VM using the excellent and inexpensive Xackup software. I’ve been backing up Silverfir semi-regularly over the last year, usually getting around to it every couple months. I’d like to backup Silverfir more often, but it was taking upwards of 22 hours to complete a backup at ~2MB/s. Also,  because I am a cheapskate and am using the free version of Xackup, each backup has to be triggered manually. Investigating potential causes, I found that the Atom 330 box I use to run the Xenserver’s Xencenter management software and Xackup, was just too low end to handle the task. Running Xackup was maxing the Atom 330’s CPU cores at 100% all throughout the backup, even at the lower compression level settings. Not applying compression resulted in much larger backup files while not significantly reducing completion time. I decided that the management computer needed an upgrade as well, but wanted to keep it low power and relatively inexpensive.

I ended up settling on a Asrock Q2900-ITX Mini ITX board with an integrated, passively cooled Intel J2900 CPU. This board comes with a CPU that is significantly faster than the Atom 330 and sips power, which is nice in a management server that has to be online all the time. I gutted the old Atom 330 system, plopped in the new motherboard and 8 GB of DDR3 ram and while I was at it put in a 3TB HDD to have more space for backups. After a fresh install of Win 7, Xencenter 6.5 and Xackup, I fired up the backup job, which previously took 22 hours. It now takes around 5 hours at maximum compression and the CPU cores stay below 70% the whole time. Mission accomplished.