Sunday, October 31, 2010

VMware Training and a New PC

Last week I attended a five day course on installing, configuring, and maintaining VMware vSphere 4.1.  My employer purchased an "all you can eat" license earlier this year, and I've been asked to implement it on one of our networks.  Since I have no prior experience with vSphere I asked my boss for training.  It turns out that we had some training credits which expire at the end of 2010, so I was able to register for this couse at no cost to my department.

I am very impressed with vSphere, as well as VMware's vSphere Client management program.  I find it well designed with a very good user interface.  It runs on Windows only, unfortunately.  I wish they had an OS X client.  At work I have a Windows 7 VM inside Paralles Desktop on my MacBook Pro which I can use.  I also recently setup a four year old Dell Precision Workstation 470n which I scrounged.  It's running Windows 7 x64 with 4 GBs of RAM so it runs much more smoothly than the VM on my laptop.

As a side note, the VMs I have running inside of Parallels Desktop have gotten a lot slower recently, especially the Windows 7 VM.  I am thinking of dumping PD and installing VirtualBox.

Because vSphere is basically a means to run other OSes as applications on a host I decided I wanted to have a way to refamiliarize myself with any number of OSes on a system at home.  To that end, yesterday I did something I haven't done in 12 years: I bought a new desktop PC running Windows.

For the past 10 years or so I've built my own machines.  I have two tower cases which are well designed and which have been used in several incarnations of motherboards, CPUs, and operating systems.  However, I just didn't feel like putting together a new PC, especially since I can now buy a very powerful system for under a grand.

So, yesterday I did some searching on Microcenter's website and purchased a PowerSpec B707 mini-tower system for $699 plus tax.  The basic specs are:

1. Intel Core i5 - 655K 3.2 GHz dual core CPU
2. Intel DH55TC motherboard with integrated video (VGA and DVI), sound, Gigabit LAN.
3. Samsung 1 TB hard disk
4. 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi (which I have disabled since I have an Ethernet connection)
5. DVD+/-RW drive
6. Media card reader
7. 300W power supply
8. Windows 7 Professional 64 bit
9. 4 GB of DDR3 RAM (expandalbe to 16 GB)

Because I bought the system with the idea of running other OSes inside VMs I wanted to increase the RAM.  I found an OCZ 4 GB kit (2 x 2 GB DIMMs) at Microcenter for $69.99 less a $20 mail-in rebate, so added that to the cart.

Microcenter allows you to place an order on their website and arrange for in-store pickup in 18 minutes, if they have the items in stock at your local store.  I did that and was in and out in about 10 minutes.

The PC came with a cheap Inland USB keyboard which I'm using currently but will probably replace due to the mushy feel.  It also came with an Inland mouse which I left in the packaging, in favor of the Logitech mouse I already had.  The machine didn't come with a monitor which was fine, I'm using an Acer AL2016W 20" widescreen LCD display that I bought last year.  I'm using the DVI port and it looks good.

The PowerSpec box came with no crapware installed which was a pleasant surpise.  It did include a trial version of ESET NOD32 antivirus which I removed in favor of MS Security Essentials, and also an installer for MS Office 2010 Starter Edition (lobotomized versions of Word and Excel supported by ads).

The machine is quite zippy for my uses: web browsing, light office use, as an SSH client, and to run VMs inside VirtualBox.  I haven't really pounded on the box yet but so far the CPU usage is minimal most of the time and I'm only using about half the 8 GB RAM that's installed in the system.

So far I've created VMs running Ubuntu 10.10 and Windows XP Pro SP3.  I unfortunately need the XP VM to run a VPN client which doesn't work in Windows 7; I hope to lose that particular need in the next few months.  My next VM will probably be Windows 2008 Server R2.

Another use of this box will be for me to evaluate various remote control applications.  I have GoToMyPC, LogMein, and TeamViewer in mind.

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