Virtual Windows Servers on Mac OS X
July 24, 2012 8:26 AM   Subscribe

I have a Summer 2011 Mac Mini Server, running Lion. It serves as a common network share for backups, iOS syncs, etc., and media storage for an Apple TV. In coming months, I need to study for some Microsoft SharePoint certifications, and I'd like to do it at home. There are popular solutions I am aware of for desktop virtualization, but is anyone aware of a virtualization solution that will allow me to run multiple instances of Microsoft Windows on the Mac Mini Server to represent two or more servers for SQL Server, Active Directory, etc. Note that it's important for my purposes that these appear to be separate "machines" on the network, not services running on the same machine. Thanks in advance for any suggestions or assistance.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The free Virtuabox should be able to allow you multiple virtual machines on the mini, providing you've got enough memory in there. Having each one show up as a separate server is a matter of simply configuring the network settings of VirtuaBox.

Memory will probably be your biggest limitation.
posted by DreamerFi at 8:31 AM on July 24, 2012

Response by poster: There are 4GBs in the Mac Mini Server now. The performance of this solution is not really critical, so long as it works - as a study aid, I simply need the servers to run and connect to one another, and display the appropriate web-based interfaces I need to learn the configuration tasks. (FWIW, I'm on the front-end adminstrator side, not the solution developer side, so if it takes a two minutes for a page to come up, I can live with it). There will be no other traffic on the machine when I'm studying, either.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 8:41 AM on July 24, 2012

Don't bother. Sharepoint is a huge memory and CPU hog. Trying to run it all off one box is not a good idea (let alone running it in separate VMs).

You're better off running them off a cloud provider.
posted by wongcorgi at 8:43 AM on July 24, 2012

Pretty sure VMware Fusion can do this without a problem, but be prepared to need more memory. You can stuff up to 16GB into a Mac mini, despite what Apple says, and 8GB is pretty inexpensive.
posted by jgreco at 8:47 AM on July 24, 2012

4GB is not enough. I tried running Sharepoint 2012 and SQL server on 12GB of ram in a quad core AMD Phenom II and it ran so slow that it wasn't worth my time.
posted by wongcorgi at 8:50 AM on July 24, 2012

Response by poster: wongcorgi, thanks for your feedback, but again, the performance is immaterial. I simply need to get the UI to come up to study for the 2010 config exam. FWIW, SharePoint runs fine on a single, suitably powered Windows laptop; I have a dozen developers quite happily creating solutions using that environment. While SharePoint CAN be a memory and CPU hog, making it "work" isn't magic, it just takes time and attention.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 9:03 AM on July 24, 2012

Response by poster: jgreco, in browsing VMWare's site, I didn't see it specified that you can run multiple instances of Fusion simultaneously and have each appear on the network as a separate server...? It's worth nothing that their Mac product - Fusion - seemed to have different capabilities from their other, "VMWare" branded products, so it gave me pause...
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 9:06 AM on July 24, 2012

I think this is called "bridged networking", at least when you use Virtualbox.
posted by The Lamplighter at 9:06 AM on July 24, 2012

If performance isn't important, why run SharePoint on separate VMs? You really are not going to have enough memory with only 4GB and multiple VMs. Microsoft wants at least 8 GB for SharePoint, and you're going to need at least 2 GB for your other VM, assuming you're not trying to three VMs (Domain Controller, SharePoint and SQL Server).

There's a difference between performance not being important and the VMs taking 20 or 30 seconds of disk paging to do anything because there isn't enough memory. Unless you download Microsoft's preconfigured VMs, you're also likely to spend a horrendous amount of time setting all this up because disk performance will be so bad that installing anything will take forever.

Again, you can absolve yourself of a lot of headaches by adding some RAM.
posted by cnc at 9:44 AM on July 24, 2012

Fusion can run multiple VMs at the same time, but it slows down. I've simultaneously run two before, but could really only use one GUI at a time. Might be better if you plan on not accessing the GUI and just using it to run network services.
posted by sbutler at 9:49 AM on July 24, 2012

FWIW, SharePoint runs fine on a single, suitably powered Windows laptop

This is not in a VM and not running SQL server. As I said before, you will have a terrible time doing this with multiple VMs (or even one VM with 4GB of ram). On the hardware I stated before, I was getting 2+ minute page loads (WS08/Hyper-V).
posted by wongcorgi at 9:56 AM on July 24, 2012

I think this is called "bridged networking", at least when you use Virtualbox.

Indeed it is. Each machine will appear as a unique host on the network and have it's own IP address, name, etc- I used it in the past under similar conditions, though not SharePoint.
The easiest method is to create your base image and clone it using the CLI - a) doing a simple copy/paste causes funky errors & b) Thought I read somewhere about a GUI interface but eh

From the VM program folder:
VBoxManage clonehd C:\VirtualBox\VMs\[VMBase Folder]\[VM Base name].vdi C:\VirtualBox\VMs\[NewVMFolder]\[NewVMName].vdi

I put all my VMs in their own separate folder. Since each VM will try to create a Snapshots folder, just make sure you don't put your VMs in the same folder.
posted by jmd82 at 10:46 AM on July 24, 2012

Oh and once you set up your VMs, make sure you access them via RDP, not through the local host.
posted by jmd82 at 10:49 AM on July 24, 2012

VMWare Fusion allows headless sessions and will even allow VNC access (as opposed to Remote Desktop) from the built-in functionality.
posted by mikeh at 11:21 AM on July 24, 2012

This is basically what I use MenuMeters for: monitoring memory usage when running multiple VMs in VMWare Fusion on an 8-core Mac Pro with 6GB of RAM. I just make sure I never run out of free RAM and things never slow down.

Everyone seems to love VirtualBox, but the one and ONLY time my Mac Pro has kernel panicked is when trying to run two VirtualBox VMs at once.
posted by MonsieurBon at 11:22 AM on July 24, 2012

FWIW, I just love VirtualBox because it's free (OS licenses aside, of course).
posted by jmd82 at 11:34 AM on July 24, 2012

I've run three VirtualBox VMs at the same time with 8gb of RAM (Windows XP, Windows 7, Ubuntu, with OSX 10.7 as the host), but I wasn't doing anything too taxing and I didn't allocate more than a GB of RAM to any one of them.

RAM is cheap and extremely easy to install in a Mac Mini. Why not just upgrade? I found Lion to almost unusable on its own with only 4gb.
posted by The Lamplighter at 11:39 AM on July 24, 2012

I don't typically try to run multiple copies of Fusion because our machines only have 8GB and we use Fusion for a small number of things. Your problem is more likely to be that running lots of piggy Microsoft stuff is going to just bring the thing to its knees.
posted by jgreco at 11:49 AM on July 24, 2012

You are going to be in a world of pain using multiple VMs running SharePoint services and SQL Server on this machine with Fusion and 4 GB RAM. If you don't want to upgrade your RAM, you might consider just using Amazon EC2 for this instead - you'd pay about twenty cents per instance per hour.
posted by me & my monkey at 6:52 PM on July 25, 2012

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