Virtual machine solution or not?

Hi all, I am new to these forums so if I do something wrong … my bad.

I am from the UK and I am going to be setting up a phone system for a friends business and we will be using the FreePBX distro. We are also wanting a file server on site and need to work out the best possible solution for our needs, bearing in mind pricing of hardware e.t.c. and also expandability in the future.

I have thought of the following solutions however am unsure which would be best.

Solution 1 (1 server):
Server1: Windows Server 2008 standard as a base system, acting as a file server and backup server > FreePBX would be run virtually somehow.

Solution 2 (2 servers):

Server 1-higher powered: Windows Server 2008 standard acting solely as a file server and backup server.
Server 2-lower powered: FreePBX distro installed and running standalone.

Solution 3 (2 servers):

Server 1-higher powered: FreeNAS running as a file server and backup server.
Server 2-lower powered: FreePBX distro installed and running standalone.

Solution 1 would obviously be a much more powerful than the individual servers in solutions 2&3.
I have been in contact with Dell and they quoted me the following for solution 1:

3x 500GB HDD’s hot plug (RAID 5)
1x PERC H710 Adapter RAID Controller, 512MB NV Cache
2x Intel Xeon E5-2407 2.20GHz, 10M Cache, 6.4GT/s QPI, No Turbo, 4C, 80W
4x 4GB UDIMM, 1333 MHz, Low Volt, Dual Rank
1x Dual, Hot-plug, Redundant Power Supply (1+1), 750W
1x Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, Standard Edition, English, Incl. 5 CALs
4x 5-pack of Windows Server 2008 User CALs

£2808.32 All up (ex shipping + vat)

Any solutions? I thought this was a ridiculous price as I would need to pay for user licences to enable me to set up users on the Windows server to enable me to set specific file permissions. I’m inclined to go with Solution 3, would anyone recommend this in a small business environment? Seems pointless purchasing Windows Server 2008 as user licences would need to be purchased, antivirus software would be required e.t.c. Whereas with FreeNAS I could get away without all of the extra costing?

The owner asked if it was possible to combine the need for two servers into one to save on physical space but also to save money, however it seems best to run two individual servers for our requirements? No chance of the phone system being affected if the file system went down e.t.c.?

I really need some advice guys as this is turning into a much bigger problem than it really needs to be.

I’m also in the UK. I’ve run Asterisk implementations (inc. FreePBX) as a virtual machine in a number of implementations. If you go for option 1 I would got for VMware ESXi 5.0 U1 to provide virtualisation and then both the Windows 2008 server and the PBX can run in their own Virtual Machines and you can set the resource allocation of each so that they don not interfere with each other.

Personally I’d go for two machines unless you have a standby system (as you don’t want a hardware failure to take out everything). Also if you want to use any connectivity hardware for analogue (PSTN) lines or digital ISDN lines you can’t do this under VMware.

I have recently been looking at the new HP Proliant Microserver as an IP PBX platform. It’s an excellent little machine and provide RAID disks, up to 8GB RAM, and support Centos Linux (used in the FreePBX distros) very well. There is also £100.00 cash back from HP on these machines at the moment making them a very tempting proposition.

I’d personally go with option 2. If you buy Windows 2008 as an OEM version with a server you will get it a lot cheaper than buying a server and then buying Windows 2008 retail to install on the server.

If you fancy more of a chat drop me a line at [email protected].

If you don’t need hot-spare servers and the ability to move virtual machines around automatically, VMWare ESX 5.x is free and quite good. It can do hardware pass-through, but it might be tricky at best with timing-sensitive voice hardware. On the other hand, maybe something network-based would work (e.g. on the small side, a Grandstream HT503). I’ve had good luck with VMWare’s free ESX stuff. I’ve used “white box” (i.e. DIY) hardware with my installs, so between avoiding Dell’s server class prices and Microsoft’s exorbitant licensing costs, you can build a server with file sharing (FreeNAS), firewall (pfSense), mail server (Zimbra), and PBX (FreePBX) quite cheap.

As for the file server, FreeNAS is very impressive, especially with ZFS underneath. Make sure you play with it a little before you deploy it. It’s great as a data store, but make sure you won’t miss the Active Directory stuff that a Windows server provides.

Thank you both for your help, I have managed to whittle the options down.

Thanks to Lee I have decided on using a low powered HP ProLiant micro server for the job of the PBX, I will be using FreePBX and we don’t require any analogue lines as we are going completely VOIP (SIP Trunks). So that’s sorted.

Now for the file server option, I considered using the HP ProLiant N40L as a file server as it comes with 2x2TB HDD’s, 4GB RAM e.t.c. and then run either FreeNAS or Openfiler, however with this setup the hardware would be limited as the board only supports a max of 8GB RAM e.t.c. And obviously the CPU is limited as well.

I’m not sure weather virtualizing the file server would still be a smart option (to enable me to have email servers e.t.c.) because at the end of the say we want it to be robust, and don’t really want to rely on a VM … personally I wouldn’t trust it.

We also have web-hosting with an external provider and they give us up to 25 mailboxes using their smtp settings, and unlimited mailboxes using our own (ISP’s) outgoing smtp settings … so that isn’t too much of a worry at the minute. I’m guessing if we were going to go down that route it would be better to build our own web server and just stick an email server on there to? Anyway, for the minute that is hosted.

I was actually looking into Pfsense, and would like to build a system, however I don’t think it would be a smart option to combine it with the file server? Too risky?

Anyway, as it stands, for the file server I was considering either the HP box (maybe not a good idea for the file server) or a Dell PowerEdge T110 II:

4GB DDR3 Memory
No raid controller (ZFS will cover that?)
Intel Xeon E3-1220, 4C/4T, 3.10GHz, 8M Cache, 80W TDP, Turbo

I was then going to purchase some HDD’s from either WD or Segate, as Dell seems to fob you off for these, what model’s would you suggest would be best in a file server?

The total cost of the server would be £509.99 with shipping + VAT, which doesn’t seem too bad as these boards support 32GB RAM e.t.c.

Thanks once again to everyone that has provided support

In my experience, and I’ve used VM’s in several different scenarios, the are actually better than hardware servers. You have so many more options for the future in terms of expandability, disaster recovery, and flexibility. For example I was at a customers site yesterday and they had a virtual machine running under VMware Server on a Linux system which was really struggling to cope with the work load. So what we did was to install VMware ESXi on a more powerful server (and second user HP Proliant ML series machine) and simply move the virtual machine container file (.vmdk file) over to the new server, create a new virtual machine, boot it up, and that was it. All done.

If we had to do that with a physical machine we would have had major difficulties with differences in hardware from new to old machines and would probably have ended up having to completely re-install the new machine from scratch and set everything up again before restoring data and application backups which would have been something of a nightmare. There are backup systems that will backup and restore Windows machines to different hardware specs but they tend to more expensive and somewhat unreliable. VMware ESXi is free.

Okay, soo if we go with the VMware solution, will the Dell server specs that I listed handle it? And would you recommed an external raid controller for the Dell system as opposed to SW raid somehow within VMware?

And also which HDD’s would you recommend?

I’d certainly suggest a RAID controller if you are wanted to use ESXi as it doesn’t support any software RAID. Have a look here for Dell system compatibility with ESXi:

I’d would put more memory in as well as it’s not too expensive and would give greater flexibility (maybe 8GB to start with).

Lee hits it on the nose – using VMWare has made things easier, and I’ve never had ANY reliability issues that VMWare was at the root of.

As for controllers and drives:
o RAID-1 with SSDs for the system drives of the VMs
o Lots of RAM

If you go with FreeNAS:
o More RAM
o Native SATA for the data drives
    FN needs direct disk access for ZFS, not sitting on top of hardware RAID
    You can specify direct hardware access to the hard drive under VMWare
o Stay away from Green drives
o WD now makes a NAS-class drive - worth looking at?

While vSphere 4/5 doesnt support software mirroring, you can take two separate drives as 2 separate storage volumes in vmware and serve each one up to the virtual(s) you install and get a major performance boost using software mirroring of the OS.

For Linux/BSD’s, you can use the MD device to mirror between the drives and with Windows server, the built in software mirroring works great.

I have found, that in a monster 12 core T710, software mirroring inside the virtuals blows away the “super deluxe” PERC controllers inside my Dell servers performance wise.

I put everything in virtual machines to eliminated hardware from becoming married to the OS installation. Thus making upgrades or recoveries a snap.

2008 or 2008R2 with HyperV should be a dedicated one (such as Hyper-V, the free edition) so that no foreground service takes away from the hyper-v’s performance resources.

VMWare vsphere is free and works better anyhow.

To this day, you can update a Linux installation with a new kernel via yum updates and kernel panic your box on the next reboot when you use hyper-v and its “additions”.

VMWare’s tools rarely ever do that.

PFSense, being a freeBSD based Firewall, works better in VMWare too. I even think they have the open sourced tools package for VMWare as part of their repo.

That sort of software mirroring sounds great for individual VM Guests but a disk failure could still bring down ESXi itself. In this case install ESXi on a SSD or USB drive and have individual datastores on separate JBODs.

Hi guys, Not sure if i’m going off the track here but what would the best setup be?

I have quoted the business owner for this server: As it seems to be up to the job, but also has a PERC H700 RAID card which is supposed to be very good, I was then going to configure the HDD’s in RAID 10 as this would allow 2 HDD’s to fail. What do you think of this spec?

I could have got the following which as a slightly better CPU however, the price would be similar to the T310 as we would need to add on the H700 RAID Card which is roughly £350.00, Dell did offer the PERC H200 for £131.00 however the reviews are awful for this card.

I also feel the T310 will be better as it is a higher model, and you can also install 2xPSU’s e.t.c.

How would you recommend installing ESXI then? If I was going to be going with RAID 10 on the HDD’s and then running Openfiler through ESXI? Can ESXI be installed directly onto the internal RAID 10 HDD’s?

Just so you know, I will be going with Lee’s suggestion for FreePBX and will be going with this server: Everyone approve?


I agree with Lee, always install ESXi itself on to an SSD or USB Flash drive.

Dell in particular has a mirrored “SD” card option just for vSphere to be installed on.

Just be careful about asking Dell to pre-install vSphere.

Here in the states they require their higher level of service if they pre-install vSphere.

You can still get the mirrored or single SD flash option and not pay the insane costs of Dell’s premier support.

Using Openfiler as a virtual and serving out NFS/iSCSI to the guests is a poor mans way of supplying a shared disk appearance for vMotion, DRS, etc. if you do the same to a second server.

Of course, LeftHand Networks and others already have a commercial Virtual SAN/NAS solution as does VMWare with their storage server.

Here’s a neat way of getting speed and reliability on the cheap.

Use Openfiler on both servers and stand up your virtuals on the Openfiler shared NFS/iSCSI. (I prefer NFS). Then use OS based software mirroring and have each virtual use 1 NFS share from each Openfiler and you get really good performance (+40% I/O increase) as well as real time mirroring between servers.

If either physical server’s hard drive fails, vSphere keeps operating because its on Flash/SSD and the virtual only drops a mirror and keeps on running.

As for sizing, I have a core2-duo quad core consumer based desktop with a 60GB SSD in it running vSphere 5, 2 FreePBX Virtuals, and supporting up to 33 simultaneous calls, serving 8 SIP trunks to 8 proprietary SIP PBX’es with 30-40 telephone extensions each. Transcoding G711 to/from G729a (hence why I use FreePBX).

No call quality issues, no lengthy CPU spikes.

I hope that helps you decide :slight_smile:

Hi, thanks for your advice, I am starting to get slightly confused, all we need is a file server for a small office with currently no more than 10 users, however over time this will increase.

I was under the impression that I could install VMware onto a USB Flash dire, or a SD card? Then configure RAID 10, install Openfiler, and serve the files out via SMB / CIFS ?

All we currently need is the ability to have password protected folders (Openfiler LDAP) where users can store Word doc’s e.t.c. and also some folders where users can use Windows Backup to backup their machine to.

Can’t I go down that route? We need something basic that’s pretty much it, because at the minute if a user’s laptop / desktop HDD goes down, then were screwed.


Yep. That should do nicely for your small install.

If the SD option isnt available on your Dell, you can use your own USB thumb drive in the USB port and install ESXi/vSphere 5 on to that USB or an SSD.

If you have the budget, a 64GB or larger SSD would be better for installing both the FreePBX and Openfiler OS. For speed and reliability. I like the Vertex 3 SSD from OCZ personally. (Not the vertex 4). The 120GB can be had for US $99.

FreePBX and Openfiler should live nicely together on most systems for an environment that small.

Jonathan, you are find with that. The gear heads (me included) got talking about the limitations eSXI in larger production environments.

What you intend to do will have work great with eSXI and grow with the business. Since eSXI runs all from RAM I agree that using solid state memory is a great idea. We always keep the OS on different drives.

Just to give you an idea, we use HP DL380’s with 8 2.5" SAS slots. We put two 36G SAS in mirror for the OS then 6 300’s for local storage.

Larger external storage is handled by ZFS/Openindiana. If the Gig network is not enough you can do an etherchannel.

Just showing that this stuff scales well.

You may even think of using our CentOS 6.3 beta distro under eSXI. Make sure to install the vmware tools. The caveat is don’t do any os updates until you come in and chat it out in the forum.

Good luck!

Hi guys, please could someone help out?

Hopefully Lee’s on it ;’) But other help is also appreciated.


Hi there.
Thanks to all of you.
You guys seems to me like you understand where I am, so JohnTechTips, leemason, jdbn, SafeFast and SkykingOH thank you for taking the time to read this and, maybe, to give me some directions.

I understand this is now 1,5 years later the this original threat, so I thought could be a good chance for you to re-elaborate on the almost same scenario.

I am separating companies and building the IT platform for the one leaving.

Here is what I am thinking to put together:

  1. Pfsense: Don’t know much about it but will learn as I go
  2. FreePBX: 15 Extensions, around 12 concurrent calls, Voip only
  3. Windows Server: Domain services and File services.

Here is what I have:

New Lenovo TS140 Server, 20 Gb mem, 2 SATA III 1Tb each. The lenovo has a soft raid, but tested with ESXi and not there.

I have the budget to buy another Server (cheap like this one) if needed (price range in the 500 / 1000)
Also the budget to buy a Raid card (if I can find the one compatible with Lenovo ts140 and ESXi (if this will be the route to go (so far can’t find) in the price range of the 300.

What I would like:

To have only one server that can run all of it. Therefore I was thinking in virtualization, but maybe the ESXi is not the way to go since there are other options out there.

To have a simple IT platform where I can manage it with little attention.
To have redundancy (as far as budget allows) if possible.

Comment: this is for a small company that expects no growth. Also the company is already stabilized so the revenue will stay as is. The goal is minimize costs and keep it running smoothly.

Last the company works over the phone so the phone system is critical.

Any idea or guidance to put this together will help.

Thanks in advance.

Personally speaking I would go for an ESXi supported server. The HP Proliant ML350 G5 is fully supported under ESXi 5.1. You can pick one of these up on ebay for about £300.00-£350.00. Use the other server for another project! The ML350 G5 provide a hardware RAID solution. You can checkout all compatible servers here:

Pfsense if a good Open Source firewall. However if you are using SIP only and you want around 12 concurrent calls you are best to go with a dedicated Internet connection if not a provider who has direct connection into their infrastructure to maintain quality. Have a look at Spitfire Network Services. I use them and they are very good for this sort of thing. They have also fully certified FreePBX (as I provided them a system to do that with).

If you need assistance in the UK get in touch. Our web site is

If you’re still interested in implementing a virtualized option for this split-off company, let me know… I do it for a living and would be happy to offer any advice and answer any questions you might have.

In terms of a hypervisor, I would recommend VMware ESXi… PERIOD!
Redmond’s HyperV solution is just too resource intensive and not really that user friendly, and that’s me - an MSCE saying that…

ESXi also provides things like hardware failover, virtual multi-layer switching, and hyper-available clustering pretty much out of the box.

If you’re using a physical interface card to a T1/E1 or POTS line, no hypervisor provides a hardware pass-through good enough; so your PBX should be a dedicated hard machine, but if you are using a complete end-to-end VoIP infrastructure than a virtual machine in ESXi will do amazing things for you.

In my home, I run a full PIAF-Green installation on an ESXi VM and it works like a champ with 37 internal extensions, 8 external extensions (real-time encrypted), 7 GSM extensions (real-time encrypted), and 100+ automation short codes; end-to-end VoIP… It just works.

In terms of a firewall; I recommend you take a look at IPCop. It’s probably the best thing since sliced bread unless you are a CCNE or your pockets are deep enough to afford one…

In terms of doing AD and other such things, again; VMware ESXi is great! My home setup is 7 virtualized WIN2008R2 servers, 2 virtualized Ubuntu servers, and of-course PIAF-Green… all running on the same hardware platform. Those servers then replicate to an identical hardware platform… All in ESXi right out of the box; with a third and separate WIN2008R2 file server/back-up domain controller sitting in the corner waiting on the opportunity to come out and play.

Again, if you need any help or want any advice let me know…


I agree with Lee's and Chris' comments above and would wholly recommend ESXi for this solution.

Things to note:

  1. As mentioned before, ESXi simply will not support expansion cards for PSTN lines so if you choose a virtualised solution there's no going back if you want to incorporate this at a later date.
  2. Lee or Chris may be able to help me with this one but i've read that depending on the load on the host machine, timing processor timing issues due to a heavy load will show through on the PBX as calls are being heavily processed in real time, therefore call quality may suffer?
  3. Don't forget to lock your system down via iptables as I quickly learnt!

Another VOIP provider with reasonable pricing which I have used in the past is:

Chris, are you aware of any VOIP providers who offer call encryption, for lack of a better word. I.E an encrypted call / trunk from local PBX to provider as this would be very useful. I know of one provider who create a VPN tunnel via OpenVPN to the pbx, however wondered if you knew of any other providers?