I'm a big fan of virtualization. It enables multiple computing functions to run on the same hardware, saving electricity and space, reducing heat and noise output and improving network operations and efficiency. The challenge with virtualization is ensuring the hardware running the virtual machines (VMs) has enough processing power and memory to deliver the required performance, yet still generate all those savings.
Processors and memory capacity in NASes are increasing and more NAS vendors are adding support for running VMs. Running one or more virtual machines on a NAS makes a ton of sense if the hardware can support it. Why not use the NAS' excess computing power to run virtual machines instead of running multiple boxes?
QNAP's Virtualization Station add-in application is a good example. Here's a quick rundown of its features:
- Multiple OS support
- Run multiple OS and NAS simultaneously
- Dedicated network access for VMs
- Browser access to VMs
- VM to NAS Direct Storage access
- Operate VMs with physical keyboard, mouse and monitor
- VMs can have direct access to USB devices
- Fast virtual machine creation
- Virtual machine import/export
- Snapshot function
- Energy-saving & Eco-friendly
Depending on the model, Virtualization Station can simultaneously run 1-8 VMs. In this review, I'm going to take a look at QNAP's Virtualization Station using a QNAP TS-453 Pro NAS.
QNAP describes Virtualization Station as a hosted hypervisor, meaning it is an application running on top of QNAP's operating system (QTS), instead of a bare metal hypervisor running directly on hardware. To run Virtualization Station, you only need to have the right model of QNAP NAS, and install the application. QNAP states Virtualization Station requires QTS 4.1 and at least 4 GB or RAM, although the TS-x51 NAS supports Virtualization Station with 2 GB or RAM.
QNAP provided a TS-453 Pro for this review. It's a 4-bay NAS with 2.0 GHz Celeron quad core CPU and 8 GB of RAM. A quad core processor and 8 GB of RAM seems like a healthy amount of computing power for a 4-bay NAS. Interestingly, the TS-453 Pro is considered an entry level QNAP NAS for virtualization as shown in the chart below.
QNAP Virtualization Support
Applications are installed on the NAS with just a few clicks. Just log into the QTS Desktop, select App Center, select Virtualization Station and click Add To QTS. Installation is automatic from there. For my tests, I ran Virtualization Center version 1.2.2312 on QTS 4.1.1.
Creating a VM on Virtualization Station is straightforward. The TS-453 Pro has four Ethernet interfaces. One is reserved for the NAS, the rest can be allocated to the NAS or to VMs. I left Ethernet1 allocated to the NAS and allocated Ethernet2 for VM use.
VMs can be created with various amounts of CPU and memory with predefined templates including micro, mini, small, medium and large, as shown below. You can also allocate custom amounts of CPU and memory to each VM.
To create the VM, give it a name, choose an OS type and version, create a console password, identify the path the OS image and identify where the VM HD will be created. I built a Linux VM using the small template, which allocates 2 cores of the CPU, 1 GB RAM, and 40 GB of hard disk space to the VM. The screenshot shows the options I selected for my Linux VM.
Small VM Template
Virtualization Station supports multiple OSes as VMs, including Android-x86, Linux, Unix, and Windows and multiple versions of each OS are recognized. For example, CentOS Linux is supported up to version 6.4. But I used CentOS version 6.5, which worked fine. It took me less than 10 minutes to have a fully functional Linux VM running on the TS-453 Pro.
Once I had my Linux VM running, I created a Windows VM. I built a Windows VM using the large template, which allocates 4 cores of CPU, 4 GB of RAM and 160 GB of hard disk space to the VM. Virtualization Station recognizes Windows 8.1, 8, 7, Vista, XP, and Windows Server 2012, 2008 and 2003. The Windows 7 image I used was a bit outdated, so the install took longer to complete the Windows upgrade process. But the end result was a fully functional Windows 7 VM running on the TS-453 Pro.