I've just purchased a computer that I'd like to repurpose as a lab server. It's a six-core AMD processor with 8 gigs of ram (16 gig max) and a terabyte hard drive. My idea is to hose Windows, install a unix-based system on it, and use it to host a lot of virtual guests.

I've been looking at my virtualization options, and I've decided to go with Xen - I've never used it before, but it looks like it has good support and I've heard good things about it. (My only experience with virtual hosts has been with VMware on Debian.)

Debian would be my first choice as an OS because I'm familiar with it's setup and package management tools, and I know that Xen is supported on Debian. However, OpenSolaris has ZFS, which is pretty compelling.

Has anyone had any experience doing something like this? I'm torn between going with what I know (Debian) or trying my hand with OpenSolaris just for the ZFS filesystem (which is, from what I understand, VERY awesome). Does Xen even run on OpenSolaris? All of my searches have turned up information about OpenSolaris as a virtual guest, not a virtual host.

Discussion and experiences are welcome. If this is a bad question, or if I need to give more details, please let me know. Thanks!

Edit: Virtualization options are welcome, as well. Xen looks interesting, but I am by no means tied to it. Since this will be a personal lab server, I'm willing to try different methods.

4 Answers 4


If you are interested with ZFS and other Solaris features, instead of Xen which used to support being a dom0 on OpenSolaris but has being phased out, I would recommend either VirtualBox or the recent port of KVM on top of illumos (SmartOS) although I have no experience with the latter.


Xen has been accepted for full support in the Linux kernel starting with 3.0. The Xen hypervisor can theoretically be installed on any flavour of Linux provided you can properly apply the patches to the kernel in order to provide support for paravirtualization and install the userspace tools. Once you've recompiled the kernel with the Xen patches and rebooted using this kernel, this becomes your Dom0 (hypervisor). The user space tools are then used to create an manage your virtual machines. xm is the main tool.

Setting up Xen with the proper kernel patches can be pretty daunting for many flavours of Linux since it requires you to patch and recompile the kernel to one which is not supported by your distribution. If you're determined to set it up manually, I would suggest any flavour that does not require you to patch / recompile without the help of a package manager.

Finally, I would suggest that you think about using XCP. The Xen Cloud Platform is a Dom0 installation kit. It's put together by the Xen team. It comes in the form of an installer and is compatible with the XAPI developed by Citrix. It is 100% open source, does not require licensing and can be managed by the same tools use to manage Citrix XenServer or, alternatively, by a python tool (available anywhere you have python and pygtk) OpenXenManager.


OpenSolaris does support Xen, but it was rebranded xVM hypervisor.

I'd go with what you know and not be tempted by ZFS which seems irrelevant for your requirements. If you want to play with ZFS, install Debian GNU/KFreeBSD as a xen guest and try it with that. (You could even offer production services on top of ZFS from a guest in the future.)

Note that Xen is supported in the current Debian stable (Squeeze) but future support depends on the relevant Xen bits and pieces being accepted into the upstream kernel. Have you considered KVM? If so what was more appealing about Xen? If you do go for Xen, I'd recommend using virsh to manage them as you can then use the same skills with KVM in the future.

  • OpenSolaris did support Xen, but OpenSolaris is itself no longer supported. Oracle's replacement, Solaris 11, dropped the Xen support; the community fork, OpenIndiana, still has it, but seems to be focusing on KVM instead.
    – alanc
    Sep 28, 2011 at 1:29

My understanding of Xen is that you install and run it as the hypervisor for guests that may include debian or opensolaris. You don't run xen ON debian or opensolaris.

  • So....Xen is actually an OS, similar to VMware ESX? I thought it was a server application that ran on top of an OS, like VMware server. Sep 11, 2011 at 1:13
  • 3
    @psusi: your reply is incorrect. Xen requires a Dom0 host running an OS.
    – jlliagre
    Sep 11, 2011 at 1:35

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