QNAP TS 451+ and virtual machines – Virtualization Station

Introduction

I recently bought a TS 451+ with 4 Hitachi NAS drives for a reasonable price at Sim Lim. Took me a few days to transfer all content from the old to the new box and set up everything the way I like (Plex for LAN media streaming, PhotoStation, iTunes server, the usual suspects). One of the features that I found particularly intriguing is the Virtualization Station – the ability to run virtual machines directly on the NAS.

So eventually I would give that a go and see how it is. A few things upfront:

If you find yourself in the market for a NAS which can run VMs natively, it needs to have the right CPU. For QNAP boxes, the x51 models (251, 451 etc.) will all be capable of running VMs. Secondly you have to have sufficient memory available. QNAP’s Virtualization station will not be available if you have less than 2GB. Hence the + models, which all come with minimum specs equipped. My 451+ has a quad core 2GHz Celeron CPU and 2GB.

Installing your first VM

To get started, install Virtualization Station from the app store and, once done, click on the link on your desktop. You will be redirected to a web UI where you can start creating and managing your VMs. At this point, and if you haven’t done so already, you will be reminded that your NAS can do some advanced virtual switching. In short, I enabled it, but that goes beyond the scope of this post. What is however important to keep in mind is that the hypervisor running on this NAS is KVM. As such you may want to have VirtIO drivers handy. For Windows VMs, go ahead and download the latest ISO, for Linux VMs follow the instructions.

With your operating system ISO and VirtIO ISO files somewhere on your NAS you ready to go. In the UI click on Create VM.

create_vm

I choose to create a custom VM at that stage, but as usual, your milage may vary. If you are happy with the templates offered, go ahead and pick either one.

What follows is your standard VM configuration screen. You will want to leave the CD Image path empty at this stage, that will make the next step a little bit easier.

vm_specs

When you’re satisfied, click Create but don’t start the VM just yet. Next thing is to attach the OS and VirtIO iso images, change the disk controller to the faster Virtual Disk Controller, the Video settings to VMVGA and the network adapter to Virtual Gigabit Ethernet.

bare_vm

It’s important to get the order of the ISOs right, the Windows iso has to be attached to the first DVD drive or the VM will not boot.

virtio

vm_final

Note the two iso images attached. From here on it’s just a matter of installing the OS the same way you would on any other KVM server. Make sure you install the VirtIO SCSI driver to make your virtual disk visible to the Windows installer. Once the installation has completed, install all other VirtIO drivers such as network via the Windows Device Manager.

Summary

In summary I have to say I’m quite impressed by the performance this small NAS has to offer. While running a VM is certainly not a requirement – I have more powerful laptops and a home lab for that – it offers an alternative for when an application container (the NAS supports both LXC and Docker) just doesn’t cut it. The resources are initially very limited but I reckon a mostly idle Windows VM that has just that one service which you cannot live without may just be the killer feature to your perfect home NAS solution.

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