The first issue I ran into was that my hardware was inadequate to the task. My old Core-2 Duo setup lacked VT-d support. So I went to the Xen compatibility list and found a motherboard which supported VT-d and upgraded my motherboard. At the same time I also upgraded my case to an Antec case that has a slot on the front for plugging in 2 1/2 inch drives. This was to make it easier to swap operating systems. Theoretically you can hot-swap, but I've not tested that and don't plan to.
Since I am inherently a lazy penguin (much like Larry Wall), the next thing I did was try the "virtualization environments". I found that XenServer was a very well designed environment for virtualizing systems in the cloud. Unfortunately it was also running a release 3.x version of Xen rather than the new 4.0 release, and did not implement PCI passthrough or USB passthrough to fully virtualized VM's natively. There were hacks you could do, but once you start doing hacks, the XenServer environment is not really a nice place to do them. So I moved on.
ProxMox VE is a somewhat oversimplified front-end to KVM and OpenVZ. It looks like a nice environment for running a web farm via web browser, but unfortunately it does not support PCI passthrough natively either. Again, you can start hacking on it, but again once you start doing that you might as well go to a non-dedicated environment.
Ubuntu 10.10 with KVM was my next bet. I *almost* got it running, but the VM wouldn't attach the graphics card. It turns out that was another issue altogether, but looking at the versions of QEMU and KVM provided, it appeared that Fedora 14 had one version newer (as you'd expect, since Fedora 14 came out almost a month later), so I went to Fedora 14 instead.
I got close -- really close -- with Fedora 14. But two different video cards -- an old nVidia 7800GT and a new nVidia GTS450 -- both ended up with error messages in the libvirtd logs saying there was an interrupt conflict that prevented attaching the PCI device. I ranted to a co-worker, "I thought MSI was supposed to solve that!" So I looked at enabling MSI on these nVidia cards and found out that... err... no. Not a good idea, even if I wanted, the cards generally crashed things hard if you tried. So I went back to the XenSource.com wiki on VGA passthrough again and followed the link to the list of video cards, and... err, okay. an ATI Radeon 5750 has been reported as running wiith Xen's VGA passthrough.
So, I swapped that out, and tried again with Fedora 14. This time the KVM module crashed with a kernel oops.
At this point I'm thinking, otay, KVM doesn't seem to want to do this. Xen, on the other hand, seems to have a Wiki and all documenting how to do this. So let's use Xen instead of KVM. The problem is that Xen is an operating system. It relies on having a special paravirtualized kernel for its "Dom0" that handles the actual I/O driver work. Red Hat claims providing such a kernel would be too much work and that they won't do it until the Dom0 patches are rolled into upstream by Linus. This despite the fact that Red Hat has patched their kernels to the point where Linus would barely recognize them if someone plunked the source to them on his disk, but it's that whole Not Invented Here thingy again, Red Hat invented KVM and was looking for an excuse to not include a Xen dom0 kernel, and there you go. I looked at downloading a dom0 kernel for Fedora 14, but then... hmm. Look. OpenSUSE 11.3 *comes* with a XEN dom0 kernel. So let's just install OpenSUSE 11.3.
OpenSUSE 11.3 is what I eventually had success with. But to do that, I ended up having to fight Red Hat -- again. But more on that in Part 3.