VMware Home Lab Setup in a Drawer!

VMware 9 Comments

Over the years I have used many hardware variations to build my VMware home lab. I started with a mini lab on a Dell Latitude with 16GB of RAM, then an HP desktop Workstation with 32GB of RAM and 2TB of storage, and many other hardware combinations.
The main objective was studying for certification or building some PoC to test new functionalities.
I have done some research to look for what’s new and what other people did, and I was “surprised” to find people get obsessed with performance and hardware characteristics!
In my opinion, to build a successful VMware home lab, you should define your objectives

  • Why am I building this home lab ?
  • What performance do I need/expect ? do I really need that kind of performance ?
  • For future growth, do I need to scale-up or scale-out ?
  • How much should/can I spend for this lab ?

Giving answers to those questions will guide you through your journey. In my experience, the major bottleneck for any VMware home lab (or in real life) is the storage.
You should also take into consideration, the generated noise, the heat and the power consumption as it supposed to be setup at home!

I have a clear idea for what I need, studying for some VMware certification (VCIX), building some Poc for Linux clustering and playing around with new features.

Let’s build it!

The Compute Resources

I was looking for something, small, energy efficient, powerful enough to run my workload, I was tempted with the Intel NUC 6th Gen, a small and powerful machine that has the following characteristics:

 Processor 6th generation Intel® Core™ i3-6100U

(2.3 GHz Dual Core, 3 MB Cache, 15W TDP)

 Maximum memory  32GB
 Memory type  Dual-channel DDR4 SODIMMs, 1.2V, 2133 MHz
 Connectivity 2x USB 3.0 ports on the back panel

2x USB 3.0 ports on the front panel (1x charging capable)

2x Internal USB 2.0 via header

Consumer Infrared sensor on the front panel

 Storage  SATA 3 2.5¨ HDD/SSD slot

M.2 SSD card (22×42 or 22×80)

SDXC slot with UHS-I support

 Networking Intel® 10/100/1000Mbps network card

Intel® Wireless-AC 8260 M.2, wireless antennas (IEEE 802.11ac, Bluetooth* 4.1, Intel® Wireless Display 6.0)

 Virtualization Technology  VT-x, VT-d, VT-x EPT

 

intel nuc i3 6th generation spec intel nuc i3 6th generation box inside intel nuc 6th generation i3 vmware home lab setup hardware

 

All I need in small and powerful box. If you have the budget, I would recommend the Intel NUC 6th generation with an i5 CPU, for me an i3 CPU in enough, this is a lab setup, designed for small workload.

The Storage Resources

For the internal ESXi installation I used a SanDisk Cruzer Fit 8gb usb drive which is more than enough, coupled with a 1TB 2,5 SATA3 HDD that I recovered from an unused USB external drive that I had. This is enough to start experimenting. If you have the budget I would recommend an 500GB SSD drive.

Samsung 2.5 1TB HDD

I also had a Synology DS414slim Disk Station which I used with my older VMware home lab setup, which can be used for virtual machine datastore (iSCSI or NFS).
The idea here, is that I will start small and I will grow my lab setup as I’m scaling out.

The Synology DS414slim can support up to 4 drives, I’m starting with one Samsung 500Go SSD 2.5″ 850 EVO, also recovered from an old setup.

Synology Disk Station DS414slim

CPU  Marvell Armada 370 88F6707
 Memory 512 MB DDR3
 Drive Bay  4
 Supported RAID level
  • Synology Hybrid RAID
  • Basic
  • JBOD
  • RAID 0
  • RAID 1
  • RAID 5
  • RAID 6
  • RAID 10
 Connectivity  2 RJ-45 1GbE LAN Port with Link Aggregation / Failover support
 Compatible Drive Type 2.5″ SATA III / SATA II HDD (Up to 12.5mm drive height)

2.5″ SATA III / SATA II SSD

 Maximum Single Volume Size  16 TB
 Supported protocol  NFS / iSCSI

 

Synology DS414slim

 

 

Local Storage

Samsung 500Go SSD 2.5″ 850 EVO  Used in the Synology
1TB 2,5 SATA3 HDD  Used inside the intel NUC 2.5 drive bay for local storage
SanDisk Cruzer Fit 8gb usb drive  USB drive used to run ESXi 6.0

The Network Resources

Everything is connected through a TP-LINK TL-SG2008 switch.
I have setup the two Synology ethernet port in a LAG group and connected them to two switch port configured in a LAG (Dynamic) group for performance improvement.

tp-link switch TL-SG2008 rear view tp-link switch TL-SG2008 front view

 

 

 

 

The Final Build
I’m running a VMware vSphere 6 installation with 3 nested esxi, a vCenter (VCSA) instance and an external PSC (to be used in more advanced setup).

vmware home lab final setup

The lab can be enhaced by addig an M.2 SSD card for caching, more disks inside the Synology NAS to build RAID group for data protection and one more Intel NUC for scaling out
The performance is really good for this small setup which didn’t cost me much!

If you don’t have the budget and time for building a VMware home lab, the other alternative if you want to experiment with new vSphere features is to use VMware online lab HOL, which doesn’t cost you anything.

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9 thoughts on “VMware Home Lab Setup in a Drawer!

  • Travis Quinnelly

    Interesting. I like the idea of using the Intel NUC for compute. I’m in need for a refresh on my home lab and this might just be a perfect fix.

    Thanks!

    • stoun Post author

      Thanks for your feedback Travis!
      I Think that if you can afford 1 or 2 more hosts with M.2 card for vFRC and to have the Synology with the 4 drive bay populated with SSD, we can have decent performance for this kind of setup.
      The drawback I see her, is many SPOF, but anyway it’s a home lab setup, who care 😀 !!

  • Big

    Well done!

    It might be nice if you posted the cost of parts purchased. It would be nice to know at a glance the cost of building a like config.

    • Stoun Post author

      The price for the new acquired hardware is ~527 euro = 230€ NUC + 235€ memory + 6€ USB + 56€ for the TP-LINK switch.
      The Synology 243€ and the Samsung 500Go SSD 2.5″ 850 EVO 190€ which I had from an old setup.

  • Chris

    Intel NUC was my first Idea, but that there is no possibility to add further NICs for a LAG or separate the Nfs and VM Traffic. So i switched to HP ML 10 🙂

    • Stoun Post author

      Hi Chris,
      HP ML 10 is a great choice.
      This setup have some limitations/SPOF of course, but for the majority of vSphere features can be tested in the nested ESXi inside, where you have more control over hardware.

  • Chestin

    Are you running ESXi inside of VMware Workstation or on top of ESXi?

  • Chris

    This is cool!!, i Like the way you used old parts to build your vmware home lab.

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