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)
|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|
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.
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|
|Supported RAID level||
|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|
|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.
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).
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.