So, I promised I wasn't going to do this, I really did.  There are such a great selection of home lab setup overviews out there (like this one, and this one, and this one, and this one, and this one…).  For goodness sake, there's even a whitepaperon how to do it!  So why am I doing it anyway?  Mostly because I'm excited about getting things ordered.  Also because I had more than three people ask me about it on Twitter, so here we go….me too!  Me too!  (although I can't bring myself to name my lab, or my servers with something witty. My hypocrisy goes only so far.)

Seriously though, even though I work for a company who has lab facilities, and we are owned by two other companies that have more lab space than the mind can easily comprehend, I've found that having something local that I can use to answer all of the "so I wonder what would happen…" and "wait, I thought it did this…" questions that pop in my head frequently is a huge help.  With things moving as fast as they are in our industry you need to stay close to the technology, and what's closer than a home lab? 

 Since I'm sure hardly any of you care about what I have to say about WHY I made the choices I did, I'm including the shopping list early on in this post.  If you want to just look at what I chose, get your geek on.  If you want to read about why, you can do that too. :-)

Link to Shopping List

Overall, including the network switches, it's costing me <$750 per server, which I think is pretty good considering they are 6-core/16GB hosts.  I don't have to worry about shared storage, as I have a couple IP-based arrays to use (Iomega ix4, Netgear ReadyNAS NV+, OpenFiler box, etc…), and I've got a ton of SATA drives laying around.  I'm also not putting any local disk in the ESX servers themselves, allowing them to boot from USB Flash.

I went AMD rather than Intel simply to get more cores per $$ for virtualization, and I want to give props to my Team05 partner-in-crime Rich Barlow for bringing me around on this one.  I don't see the need to go real deep on the performance curve in the lab, but I can definitely see needing the ability to go wide.  With 16GB of RAM and 6 cores per host, I should have enough horsepower to do everything I need to do.  Getting the same amount of cores on the Intel side is certainly possible, but I found that the motherboards and CPUs were more expensive.  I'd rather have more hosts for the same money…

NICs are vanilla and supported on the HCL.  Video is onboard so I have extra PCI slots if needed.  I would have liked to get the integrated KVM over IP, but I wanted to keep the cost down if I could.  I'm excited about the cases, especially with the small size and the fanless design.  I'm hoping they will be nice and quiet, but we'll see once they get here.

The switches are a high risk/reward item for me.  I wanted 1Gb switches that were LACP and VLAN capable, and the Cisco SG300-10does both of those and more.  It's also a layer-3 router (!!!), supports IPv6 and is completely fanless.  Add in the fact that it's a genuine Cisco switch and I was sold.  Cisco isn't just a VCE partner, they are one of our primary owners, and if I have my choice I'd prefer to have their kit in my lab!  With 8 ports and 2 GBIC slots, hopefully these will give me all that I need.  I'm sure I'll regret not getting the 20-port version…

There are a total of five servers here; one management server and then two clusters of two hosts for the lab.  Overall, I don't have any objection to virtual-in-virtual setups, I just want to make sure I have the ability to lab up what I need to with real servers if needed.  The cases I chose are the same ones that my co-worker Tom Chatham (@tchatham on Twitter) uses, and since they are small and quiet I can always add more if needed. 

Overall I think it's pretty boring: as much CPU/RAM per $$ as possible, smallest, quietest footprint as possible, as closely aligned with the VMware HCL as I could get.  I'm interested to see how the ix4 handles the load of four servers at a time.  I'm hoping Uncle Sakac sends me a VNXe for my birthday (May 16th, BTW), but until that happens I'll manage with what I have.

Questions?  Comments?  Want to mock me because I missed something important?  Let me know below…

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One Response to VMware vSphere Home Lab: Keeping Up with the Joneses…

  1. E_mzee says:

    So I’m curious as to how your lab turned out and what issues you ran into? I want to get started on my own lab and your post caught my interest. I don’t have a large budget so I’m planning on going with AMD also, but on a smaller scale with only two hosts and virtual management server. Just want to get going in the right direction. Thanks for the post and shopping list.