The Home Lab
If you are not familiar with the vSpecialist group over at EMC, we are a bunch of A.D.D nerds that love to tinker with stuff. Most, if not everyone in the group has some sort of “VMware home lab” they use to help stay current on things as well as a place to just “geek out”. In my case, I built this as part of my endeavor to get my VMware Certified Professional (VCP) Certification (just passed my VCP410 Exam YEAA!! ). A few of them have posted about their home lab (Here) (Here) and (Here). I thought I would post mine as well.
So, about 13 years ago I had a sweet home lab setup. I lived in Austin and had 5 Static IP’s from SWBELL with my DSL connection (both of these were difficult to come by back then). I hosted our family domain name on a RedHat linux box running Apache and Sendmail as well as a Linux proxy server. Then I got tired of being hacked, I also got a sweet hookup from some friends at the Austin Microsoft office with a copy of Windows 2000 Server (5 client license) and Windows Exchange 2000 with 25 Client License and moved everything over to it. I used IIS to host my site and all was right with the world ….well for a couple of years. Then I started getting calls from my wife saying “E-mail isn’t working” and I just got tired of messing with everything so I “right sourced” everything over to Network Solutions and called it good. My lab eventually went away. Fast forward to a year ago and I started to get the itch again. I decided that instead of buying hardware, I would simply use VMware Workstation and build a virtual lab on my then Xiotech Laptop. I added 8GB of RAM and also added 500GB SATA drive to it and went about building my new playground. Let me tell you, VMware Workstation ROCKS. If you want a cheap lab, that’s the first place I would start !! If you do things right, it’s amazing how far you can stretch 8GB of RAM!!! This worked really well for me. I ran 2(ea) ESXi hosts, an Active Directory server and a vCenter instance and really started getting up to speed on things. I even loaded the EMC Uber VSA Celerra system and played around with it and Unisphere !!. The only major drawback to using Workstation is it doesn’t support “nested” 64bit servers. In other words, you have a base 64bit OS like Windows 7. Then you install Workstation and you can install ESXi but you won’t be able to add a 64bit OS under the ESXi box. That wasn’t a really big deal to me at the time, not to mention 8GB of memory is not a lot for things like that.
So, that moved me to what I have today. I really wanted to start playing around with more things like VMware View 4.5 so I needed to move out of my laptop and into physical ESXi servers. I was able to source 2(ea) Dell Optiplex 755 with 8GB of memory. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to get full blown servers but at this point, these machines are PERFECT. Each one runs VMware ESXi 4.1 with one booting from an internal 2.5” SATA drive and the other boots from a USB stick. Booting to USB is the ONLY way to go and 4.1 makes it SUPER easy. Just pop in the install CD and about the 3rd or 4th question is a “where do you want to install this at” and it listed my newly inserted USB stick. BOOM, that’s it. I ran like this for a month or two, using internal HDD’s as the datastores. I setup a Windows 2008 Active Directory server, DNS and then setup another Windows 2008 for vCenter. I was then able to get my hands on an Iomega ix2 1TB NAS box (I could really use the ix4 4TB J ). This rounded out my home lab for now. So I setup the 2(ea) ESXi boxes into a cluster and then vMotioned the Windows boxes from the internal HDD Datastore over to the Iomega system I mounted with NFS. From there I’ve moved some VM’s around between the 2 system to balance things out, turned on HA & DRS, installed View 4.5 and now need a Thin or Zero client “hook up” So that I can play around with View a little. I have PocketCloud for my iPad and iPhone which is cool. I think I want to roll VDI out to my 3 kids !!
So, that’s my home lab. Everything I have can easily get picked up from EBAY for a SONG !!! If you want the big boy version check out @rootwyrm’s –“Baby Dragon” or Kendrick Coleman’s (soon to be named) system he picked up during blackfriday. Both are VERY sweet systems. For those that are interested in getting your own home lab, here are a couple of suggestions. Don’t worry about CPU’s. Focus your money on Memory and Storage !! Trust me !! I normally have 2(ea) ESXi servers booted, Server2k8 with AD, Server 2k8 with vCenter, Win7 for View and another Win7 for me to use as a playground. This sucks up way more memory and disk space then CPU’s. My other advice is spend some money on network infrastructure. My future upgrades will be a gigabit cisco switch so I can start working on my CCNA as well as shoring up my network. And MORE capacity and memory !!!