Building a vSphere 5.0 Home Lab – Part 1

Being certified vSphere Instructor, I have been doing vSphere trainings for some time now. One complaint participants generally have is “how do we gain expertise on the vSphere platform”. Participants who attend these trainings are typically seeking for a career enhancement or role change. I always end up saying practice to gain confidence and build expertise. It’s easier said than done. Practicing vSphere requires a large lab setup and many do not have access to lab setups at work. That’s where a home lab comes to your rescue. Here’s NOT a quick guide to building your home lab. 🙂

Though not rocket science, the challenge is in understanding the hardware compatibility requirements for vSphere. Failure to do so will make you end up selecting the wrong hardware. This is the focus for my blog post, i.e. how to keep costs low and still build a fully working home lab for practicing vSphere 5.0 scenarios.

First things first, let us identify requirements for our home lab:

    • vSphere has been supporting SATA drives to be used as datastores for some time now. So most motherboards that support SATA are good to start with.
    • Motherboards nowadays also come with an on-board NIC card.  However vSphere does not support every network card (NIC) that is out there. vSphere is built for reliability and hence supports only a small subset of NICs available out there. Many Intel & Broadcom chipset based NICs are supported, but not all. If you have a NIC card other than Intel or Broadcom just check if that card is supported on the VMware HCL. Of late VMware has also started supported NICs from other vendors. If you have supported NIC then you are in luck and may not need to do anything further except just go ahead and install vSphere. I prefer to use Intel Pro1000 NICs since they are cheap, easily available & well supported.
    • When we setup a home lab, we are actually going to run virtual ESXi servers under a physical ESXi host (i.e. ESXi-on-ESXi). Such a setup is often known as a vPOD. We would also like to run VMs (nested VMs) on these virtual ESXi hosts. When we consider these requirements, it turns out that disk IO bandwidth is often the bottleneck in such setups. Although it is not necessary, having multiple disks (spindles) would reduce the bottleneck and make such a vPOD setup more usable at home. I typically recommend having at least three 500GB SATA disks each connected to a separate SATA port and mounted as a separate VMFS datastore on the physical ESXi host. At bare minimum two are recommended if you can afford it buy three disks. Again not necessary but if you can afford buy a supported RAID controller and connect the disks in RAID0/RAID5 mode. This would save you some configuration trouble and improve performance.
    • vPOD setup also requires substantial amount of RAM, I would recommend anything between 16GB to 32GB. More the RAM better the overall performance of the vPOD. Also more RAM would allow you to run additional vSphere setups, VMs and other complementary appliances such as vMA or a Windows VM for learning Powershell.
    • Again from vPOD perspective more the number CPU cores on your physical setup better the performance of your vPOD setup. I would recommend going with a physical CPU with at least 4 cores.
    • USB stick: Instead of installing ESXi on a physical disk, we will install ESXi on a USB stick, that will save us some disk space and also allow us to upgrade easily to the next version of vSphere, whenever that is released.

That’s all for now folks. If you have been reading until now, lets follow up on this in the next post.

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One thought on “Building a vSphere 5.0 Home Lab – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Building a vSphere 5.0 Home Lab – Part 2 | Virtual Drive

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