Monday, April 22, 2013

The home lab

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I suppose most of the virtualization blogs will include the description of the author’s test & lab gear, so I’ll start with that. :-)

I decided not to virtualize the lab itself, but to use real equipment. Yep, it’s possible to build an all-in-one setup with a standard PC and VMware Workstation. But you’re not able to try out the pros and cons of different network setups and configurations or reproduce problems of customer environments. A high performance PC with lots of RAM would even have been more expensive at that time - I built my home lab in early 2011, so please keep in mind that it is 2 year old stuff. So, here’s the list.

Two ESXi hosts:
AMD Phenom II X6 1055T E0 (6 x 2.8 GHz) on Asus M4A88T-M mainboard with 24 GB RAM DDR3-1333. One HP NC360T Intel-based dual port NIC, one Intel Gigabit CT Desktop NIC, together with the onboard Realtek a total of 4 NICs. I got the HP NICs from eBay where you still can find them (or even genuine Intel dual port NICs) for around 50 Euro.

Storage system:
Upgraded an existing Mini-ITX box with Intel Core2Duo E6750 (2 x 2.6 GHz) on Zotac G43-ITX mainboard with 4 GB RAM and 2 x 500GB + 2 x 320GB 2,5” HDDs. One HP NC360T Intel-based dual port NIC. Currently I’m running Ubuntu 12.04 LTS with iSCSI target, kernel mode NFS, DNS, NTP, DHCP and Kickstart server.

LevelOne GSW-1676 16 port Gigabit “smart” switch. Which basically means its friggin’ complicated to properly configure the VLANs, trunks and port settings using the Web UI. I’d rather suggest to look for a Cisco SG200 series switch or the like.

The cost was around 1000 Euro for the whole lab, which is not that much considering that you have two physical boxes and a real network. 

I chose AMD since in my opinion they (still!) offer the best ratio of cores to cost. The single thread performance of Intel CPU cores is superior, but with AMD you’ll get more cores, and that usually better suits virtualization needs. The ASUS mainboard officially supports only 4 GB DIMMs, and I started with 16 GB in each system. Last year when the RAM got amazingly cheap, I tried a set of four 8 GB DIMMs and found out that the board supports them without any problem, so the total memory went up to 48 GB. When the vCenter memory dramatically increased with vSphere 5.1 I was quite glad to have found the right time to expand the resources. BTW: a guide on how to reduce the vCenter memory requirements down to more home lab friendly 5 GB will follow soon.

Latest addition was a Juniper Netscreen-50 firewall. Used ones are around 40 Euro on eBay. They have only 4 Fast Ethernet ports, but add another “real life” complexity (like the switches) you’ll have to deal with when building real vSphere environments. If you have the chance to grab one of these fine devices, I recommend to do so.

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