My VMware ESXi 4.1 home lab

With my new role at VCE as a Solutions vArchitect and Virtualization evangelist I get to work with a lot of cool stuff. Tech I want to test myself and it makes a lot of sense to have a home lab for testing and professional development. Sure there are lab resources at work and we get to work with all that cool tech but the environment is dynamic. A home lab has other uses besides learning VMware and testing. There are some examples on lifehacker.com Television personal video recorder, Secure Wireless connections when using public WiFi. Each of these can be a VM running in the lab.

I have read a number of articles on home labs and wanted to add my experience with building one. As we all know technology changes quickly and it may be helpful to share what I’m finding success with as of March, 2011. Many blog posts out there cover hardware from 2009 when desktops were using DDR2 memory and Intel Core 2 Duo processors. These systems were limited to 8GB of RAM. This year second generation Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 processors are available with prices on first generation dropping. These processors and P55/H55 chipsets use DDR3 memory which allow for 16GB of RAM (double the amount of a DDR2 memory system). Intel Core i3/i5/i7 system prices are more expensive but worth it for the amount of RAM you can pack in. I also priced AMD processors but the price gap is small when comparing current technology.

I spent under $375 per PC, running bare bones (no case, monitor, keyboard or HDD).  About $450 per PC with case and HDD. Newegg.com, buy.com, tigerdirect.com and Frys seem to offer the best prices on computer parts (please leave comments with other good sites). Prices on PC parts change with the weather depending on weekly sales, mail in rebates and changes in current hardware.

The setup

Hardware:

  • Processor: Intel Core i3 540 $119
  • Memory: 16GB DDR3 Corsair (2 x 4GB) $75 x 2 packs
  • Motherboard: Intel DH55TC $89 – Onboard video, Gigabit NIC, 4 memory slots, 12 USB ports, PCI slot.
  • Hard Drive: 500GB Seagate Barracuda 7200RPM $39
  • Network Card: Intel 10/100/1000 GT PCI NIC $29
  • MicroAtx Case & 350Watt Power Supply $39
  • Shared storage: Iomega ix2 Storage device $189
  • Network Switch: Cisco Small Business 10/100/1000 5-port $47

Alternate Hardware:

  • Processor: AMD Phenom Quad Core 9750 CPU $100
  • Memory: 8GB DDR2 (4 x 2048MB) $112
  • Motherboard: Asus M4A785-M $50

Software:

  • VMware ESXi 4.1 Update 1 Installable
  • VMware ESXi 4.1 Update 1 Installable on USB stick (Instructions: http://www.vladan.fr/how-to-install-esxi-40-on-usb-memory-key/)
  • VMware vSphere Client
  • VMware vCenter Server installed onto a VM
  • Microsoft Windows 2003 Enterprise Edition (less overhead / smaller install than server 2008)
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 32-bit (choose any client OS you prefer)
  • Celerra NAS VSA

The process for registering and downloading VMware software remains unchanged. You can go to http://www.vmware.com and find numerous links to 60-day trials for all their software. ESXi installable is free to use which means your VMs will always run even if some licenses expire. I was interested in testing VMware View which included trial license keys and download links for vCenter, vShield Endpoint, View and clients.

There are two inexpensive routes for shared storage that provide NFS and iSCSI mounts. Celerra VSA (free from EMC to use) or a NAS device such as the Iomega iX2 or iX4. Other options exist but since I work with Celerra NAS I think it’s cool to have the software running in my lab. The Celerra VSA runs as a VM on one of your hosts. A better solution may be the Iomega iX2 which runs external to your ESX hosts. Shared storage is required for clustering ESX hosts.

How did VMware install?

Simple! Insert CD media, boot, install, repeat on all hosts. No issues with the Intel Motherboard. The H55/P55 chipsets work with ESX. USB, NIC, SATA, Video all worked fine. You have to go into the BIOS to enable VT and disable Execution Prevention Code. Clustering, HA, DRS, FT all seem to be working. You also have the option of running the hosts without a hard drive booting ESX from USB sticks. Each host would need to be configured with a NFS or iSCSI mount.

How to setup VMware

  • Install VMware ESXi onto each of the hosts.
  • Configure the root user password and host IP information
  • Install VMware Client onto a Windows machine. Point this to the IP of the ESX host.
  • Create a VM on the ESX host and install Windows 2003 or 2008 server.
  • Install VMware tools, OS updates, static IP, etc.
  • Install vCenter Server and let it install SQL Express (unless you want to first setup MS SQL Server)
  • Once vCenter Server is installed restart the client and connect to the IP of the Windows server.
  • Optional: Install Update Manager
  • Install Complete
  • Consider deploying the Celerra VSA virtual machine.

Example VMware Lab

The following image is an example of VMware ESX, VMs, vCenter & Celerra VSA setup on one PC. You can learn a lot about VMware with one PC but additional PCs are required for testing vMotion, HA, DRS, FT, SRM and other features.

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Two example setups using a second PC for vMotion or HA.

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Two more PCs are required to properly test SRM.

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Contact me with any questions or comments!