Anatomy of a Home Lab

Like many folks who study and earn a living from technology, especially virtualization, I have a home lab. My home lab’s fairly straightforward, with three Intel NUCs each acting as a VMware ESXi host. I’m working on upgrading my VCP as well as wanting to get some hands-on experience with some newer features, so I’ve decided to rebuild the lab.

Da BOM

My home lab was procured a couple of Black Fridays ago, so it’s not running the absolute latest and greatest any longer. Most labs don’t need to, anyway. Here’s what’s in each NUC:

  • Intel NUC Kit D54250WYKH – A 4th generation NUC with an i5 processor
  • Kingston 8GB Module DDR3L 1600MHz – Two per, maxing the NUC out at 16GB
  • Intel SSD 530 Series 240GB mSATA Drive – Flash storage
  • Western Digital WD10JPVX Blue 1TB SATA Drive – Magnetic storage
  • SanDisk 16GB Ultra Fit USB 3.0 Flash Drive – ESXi boot drive
img_20161031_231729-animation

As easy as 1, 2, 3 … uh, 8.

I Feel the Need. The Need, for Aggregating Distributed Local Storage!

For those of you who are eagle-eyed readers, you may have noticed that my parts list lends itself to a particular vSphere feature introduced in 5.5. Virtual SAN, or vSAN (little-v, it’s new), aggregates the local storage on participating ESXi hosts, presenting a shared storage resource to vCenter. It’s particularly well suited to specific use cases, like ROBO, management clusters, and pertinent to me, home labs. The mSATA drive satisfies the role of cache layer and SATA drive that of capacity layer. Who knows, depending on how good Black Friday is to us this year I may go all flash!

vSAN is a reasonably inexpensive and straight-forward way to get a vSphere cluster up and running. No external NAS or SAN required. I do have a spare 2-bay Synology that supports VAAI and can present both NFS and iSCSI, but that… is a topic best served by a future post.

All Shapes and Sizes

There are as many home lab options as there are ways of divvying up the family budget. The predecessor to this home lab is a 16 GB laptop with nested vSphere on top of VMware Workstation. In fact that laptop still serves me well when I travel.

Hopefully this glimpse inspires you to consider your own lab, whether you want to roll up your sleeves and work on a bit of hardware, run your own on-premises nested lab, or opt for cloud hosting or Hands On Labs. As long as you continue to learn, have fun, and don’t break the piggy bank.

Featured image photo by mararie

Dee Abson

Dee Abson is a technical architect from Alberta, Canada. He's been working in the field of technology for over 20 years and specializes in server and virtualization infrastructure. Working with VMware products since ESX 2, he holds several VMware certifications. He was awarded VMware vExpert for 2014-2019. You can find him on Twitter.

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13 Responses

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  1. November 21, 2016

    […] VMware vSphere 6.5 released recently, I decided to rebuild my Intel NUC based homelab. My preferred method is to create a bootable USB drive with the ESXi install media on it. Then […]

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