Building new whitebox servers for VMware home lab

I have needed to get some more capacity added to the home lab for a while now, but have taken my time. I have been gathering up enterprise servers that are a couple of generations old in the past. These have always done me well but have limited amount of memory in them and upgrading them was pretty expensive, not to mention they are very loud. So I decided to go another direction and build a couple of whitebox servers based on common desktop parts. I’ve been watching for sales and collecting the parts to build them. After finding a couple of good deals lately I finally had all the parts need to build two hosts.

Another thing that I had to make a decision on was if I needed a server class motherboard or would a desktop one work. After thinking about it I came to the decision that a desktop motherboard would work just fine and probably save me a few dollars in the build cost. I almost never use the out of band management access to the enterprise servers that I had at this point and since they are just down in the basement, I can easily run down and access them if needed.

I also did not need the ability to use VT-d so a server board was even less important. I simple needed hosts with good power and more RAM. It really comes down to memory for me, I needed the ability to run more VMs so that I don’t have to turn things on and off.

The Why:

This type of lab is important to me for personal learning and testing out configurations for the customer designs that I work on during the days. I have access to a sweet lab at work but it’s just better to have your own lab that you are free to do what you want, and my poor bandwidth at the house makes remote access kind of poor.

I want the ability to run a View environment, vCloud suite and my various other tools all at once. With these new hosts I will be able to dedicate one of my older servers as the management host and a pair of the older servers as hosts for VMware View. This will leave the two new hosts to run vCloud suite and other tools on.

The How:

I have set the hosts up to boot from the USB sticks and plan to use part of the 60GB SSD drives for host cache. The remaining disk space will be used for VMs. Each host will have 32GB of RAM, this is the max that the motherboard will support with its 4 slots. There is an onboard 1GB network connection that is a Realtek 8111E according to the specs. I can report that after loading vSphere 5.1 the network card was recognized and worked without issue. I had a couple of gigabit network cards laying around that I installed for a second connection in each of the hosts.

The case came with a fan included, but I added another for better cooling and air flow. Even with multiple fans running the hosts are very quiet since there are no spinning disks in them and put out very little heat. I could have probably reduced the noise and heat a bit more by choosing a fan less power supply but they are over $100 and was not a priority for me.

About Brian Suhr

Brian is a VCDX5-DCV and a Sr. Tech Marketing Engineer at Nutanix and owner of this website. He is active in the VMware community and helps lead the Chicago VMUG group. Specializing in VDI and Cloud project designs. Awarded VMware vExpert status 6 years for 2016 - 2011. VCP3, VCP5, VCP5-Iaas, VCP-Cloud, VCAP-DTD, VCAP5-DCD, VCAP5-DCA, VCA-DT, VCP5-DT, Cisco UCS Design

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How does FreeNAS perform with VMware vSphere

I was talking to a co-worker who was kicking around the idea of using FreeBSD and ZFS for shared storage in his home lab. I thought it sounded decent but never imagined that it could squeeze a ton of IOPs out of some old hardware. So too make my life easier since I’m no Linux geek I elected to run FreeNAS 8 which is the same setup, but wrapped up in a nice package with a web GUI. Perfect for a former Windows geek.

Now I never really had very high hopes on getting much performance out of the test server that I would be using. And after eating some Chinese takeout, you can see the fortune that I got was telling me not to get my hopes up.

So I dug up one of my old servers that I had since retired after vSphere 5 was released. It is a 64bit machine but does not have VT compatible CPU’s so it does not offer much help as a vSphere  host any longer. But it was the best candidate for this storage experiment. The server is an IBM x346 server with 2 Dual Core Xeon CPU’s and 6GB of RAM. I am using just one of the onboard 1Gbe connections for Ethernet.  For disks I have four 72GB U320 10K drives, of which one is used for the OS install and the other three will be used for a ZFS volume. Yes that’s right I am going to use just 3 x 10K SCSI drives for this NAS box. I know what you are probably thinking. A picture of this awesome 6+ year old machine is shown below.

About Brian Suhr

Brian is a VCDX5-DCV and a Sr. Tech Marketing Engineer at Nutanix and owner of this website. He is active in the VMware community and helps lead the Chicago VMUG group. Specializing in VDI and Cloud project designs. Awarded VMware vExpert status 6 years for 2016 - 2011. VCP3, VCP5, VCP5-Iaas, VCP-Cloud, VCAP-DTD, VCAP5-DCD, VCAP5-DCA, VCA-DT, VCP5-DT, Cisco UCS Design

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Chicago VMware Forum 2011 Free Hands on Labs available

The Chicago VMware Forum for 2011 is just around the corner on June 15th. Along with all of the great break out sessions topics and vendor booths VMware is going to be having their famous Hands on Labs. These are a great way to get you feet wet playing with some of the coolest technology from VMware and get your questions answered by VMware experts on-site.

 

We have added FREE Hands-On Labs for all attendees at VMware Forum 2011. This is your chance to explore our software firsthand with experts available to answer your questions. Topics include:

  • VMware vSphere™ — Install & Configure
  • VMware View™ 4.5 — Install and Configure
  • VMware ThinApp™ 4.6
  • VMware Performance Management vCenter™ Operations Standard and Enterprise
  • VMware vCenter™ Site Recovery Manager – Extended Configure & Troubleshooting
  • VMware vCloud Director — Install & Configure
  • VMware vSphere Performance & Tuning

Register Now and don’t miss out on attending VMware Forum 2011 in your local city or online.

About Brian Suhr

Brian is a VCDX5-DCV and a Sr. Tech Marketing Engineer at Nutanix and owner of this website. He is active in the VMware community and helps lead the Chicago VMUG group. Specializing in VDI and Cloud project designs. Awarded VMware vExpert status 6 years for 2016 - 2011. VCP3, VCP5, VCP5-Iaas, VCP-Cloud, VCAP-DTD, VCAP5-DCD, VCAP5-DCA, VCA-DT, VCP5-DT, Cisco UCS Design

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An interview with Kendrick Coleman about his VMware vSphere home lab

These days it’s almost a necessity that if you want to continue to increase your technical skills you will need to build a home lab. With a lab at home you can learn new technology that you might not get the chance to work with at the office. In the safety of your Lab you can break things and fix them without any worries.

I was able to sit down and talk with Kendrick Coleman this month about his newly created home lab. I thought that Kendrick would be a great first victim for this column, since he just built his lab. Some of the choices that he picked for his equipment intrigued me and I wanted to learn more. In case you don’t know Kendrick he is a vArchitect for VCE and works with Service Providers in his role evangelizing the benefits of the VCE stack. I hope to find other interesting home lab stories for upcoming issues.

Why did you create your home lab?

To keep myself up to date with all things related to vSphere. Since joining VCE as a vArchitect my role is more of a Pre-Sales function. I don’t have that daily access to servers in a datacenter to test out features.

How long did it take you to assemble?

I really took about a month to do research on the parts that I purchased for the lab. I spoke with people online and read a lot of blogs that others wrote on their labs. I needed to decide if I was going to go with one really large server or two servers with shared storage model.

What do you want to test in the lab?

I’ve been working with the Uber Celerra VSA that Nick created and the Cisco UCS emulator. I will also be checking out the Uber UIM VM that Nick setup. A lot of my time at VCE will be centered around architecting VDI and vCloud Director solutions. So I will be working with these products to test out different solutions that will help me in my designs.

What type of equipment is on your wish list for future lab upgrades?

The one thing that I would really like to upgrade in the future would be to get another NAS device and add SSD’s into it so that I could test the difference in performance.

How often have you been using the lab?

I’ve been using it a ton lately but I also just finished building it. So my wife has already been complaining about my time spent with the lab.

Do you keep it running all of the time?

Yes it’s just a few feet from me as we are speaking and I can barely hear it. That was my goal by looking for products that are green. By selecting these parts I was able to keep the power consumption low and also build a lab that is very quiet. I built the shuttle systems without hard drives or optical drives this kept the cost down and I can barely hear them running.

Will you be running anything other than VMware products in the lab?

I only plan on running things that related to what I’m doing as a vArchitect. So things like a Nexus 1000V virtual switch, VMware products and EMC / Cisco offerings that tie in with VCE. I don’t think that I’ll be running anything else. I don’t plan on becoming an SQL DBA or a Microsoft guru or anything like that.

What is the best thing that you have learned so far?

The best thing so far was to take your time and make sure that you do your research on the products that you buy. You will want to make sure that the motherboard and parts will work with vSphere. I highly recommend that you choose a network card that is on the VMware HCL, while I was able to do some driver injection to get the onboard Nic to work I still have some issues with it.

You choose to run ESXi on both servers why?

I went with ESXi on both because it allowed me to go diskless on both servers and boot from USB sticks.

What method are you using to connect to the shared storage?

Right now I am using both iSCSI and NFS. This allows me to play with both methods and I recently setup CHAP authentication for the iSCSI. That’s something that I never did in the past. During this I encountered an error with the iSCSI and was able to take the time and correct it rather than just starting over.

Kendrick also wrote up an extensive post on his blog that talks about some of the technical setup steps that he went through. It’s a great read and I suggest you give it a look also at this link.

About Brian Suhr

Brian is a VCDX5-DCV and a Sr. Tech Marketing Engineer at Nutanix and owner of this website. He is active in the VMware community and helps lead the Chicago VMUG group. Specializing in VDI and Cloud project designs. Awarded VMware vExpert status 6 years for 2016 - 2011. VCP3, VCP5, VCP5-Iaas, VCP-Cloud, VCAP-DTD, VCAP5-DCD, VCAP5-DCA, VCA-DT, VCP5-DT, Cisco UCS Design

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VMware Labs releases PyvCO for vCO communications

Earlier today the crack team over at VMware Labs released a new Fling or app. The Labs team creates these pet projects and releases them to the community to offer creative solutions for admins to use.

VMware Labs presents PyvCO – Python bindings for VMware Orchestrator.

This module helps in integration of vCO in a Python environment as well as a useful testing environment. Some of the uses are:

  • Communicate with vSphere 4.1 vCO using SOAP interface.
  • Provide a consistent API for synchronous and asynchronous applications (Twisted is supported)
  • Create, delete a file or a directory in guest
  • Write tests targeting vCO.
  • Provide enough information to extend vmw.vco in such a way that above use cases remain consistent.

Be one of the first one to try, rate and comment – http://labs.vmware.com/flings/pyvco

About Brian Suhr

Brian is a VCDX5-DCV and a Sr. Tech Marketing Engineer at Nutanix and owner of this website. He is active in the VMware community and helps lead the Chicago VMUG group. Specializing in VDI and Cloud project designs. Awarded VMware vExpert status 6 years for 2016 - 2011. VCP3, VCP5, VCP5-Iaas, VCP-Cloud, VCAP-DTD, VCAP5-DCD, VCAP5-DCA, VCA-DT, VCP5-DT, Cisco UCS Design

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VMware Labs announces VIX Plugin for vCenter Orchestrator

Looks like the engineers at VMware are not slowing down with the cool toys they keep releasing via VMware Labs. These are usually side projects for them that are very helpful to the community. This one I can see a lot of possibilities for. The ability to copy files to and from a VM guest could save time. Also being able to run scripts and affected processes from outside the VM.

vCenter Orchestrator(vCO) supports extended functionality using plug-ins. This VIX plug-in allows users to automate virtual machine operations within guest operating systems as vCO Javascript objects and methods to create workflows to run operations within a Windows/Linux Guest. Some of the sample workflow provide the following functionality:

  • Check for a file or a directory in guest
  • Copy file from guest to vCO and from vCO to guest
  • Create, delete a file or a directory in guest
  • List directory content
  • List, stop processes in guest
  • Run a program or script in guest

You can download it from the following link – http://labs.vmware.com/flings/vix-vco .

About Brian Suhr

Brian is a VCDX5-DCV and a Sr. Tech Marketing Engineer at Nutanix and owner of this website. He is active in the VMware community and helps lead the Chicago VMUG group. Specializing in VDI and Cloud project designs. Awarded VMware vExpert status 6 years for 2016 - 2011. VCP3, VCP5, VCP5-Iaas, VCP-Cloud, VCAP-DTD, VCAP5-DCD, VCAP5-DCA, VCA-DT, VCP5-DT, Cisco UCS Design

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