Q

How to set up a home virtualization lab for about $1,000

Choosing the right hardware and software for your home lab can be tricky, but you can use good components for relatively cheap -- or even free.

I want a home virtualization lab to test out various VMware, Citrix Systems and Microsoft virtualization technologies.

What would you suggest for server, storage and network setup?

For the ideal home virtualization lab, spec hardware around a comprehensive lights-out management system; I recommend Intel's vPro technology. Few motherboard and processor combinations support vPro, so choose hardware carefully. The Intel Core i5-3470 Processor -- with 6 MB cache and turbo to 3.60 GHz -- is the best choice. For the motherboard, choose Q77 boards over B75 boards. The Q77 include two 6 Gb/sec SATA ports, while the B75 boards only have one. The Asus P8Q77-M/CSM is a solid Q77 board.

Build your home virtualization lab

How a VMware home lab benefits you

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Take the next step to an advanced setup

Try out Windows Server in a test lab

Finish it off with lab performance metrics

VMware's free ESXi 5.1 hypervisor won't talk to the Asus board's network interface card (NIC), so add an Intel dual-port 1 Gb network card. The three-NIC setup gives you a dedicated vPro NIC (the onboard NIC), a dedicated hypervisor management NIC and a dedicated NIC for your virtual machines (VMs).

The two 6 Gbit/sec SATA ports enable direct attached storage (DAS). The Intel chipset provides a solid RAID 1 drive mirroring setup. Choose Seagate 3TB 7200.14 drives as your DAS foundation; they are fast, reliable and offer ample storage for VMs in virtualization lab projects. Outfit the system with 32 GB of RAM (4x 8 GB DIMMs). This is both the maximum that your processor will handle and also the maximum amount supported by the VMware free ESXi 5.1 hypervisor.

A starter home lab for virtualization
Figure 1. The author's home virtualization lab hardware.

This home virtualization test lab (Figure 1) can be built for approximately $1,000, with a standard micro-ATX chassis and power supply. If you want to experiment with block storage, the Synology DS1812+ goes for about $1,000 on Amazon. For $3,000, you could build a nice two-node cluster with shared storage that works with both VMware and Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualization tools.

This was first published in December 2012

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