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Five VMware home lab ideas for beginner to advanced users

A VMware home lab serves many purposes for vSphere admins: testing new OSes, stress-testing the production design, trying new vSphere or vCloud features for certification exams and more.

These five popular tips cover VMware test lab creation, including evaluating your options, making a starter lab, adding on to support vCloud in the lab, using vSphere for a nested lab instead of VMware Fusion or Workstation and troubleshooting performance.

Reconcile your lab size and needs

A viable home VMware lab starts with planning. Balance what you want the vSphere lab to do with how much you're able to invest in creating it. Are you setting up customer demos? Or simply trying out the newest vSphere edition in your spare time to see how features work?

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How you will use the home lab dictates hardware choices, like adequate memory for all VMs and compatible CPUs for vMotion.

Start with a reasonably priced VMware lab setup

For many VMware users creating a virtualization test lab, about $1,000 will buy all the necessary hardware. Focus on secure, easily managed products that are compatible with VMware. If you've planned ahead, you'll know roughly how much RAM and CPU will support your OS testing or tool evaluations in the VMware test lab. This affordable VMware test lab also leaves room for more advanced storage later on.

Make a nested "vTARDIS" VMware home lab in vSphere

VMware home labs can be hosted on Type-2 virtualization tools like VMware Workstation and Fusion or nested as virtual machines on a vSphere Type-1 hypervisor. VMware pros like to call the vSphere lab nested inside vSphere a "vTARDIS" because, as with the blue police call box cum spaceship and time machine of Dr. Who fame, it is bigger on the inside than it seems. Advances in handling hardware-assisted virtualization mean that the limitations on nested hypervisors are shrinking. A nested hypervisor can, in turn, host nested virtual machines.

Turn a vSphere lab into a vCloud lab

If your vSphere home lab is sophisticated enough, you'll be able to turn it into a vCloud Director lab. Even hosted virtualization labs can support vCloud Director, though the resource strain created by vCloud Director and vCloud Networking and Security might not be worth the ease or cost savings of hosting a VMware cloud infrastructure on your laptop. However you create it, a vCloud lab will provide the hands-on experience that many vSphere admins are seeking as they evaluate private or hybrid cloud infrastructures.

Improve your existing lab

Once you've planned, built and started using a VMware home lab, there's still work to do. A lab, just like any virtualization infrastructure, can run into bottlenecks that drag down performance. And just like in the vSphere production environment, performance data is available from the command line, VMware's graphical interface and third-party tools that will gather and organize statistical information. Understanding home-lab performance bottlenecks and the tools to identify them will benefit your activities in the lab as well as your knowledge of vSphere operations and resources.

This was first published in June 2013

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