Building a Home Lab 101
Ok, so it’s January 2011, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to cave in and finally dedicate money and time to building my VMware home lab. This is no easy task as far as I’m concerned as there are many things to consider outside of just buying some hardware, slapping it together and then throwing software on it and having it work. You have to take into consideration a ton of things before you can actually venture into building, and more importantly, maintaining your VMware home lab. I’ll be sure to blog about my home lab throughout the process of building it, but this post is meant to focus on some of the important things to consider when getting ready to build a home lab, and not so much my personal lab stats.
Why Build a Home Lab?
Let’s back up a few steps, this blog post really should have started with the question, “Why should I build a VMware home lab?” The answer is simple and there are several reasons that would support your building a home lab. The first reason would be simply for getting to know VMware and how it works on a more personal level. Having a home lab will give you the opportunity to try out many of the great features that vSphere has in store. You can work without having to worry about bringing down your company’s entire VMware infrastructure, that is a huge plus. Your home lab is where you can afford to make mistakes, which is such an important part of the learning process. Another good reason would be if you are a blogger, or want to be a blogger, here is where you can create most of your best content. You shouldn’t experience a writer’s block when you have a home lab you can tinker with and later share your findings with the world in a blog post. The justification (if you have a wife, take notes on this justification) that I use is that I have an environment that will allow me to replicate many of the certification exam objective scenarios to better help me prepare to take my VCAP-DCA exam. The more you study, the better chance you have to become certified, which means a raise or a better job opportunity, which in the end equates to extra shopping money! This list could go on for a long time, so if I left some good ideas out, you can understand why.
Do I Have The Space?
This is an important thing to take into consideration before investing your money in a home lab. While you don’t necessarily need extra space for your home lab, you could just use your laptop and build a home lab completely nested inside a VMware Workstation VM, but that won’t get you the full lab experience. You want to have some space such as a home office, or a closet that could be converted into a small lab. For myself, I will be turning one of the six large extra closets into my home lab, the closet in question is only about 150-200 square feet. This should suffice for what I want to do. I’ve seen other’s turn sections of their basements into a home lab, or even converted an extra bedroom into a lab, complete with a raised floor! Again, you don’t need to go overboard, but do set aside space for your equipment to breathe and room for you to sit so you can console into your switches, or initially configure your host machines. The question of “Do I have the space?” leads us to the next section of this post, environmental conditions.
Know that by having a home lab, you are committed to accepting a higher electricity bill as well as a higher cooling bill. You are jazzed up, have built and configured your hardware and are ready to power everything on. I can guarantee you within 30 minutes of your equipment being powered on, you will start to feel the heat. Without taking your environmental conditions into consideration you will have overheated equipment that will eventually fail on you. You need to consider air flow, room temperature, venting as well as humidity and static electricity concerns. If you plan on having a section of your basement be your home lab, you need to consider the potential for flooding and either build a raised floor, or keep all of your equipment up off the floor at least three feet. Power will also come into play when building your lab. In many instances you may need to install a dedicated 20 amp circuit or a couple of them to support your equipment’s power demands. In my book this is the most important factor to consider when thinking about building your own lab. Your energy bills will be much higher, but your return on investment will pay off in your professional career with the added experience that comes with having a lab at your disposal 24/7.
Where Do I Start?
This is where I find myself currently. I’m in the process of deciding on what hardware to buy, whether to buy it new or refurbished. How much money do I pour into my lab? What about storage and networking? How much lab do I need? These are all great questions and there are plenty of answers to be found out on the web. Like I said earlier, I am early on in the process and plan on blogging about my experience building my own lab, but for now I thought we could all rely on the über geniuses out there that have anywhere from modest to highly impressive enterprise type labs. Below are the most helpful and interesting home lab posts I could find, my personal favorite is Jason Boche’s (VCP, VCAP-DCA&DCD, VCDX4). If you are near a Micro Center (mainly on the east coast), they are a great place to search for your components with a ton of refurbished choices to save you some money. CompUSA is also a good choice, they have great support their and always a good selection of components. If you are an online shopper, there are choices like eBay, Amazon, NewEgg and many others where you can buy your lab equipment from the comfort of your recliner.
vDestination’s Top 5 Home Lab Posts
1. Jason Boche
Super Impressive home lab, don’t be discouraged by the enterprise like lab environment, it’s okay to marvel though! Two full racks of equipment, two 110v
20 amp circuits and two 220V 30 Amp single phase circuits. Well done Jason!
2. Simon Seagrave
This post is probably the most helpful blog post out there on building your home lab. Simon describes his home lab and shows good pics of it and then helps
to show you several ways you can build it and what is some of the best equipment out there for you to start with. Simons’s post inspired me to build my own
lab and has been very helpful in pointing me in the right direction as far as purchasing goes.
for places to purchase my equipment. Thanks for a great post Simon!
3. Chad Sakac
Chad Sakac has a very detailed post about his own lab, pictures of it explaining what is what and why he is using certain parts. Being a big wig at EMC, chad
also offers some creative ways to approach storage in your home lab that are very helpful for a beginner that doesn’t have a lot of money to pour into having
a more expensive storage solution. Chad also offers a couple cheaper alternatives to building a home lab, complete with a list of parts and their prices.
4. Duncan Epping
Duncan presents a great alternative to creating a more robust physical lab such as the previous links mentioned. Duncan is running a nested lab, which means
instead of having an actual physical host to install ESX/ESXi on, he installs it on a VMware Workstation 7.0 VM. His entire lab is on his desktop, a good-sized
desktop, but none the less he’s almost all virtual. Duncan always puts out quality posts, and this one is a gem.
5. Gabe van Zanten
Gabe has also put together a nice post about his VMware home lab. Like the most others he runs a home lab with many physical components and it is a very
impressive lab to say the least. Gabe points out some tips and tricks to make sure you can create your own lab with the most success. Gabe has also
responded to most of the comments made on his blog post, so I’m sure if you have a question he will answer it. Thanks Gabe.
There are many things to consider when you set out to build your own VMware home lab. Most of the considerations were covered in this post, but I’m sure there are many that I’ve missed. Please feel free to correct me or add to your list of things to consider. You are not alone, draw on advice from the experts in the field that have already built an amazing home lab and apply that knowledge to building your own. Don’t bite off more than you can chew at the start. You may only be able to support a nested lab on your laptop or desktop, and that’s okay too. Don’t go broke with your cooling and power bills, take it slow and add as you go. Good luck and stay posted, I’ll be posting my home lab stats soon!