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Setting Up A New Home Lab - £1400

Discussion in 'Hardware' started by NWDaddy, May 17, 2009.

  1. NWDaddy

    NWDaddy Bit Poster

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    Hi All,
    first of all just wanted to say a big hello to everyone.

    I've been working in the IT industry for the past 10 years in various technical roles (desktop and server support) but over the past year and a half I've taken a step back and taken on more managerial responsibilities. Long story short - I prefer the technical side of things and want to make a comeback.

    I'm looking to setup a new home training lab for the Windows 2008 Enterprise Server certification and if possible something that would allow me to get my hands dirty on VMWare ESX (not sure if I'd need two ESX host machines and some kind of backend storage solution).

    I don't have a great deal of cash (£1400 max) so I'm looking for any suggestions?
     
    Certifications: A handful of MCP exams
  2. zebulebu

    zebulebu Terabyte Poster

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    Ooooh - love posts like this!

    ESX is the way to go - you can download 60 day trials of VI3 from VMWare and just keep reinstalling as they expire (the install is easy, takes about 30 minutes tops and can be scripted for repeat installs). You also definitely need shared storage - you can stick OpenFiler on a box and use that for iSCSI LUNs for VMFS. Regarding hosts, more is better - I've currently got three and am planning on two more if I can get more room in my basement :)

    For hosts, what I'd look at is something like the baby Proliant towers. They're no bigger than the average desktop, are pretty quiet and - most importantly - are as cheap as chips. I got four ML110s for 120 quid each a while back from Servers Direct - but that deal expired a long time ago and I haven't seen them for anything under £160 each lately. You need to make sure that the servers you buy are compatible with ESX (I'm assuming you're not that familiar with ESX, so if you already know this, excuse the assumption) because there's a pretty strict hardware compatibility list with ESX. Since you'll not be running VMFS from local storage you don't need to worry about RAID drivers and such - but you will need to make sure the onboard storage controller is supported. If in doubt, consult the ESX HCL. You also need to make sure that you get supported NICs - I found that the onboards on the Proliants were fine, but others have reported problems. If you can get them, go for the vanilla Intel 1000TPro single ports - I've had issues with the multiport ones causing kernel panics in ESX so steer clear of them. You'll need at least two in each host.

    Then we come to the shared storage. I like OpenFiler because, basically, it rules. It never goes wrong, is easy to install, will go onto just about any box you have available and - did I mention this? - it rules. :) I actually bought a fourth ML110 to act as my SAN - I got a cheap HP RAID controller and chucked four 500GB SATA disks on there as RAID5, then installed OpenFiler and mounted three LUNs on ESX as VMFS storage. Performance isn't anything like real-world, but it works perfectly well as a lab and runs everything I have in my lab without a whimper. I've currently got 18 running servers on there, with 20 ready to go as needed, and managed to drop down from somewhere between 13-15 physical servers to just six now (cutting my power bill in half!)

    Also, you'll need to consider a switch - either two separate 'dumb' ones (one for iSCSI the other for network access) or, better still, a single managed switch that you can VLAN off to separate iSCSI/network traffic. What I've got running at the moment is the hosts trunked to four VLANs - a LAN, a DMZ and a management network together with the iSCSI network.

    That ought to get you started - and be cheaper than the 1400 quid you've budgeted!
     
    Certifications: A few
    WIP: None - f*** 'em
  3. NWDaddy

    NWDaddy Bit Poster

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    Hi Zebulebu,
    Thank you very much for taking the time to respond - much appreciated.

    I've worked with the VI client to deploy servers, restart virtual machines etc .. but never really been involved with the ESX hosts themselves.

    I know ESX is built to run on bare metal but would it be possible for me to virtualise an ESX lab setup?

    I took a look at serversdirect and found the following:

    http://www.serversdirect.co.uk/HP_ML115_G5_Server_470065-018/version.asp?PID=768

    Would three of these do the job?

    Pad out the first two with the maximum 8GB of RAM, and the third with a raid controller and a ton of additional drives.
     
    Certifications: A handful of MCP exams
  4. zebulebu

    zebulebu Terabyte Poster

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    Yep - they should be fine. They're the step up from the ML110s and I'm pretty sure that they're on the ESX HCL (though you should check the storage driver and CPU just to be sure) Don't forget to factor in the cost of the NICs - the RAM should be cheap as chips at the moment but you'll need to account for that too. RAM is always the resoruce that gets squeezed quickly in a virtual environment - if I could run servers on 128Mmb of RAM I'd probably be able to squeeze about 80 into running on my current setup before CPU became an issue!

    For the RAID controller I use an HP e200 - it cost me about 180 quid with the 128mb BBWC. Bear in mind if you use this you'll need to get the cable kit for it as well - regular SATA cables won't work.

    Any more questions, just pop them on here and I'll take a look & reply when I get the chance. Phoenix is another ESXhead so he should be able to help as well if I'm not around.

    Good luck!
     
    Certifications: A few
    WIP: None - f*** 'em

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