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Virtualization home lab setup


I am looking to get two desktop PCs to setup virtualization lab (Citrix, VMware and Hyper-V) at home for work and study.

I would also like to practice failover clustering with two PCs(assume they are servers).

ThinkCentre M83 - Tower x2
Intel Core i5-4590 Processor (6M Cache, up to 3.70GHz)
Mini Tower 85% Power 280W
32GB PC3-12800 DDR3 1600MHz UDIMM (8GBx4)
AMD Radeon HD7450 1GB (DVI+DP) Full Height
Integrated Audio
500GB+8GB Hybrid Hard Drive, 2.5", SATA
500GB+8GB Hybrid Hard Drive, 2.5", SATA
Optional Bracket
Integrated Gigabit Ethernet
Ultraslim Plus Wireless Edge Keyboard & Mouse - US English
Internal Speakers Tower
Publication English
1 Year On-site

Would above PC spec be enough to play with virtualization so I can get enough knowledge of how they work?
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4 Solutions
bbaoIT ConsultantCommented:
for hardware requirement of a home based VM lab, two of the most important things are memory size and hard disk capacity.

of course, a powerful CPU or dual-CPU is always essential but nowadays even average processors can handle VMs very well, therefore CPU is not the biggest concern for a home based VM lab.

if you are going to run multiple workable VMs at the same time, your PC's memory size is not significantly big enough especially you need to most 2012 MS server lines inclduing Windows 2012, Exchange, SQL Serverr and SharePoint.

your HD sizes are also a bit small if you want to keep a lot of snapshots for your VMs. this is one of the best pratices today for a VM based and virtual lab. TB level capacity is highly recommended for each PC.

2 or more NICs are also highly recommended. this can be done easily at a bit extra cost.
Brent ArnoldTechnicianCommented:
Sure that's plenty. Also, if you're going to running any Linux virtual boxes then it will be more than plenty. I think you have yourself a good rig.
Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE MVE^2)VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
Yes memory is often the bottleneck, your platform is adequate, how will you be building your lab, you can see an Article I wrote here using AutoLab, which shows how to build a VMware vSphere Lab using VMware Workstation, or will you install the Hypervisors direct onto bare metal, and trash each instance after exploring Hyper-V etc

OR do you want a platform, which can run ALL these at the same time.


VMware vSphere ESXi is one of the few Hypervisors, which can run nested VMs, so you could Lab VMware vSphere, Hyper-V and Citrix all at the same time.
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Dawid FusekVirtualization Expert, Sr B&R, Storage SpecialistCommented:

1. if You would like to test and learn Virtual Infrastructure with most of features, it's good to know that You don't need do it on hardware (with 3 hw servers and 1-2 storage), You may as most VMware geeks do use one ESXi server/desktop and virtualize ESXi with all infrastructure inside the ESXi... :P, same with other hypervisors and VI, to virtualize a hypervisor You have to make some changes to ESXi, good art have a mate from virtualghetto here:

2. for hardware tips I may inform You what is most important:
- RAM, as much as possible, 32GB is too small for full VI and Clouds testing, min 64GB in my opinion if You state tight :) (2x servers/workstations with 32GB will be ok too)
- FAST storage system, You need a NAS or NL disks (in raid 1 or 10) with some HW RAID controller with SSD cache like LSI 9271-4i Cachecade and 1-2 fast SSD or use a separated storage (or storage appliance inside VM) with good caching like Open Solaris with ZFS with 2 ssd (1 for read cache/L2ARC and 1 for write cache/ZIL), with your 2 hybrid disks it may run very slow with more than 4-5 vm's (we dont talk about simple linux VMs), also 2TB usable storage is rather a minimum
- fast lot of cores and HT VPU, i5-4590 has 4 cores which is ok, but better to got one that have also HT so logical cpu/cores U will have 8
- compatible NIC/NICs !!!!, most cheap pc mobo nics will not have compatible nic and will just not work, check it first, 2 NICs are must when you have more than 1 ESXi server and/or a remote storage, you can buy cheap intel Pro 1000 dual or quad NIC on ebay.

3. to make a Virtual Lab you can use a AutoLab 2.0 guides, all what U need is here:

kind regards
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Labs do not require excessive RAM, 32 GB is fine.  I run 7 VMs in 32 GB and it's fine from a memory standpoint.  I haven't upgraded all the VMs yet, but I have mostly 2008 R2 & related versions of SQL and Exchange.  32 GB of RAM allows these to run workably fine for  a test environment.  Exchange (5GB), DC, RDS, SQL (3GB), Web Server, "Misc" Server, and a virtualized router.  If you're testing - creating a few VMs, clustering, not putting a significant load but learning instead, 32 GB is more than sufficient.  16GB would do too, so long as you didn't push too many VMs.

Hyper-V and VMWare (Enterprise class technologies - ESXi) are bare metal systems - the PC coming with Windows 8 is not going to need to be wiped or at least upgraded.  Windows 8 PRO comes with client Hyper-V which is very similar but not the same as the server class.  

Dual 500 GB hard drives is fine too so long as you don't want to run this as a production server.  If you're creating the VMs and basic configurations, nothing will use all that much space - 50-100 GB each - to 1 TB total space, including the host system is fine -- assuming you're not using RAID -- which for a test system is fine.

DO NOT consider this system as the performance you can expect from a TRUE server.  A TRUE server will (should) have a MUCH faster disk subsystem and the guests would almost certainly have more RAM enabling faster performance.
Dawid FusekVirtualization Expert, Sr B&R, Storage SpecialistCommented:
for huge VMware labs, as I have and my collegues have on my environment 64GB of ram is still a little if You want to test full lab like:
- 3x VMware ESXi with vsan (3x 6GB, so 18GB of RAM)
- single Vmware vCenter Server - 6GB of RAM + 3 ESXi
- dual VMware vCenter server - 12GB of ram + 3 ESXi
- VMware View - hmm, 24-32GB of RAM?
- VMware Clouds solution - 24GB of RAM
- Virtual Storage Appliance with ZFS - 8GB of ram (16GB with deduplication)
- other MS stuff... a lot...lot of ram
- BI software... 32GB+ of ram
- some VA of different solutions, 2-4GB of ram per appliance

so sorry I can't agree that 32GB of ram is enough for lab environment mate, 32GB is absolute minimum, 64GB is a good start.

sure if You test a very tiny software at once, 32GB is ok, but in todays world You need to have a bigger environment and lots of stuff to test some more complicated solution.

Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:

I don't know how you get "for huge VMware labs, as I have and my collegues have on my environment 64GB of ram is still a little" from "I am looking to get two desktop PCs to setup virtualization lab (Citrix, VMware and Hyper-V) at home for work and study." and "I would also like to practice failover clustering with two PCs(assume they are servers). "

I guess I'm interpreting this as "I'm a beginner and want to get a handle on these technologies and learn them".  So rather than tell him he needs a mid-4 figure server minimum to even start (which is what you're advocating given your description in my opinion, I'm agreeing that basic learning can be done EASILY on the hardware desired.

I will grant you, ESXi is not where I'm an expert in, but for a Microsoft solution, 32 GB for learning and testing is fine.  And Since I've repeatedly heard VMWare experts swear how much better it is, I assume it's resource profile wouldn't be MORE than MS - it SHOULD be on par or LESS.  At least that's always been my impression.
Dawid FusekVirtualization Expert, Sr B&R, Storage SpecialistCommented:

In the question there is an info that one want to buy 2 (TWO) workstations/PC with 32GB of ram, so summary 64GB of ram which is a minimum for mid size labs in my opinion, 32GB on single server is a minimum for small lab and shortly he will decide that it's not enough, but sure it's quite easy to just bought another workstation/pc.

I do a lot or nothing mate, so lot of ram and lot of tests and lot of work and... some not bad kind of money then :P

p.s. - there are mates that have laptop with 8GB and do some labs too, I know lot of such guys, but if someone want to build a dedicated 2 workstations environment (so 2x 32GB of ram) I think that he rather are looking for a little bigger than 3-4 vm's at once small lab :-)), that is my opinion.

p.s. v2 - do MS Hyper-V is better than VMware ESX-i...? both do they job quite well, VMware is a leader and until I dont need to use that shitty new www console it will be still a best for me.

Philip ElderTechnical Architect - HA/Compute/StorageCommented:
I suggest checking out eBay. You can pick up used Dell PowerEdge C1100 1U servers with E5500 or E5600 (stay away from the "L" code low power CPUs) starting at $200-$300 each. Add some inexpensive SAS drives and you're GTG.

Watch out for the clone listings. I suggest staying away from those.

1 Server = Virtualization Platform
2 Servers = 1 Storage (Storage Spaces) and 1 Compute (Hyper-V)
3 Servers = 1 Storage (Storage Spaces) and 2 Compute (Hyper-V failover cluster)
4 Servers + 1 JBOD = Scale-Out File Server cluster and Hyper-V failover cluster (2 + 2)

Here are some resources for you:
 + My EE Article: Some Hyper-V Hardware and Software Best Practices
 + Blog Post: Cluster Starter Labs: Hyper-V, Storage Spaces, and Scale-Out File Server
 + Blog Post: A Storage Spaces and Hyper-V Custer Lab Guide
 + David Zi: Hyper-V and Scale-Out File Cluster Home Lab Design
Here's a very recent EE Q that discusses VMware and Hyper-V.
Dawid FusekVirtualization Expert, Sr B&R, Storage SpecialistCommented:

Maybe just buy 1 used HP DL380 G6 with dual QC CPU for for 300-400USD (it has 18x slots for ram, up to 18x 16GB cheap DDR3 ECCR ram), it consume 70 watt in idle, also have  good P410i internal RAID controller (bought one with 1-2GB FBWC), have 1 sas cage for 8 sas/sata 2.5" hdd and ssd. Buy to it 6x 8GB or 3x 16GB ECCR DDR3 RAM and 8 sata hdd (faster WD Black or more power saver's WD Red/NAS), put disks in RAID 10 on RAID 1, and this config will eat You 110-130W when idle, and up to 250W-300W at max load and You will be happy (in my opinion), if need more ram just add another ram modules, up to 18 x 16GB (288GB of ram :P).

It's just my proposition, one of You may eventually consider.

bbaoIT ConsultantCommented:
> so sorry I can't agree that 32GB of ram
is enough for lab environment mate,
32GB is absolute minimum, 64GB is a
good start.

> sure if You test a very tiny software at
once, 32GB is ok, but in todays world
You need to have a bigger environment
and lots of stuff to test some more
complicated solution.

i am with NTShad0w about the RAM considerations on a VM lab. my VM lab runs on a Mac Pro with 64GB memory and 1 TB SSD for system partition, and addiitional 2 HDs for provisioning and backup VMs.

moreover, for even faster performance you better use SSD for the HDs running VMs.
Mike TLeading EngineerCommented:

I think the many of the guys above are experts but have got far too carried away.

To answer your question actual:
Q: "Would above PC spec be enough to play with virtualization so I can get enough knowledge of how they work?"
A: Yes, more than adequate to learn the basics.

I know because I *am* one of those guys who ran Hyper-v on a laptop with 6GB RAM. I use it to study SCCM. That means I had the following setup:
DC x1
CM + SQL x 1
clients x 2

My laptop is an i5 with 500GB HDD, 120GB SSD boot. That's it. It works absolutely fine to learn the basics. If I worked with VMware I am sure the same hardware would be fine.

I have since bought a tower PC with 16GB RAM, another 120GB SSD, and well as many drives as I could pack inside because I want to start doing more advanced things; possible SCOM and other System Center apps. It works fine too but I've not stressed it yet as free time is rare these days. I would like 32GB RAM, but I just can't afford it and I suspect you do not have deep pockets either, otherwise you would have chosen a bigger, badder machine in the first place.

I once asked an expert at work on AMD vs Intel and he said go Intel and then explained that he had an i7 laptop with 32GB RAM and it was fast. If I had 2000 quid for an i7 laptop I wouldn't be asking either!

Summary: If your needs are modest and you only want 5 or 6 VMs running simultaneously, your hardware choice is plenty. For clustering you will need extra NIC though. It needs one for a heartbeat and one for data I think. It's not my thing (yet) but it's easy enough to add cards later. Check on TechNet.

Enjoy your labs :)

Dawid FusekVirtualization Expert, Sr B&R, Storage SpecialistCommented:
I talk with a lot of folks, mates and friends that lot's of time talk to me like that: "what for You need 16GB of ram for your laptop [4 years ago], 4GB is enough, U will not use fully".... they ware not right :))

I think that this situation can be compared to 2 monkeys, one born in a cage and second monkey born in the wild... yes, it's not bad compare, let me explain.
The monkey born in the cage will always use only small terrain and like what she have in the small cage, and it's really hard to convert she to let the cage and go for open world, go wild.... She have a limits implemented from a born...
But monkey born in the wild will never agree being in the cage and will always use all open resources she can because she don't have so limits as monkey born in the cage...

This situation looks same for me, mates (my friends or other mates) that always have limited hw/sw and also financial resources will always look for more limited solutions and close eyes for more flexible bigger and more expensive solutions, I know that because I wasn't a mate from rich family, rather quite poor and always feel that limitation around, but I choose other way, little more like rich mate (but still not the same), start to use more resources and try to learn more, faster and get better job, then start sharing my own services to others, start a small business...
But getting to a point there is no real limitation in most cases in today's IT world with a HW and if someone have budget for 2x32GB workstations for VI we should in my opinion let him spread his wings and not limit him that it's too much for a start, it's not too much if one have an open mind and want to learn, test, build, crack, hack, flow, teach, make new services and ideas !!!!

More advanced and strong hardware give a one more possibility to use it well not only for learn and do small lab but also to test and build a stronger solution on time and then maybe start their own business because some years ago someone will let him build little more powerful environment that it was enough for a beginner !!!

So mates, not limit other mates and not limit yourself !!!
I start my business because I was different, think different, and looked further than others, let anybody do the same and even better job !!! good for us all mates :))

best regards
Philip ElderTechnical Architect - HA/Compute/StorageCommented:
Here is a sample VM lab setup:
 + DC 4GB
 + Exchange 2013 8GB-12GB
 + RDS 4GB
 + SharePoint 8GB
 + SQL 4GB-8GB

The minimums can be done but even with the VHDX files on an SSD via USB3 things can grind along slowly without enough RAM (my laptop at 16GB with VHDXs on 480GB Intel SSD via USB3).

For clustering keep in mind that a 2 node cluster requires enough physical RAM to run all of the VMs. Plus, the Common Files CSV needs to host both the settings files (not large) but also the RAM file (Hyper-V lays out an equivalent sized physical file on storage for each VM's vRAM).

I've done a lot of lab work, presentations, and more. The better the server grade equipment I have been able to work with the better my skillset growth and overall experience.

A good laptop with at least 16GB of RAM and a USB3 port is mandatory if you plan on doing presentations and on-the-fly lab creation.
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