Ideas for a vSphere home lab in Workstation or Fusion

In this article I would like to share a few ideas on how to setup a lab environment for vSphere. When I deliver VMware-training it is a frequently asked question by my students how they could run the software in their own lab-environment. For those who own multiple physical servers on which they can run ESXi it is not too difficult. But when your resources are limited you might need to look at other possibilities.

The most efficient would be if you can run ESXi on a physical server and then run the entire lab environment on top of that. That's also what I run for my setup. But you need hardware that is supported by ESXi.

Therefor another alternative is to use generic hardware with an existing operating system (Windows, Linux or MAC OS X) and use VMware Workstation or VMware Fusion to run your virtual vSphere-environment. This runs on any machine as long as you can run Workstation or Fusion and have sufficient resources (RAM, CPU, disk space).

A typical setup could look like the configuration in the following image:

Home lab setup diagram

In this example a physical computer is used that runs a hosted VMware-product such as Workstation or Fusion on top of which virtual machines will run containing the entire vSphere environment. From the operating system on the physical machine you can access all the virtual machines from the bridged network or from your Host Only or NAT-enabled virtual network.  

In this setup there are two ESXi-servers that can be placed in a cluster in vCenter and they can both access the Openfiler virtual machine for shared storage with iSCSI of NFS. This allows for the use of features such as vMotion and High Availability in your lab environment. And the setup allows you to run virtual machines in the virtualized (nested) ESXi hosts. But don't become over-enthusiastic with running VM's, keep it to the minimum that you need for your environment. In a setup like this I would choose to import the vCenter Virtual Appliance (you can download it as an OVA) in VMware Workstation and not in a virtualized ESXi-host because running it natively will perform much better.

TipIf you own a network storage device (NAS) that supports NFS or iSCSI then you can of course use that for your setup in stead of using Openfiler.

The bare minimum for this setup would be a machine with 8GB of RAM. The two ESXi servers can be configured with 2GB RAM each, the vCenter server with 2GB and the Openfiler vm with 512 Mb. This leaves 1.5 GB for your host operating system. It's not much, I agree, but it would run. 

To speed up the environment more RAM would be a good idea, but what will also help is having multiple hard disks. That way you can spread the IO-load of the virtual machines across the disks.

I have published several getting started articles on this web site that will help you with you lab setup:

Have fun!


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