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VMware home lab: 2020 easy and fun setup

domalab.com VMware home lab

It’s a New Year and why not start building a new VMware home lab? Based on a previous home lab experience with 4x Netgear GS108v3 managed switches for the Networking side of things, this setup is instead using a slightly different physical and logical topology. In this instance the aim is to create a new article series focusing on the following:

The goal is to provide easy step by step articles with simple screenshots from start to finish and use this article as a sort of placeholder for all future links and updates. At least for 2020!

What is the intended purpose for the new setup?

The main idea is to leverage all the new hardware and the nice software features generally used in the enterprise or large deployments. Features like VLANs, LAGs, custom firewall rules, software defined storage, traffic separation and a lot more. These are only a few of the topics this article series will touch upon when it comes down to a VMware home lab. The purpose is to create an affordable environment serving as a sandbox for learning and improving main setup in real production environments.

What’s next?

Moving from an existing setup based on the Intel NUC 6i5 series + Netgear GS108 v3 and Synology DS416 and DS916 which has been working great for the last three years, the idea is to add a level of sophistication. The purpose is to get the VMware home lab closer to a real deployment. At the time of writing the choice went for the ability to segregate different types of traffic and create a sandbox environment for testing vSAN and vVOL among other things. Also the idea to keep all these separate from nested hypervisors and other HCI solutions. So in summary the main purpose for this new VMware home lab is to:

  • Separate different types of VMware VM traffic
    • The 20.1 version (January 2020) provides segregated networks for:
      • VM Prod
      • VM LAB
      • VM Nested
      • vSAN traffic
  • Provide a Lab for testing new solutions
    • This is a dedicated network where to test, verify backups and replicas leveraging the Veeam Datalab. An independent bubble where is possible to play with a copy of the production data without touching the production environment.
  • Provide a sandbox environment for Nested hypervisors
  • Provide a sandbox environment for VMware vSAN and vVOL
    • vSAN will run on nested ESXi Hosts in VMware

These are only a few of topics and configurations that will leverage and benefit from the new VMware home lab setup. More will be added, updated and even improved during deployment.

VMware home lab physical topology

How to put all this together? There are different components involved and surely multiple ways to accomplish the end result. The aim is to try to go the extra mile. Trying to reproduce real environments without over complicating the setup. Another important aspect is to use a “scalable approach” simply by replicating the building block. So this is a sort of scale out vs. scale up approach. The former allows more flexibility and cost control (based on the cost for extra hardware). Ultimately this is also the approach for the current VMware home lab. In particular, the building block consists of:

  • 1x Intel NUC with extra USB NIC adapters (used for separate networks and VLANs)
  • 1x network switch
  • 1x network storage

The current VMware home lab is simply scaling out by adding pertinent hardware in order to provide redundancy at:

  • Compute level (add more Intel NUC)
  • Network level (add secondary switch for fail over scenario)
  • Storage level (add storage controllers / storage path)

Rome wasn’t built in a day and home labs shouldn’t be either! The amount of hardware all together might be a bit daunting. In fact, this setup is the result of different components purchased in a span of 3 years.

domalab.com VMware home lab

By using the picture above as a reference, the design idea behind the VMware home lab project is to accomplish the following:

  • Each Intel NUC to have 5 network adapters as distinct VMnics:
    • All Intel NUCs share the same configurations and patch levels
    • All Intel NUCs have the same VMkernel configuration. Naming convention and configurations across the VMware vSphere Host is consistent
    • VMnic0: used for VMware Management Network
    • VMnic32: used for both Cold and Hot traffic like VMware Provisioning and vMotion. Each traffic uses a separate network subnet and dedicated VLAN
    • VMnic33: used for all VM traffic types including Production, LAB, Nested, vSAN and more. Each VM Traffic sits on a separate network subnet with dedicated VLANs
    • VMnic34: primary connectivity to the iSCSI storage as it is presented to the VMware vCenter. At the time of writing shares the same Management network but uses a dedicated VMnic. In the future it will use a VLAN configuration.
    • VMnic35: secondary connectivity to the iSCSI storage as it is presented to the VMware vCenter. At the time of writing shares the same Management network but uses a dedicated VMnic. In the future it will use a VLAN configuration different from the primary connection on VMnic34
  • All Network Switches share the same configurations
    • All switches are updated to the same firmware and patching levels
    • Same VLANs are created across both Primary and Secondary switches
    • VLAN Port configurations association is different based on the switch role (Primary / Secondary)
  • All Storage boxes are upgraded to the latest software version available
    • Network Storage is running on Management Network (next update will move DS916 and DS620 to dedicated VLAN)
    • Each storage runs 2 network connections pointing at two switches for redundancy

About the author

Michele Domanico

Passionate about Virtualization, Storage, Data Availability and Software Defined Data Center technologies. The aim of Domalab.com is sharing with the Community the knowledge and experience gained with customers, industry leaders and like minded peers. Always open to constructive feedback and new challenges.

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