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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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  • Hello Michele,

    I am interested in a new homelab setup. Your setup make me re-think my choices for renewal. Always used VMware Workstation for development..

    Can you explain me the benefit for a physical setup over a virtual build.

    How good do the VM’s run over 1GB ethernet connection to the NAS solution. Does it perform enough. Is it fast enough to run NSX and Automation appliances.

    Hope you have the time to answer

    • Hi Borg,

      Thanks a lot for your comment. I personally love the physical setup as the combination of Intel NUC, network switches and NAS gives you the option to get your “hands dirty” and understand more about the deployment in all aspects.

      Despite the VM density level per NUC (perfectly fine for a home use), these are great for a 24/7 homelab. I personally leave my homelab always on and I barely noticed big changes to the electricity bill (to give you an idea each NUC consumes max 0.4/0.5 Kwh/day and both NAS 1.4 Kwh/day combined). 1 GB network throughout Mgmt, Backup, VM Traffic, iSCSI, Nested LABs is working like a champ (lowest speed during backup 70MB/s top 95MB/s). I guess lots depends on storage configuration as well ๐Ÿ™‚ Personally I don’t see the need for 10Gb or even 40Gb networks for now. VM backups (through Veeam) are pretty quick and efficient. Avg VM size is 40GB. Running about 55 VMs and growing. Some of them are VSAs (NetApp, Dell, HPE, Nutanix, Quantum and others).

      On the other hand if you have a powerful box you could virtualise everything and run nested Hosts and VMs. It might make sense if the “big box” has a decent power consumption when left running 24/7. Otherwise get ready for a big energy bill!

      In the end “your mileage might vary”! Yeah I know it is very generic.. and the number of possible scenarios/requirements is massive.

      The beauty of virtualisation is that it allows a very sophisticated scheduling of the resources from the Hosts. The VMs will be consuming: CPU, RAM,Disk,Network: very unlikely in a homelab you’ll get a high contention of resources unless these are not properly shared.. or set to unneeded values. My Exchange for example uses 4GB or RAM. SharePoint the same. AD and SQL are constantly below 2GB..
      Of course I did a bit of config on these applications to reduce general consumption.

      One of the next projects in my homelab is to include VSAN, VVOL, NSX and vCloud as there are nice integration features with Veeam.

      Last but not least: my physical setup is based on a concept similar to a converged infrastructure. So all the components are the same and configured the same. I like to use this approach to “scale” my homelab and it something I built over the years (3 in a row now and first hardware still rock solid). At times it can be pain and forced me to do/learn thing the right way! A virtualised build avoids all this. Thing is I personally have fun with the former rather than the latter so I’m a bit bias. Everyone is different ๐Ÿ™‚

      Hopefully this was informative and not too long.

      Kind Regards,
      Michele

  • Which NUC model is sufficient for this type of setup? I want to build a home lab and budget is that absolute most important thing at this point. I would probably end up only purchasing one NUC and maybe just one synology to start off with.

    • Hi Nicholas,

      Thanks for your comment! I would say all the latest models have enough CPU power for decent a VMware homelab. Ideally any i5 and higher is recommended. My NUC 6i5SYH are still running the majority of VMs and never had any single issue. The newer NUC7i7DNHE in my opinion are the best “compromise” for Cost/CPU/Performance/Energy in Watts. For Storage M.2 SSD are great/cheap/fast and don’t dissipate too much heat. For RAM memory all modern NUC (from version 6 and above) can run 64GB without problems: https://domalab.com/intel-nuc-64gb/

      Synology DS620Slim is a lovely NAS too and can expand on memory as well for additional apps and storage options: https://domalab.com/synology-ds620slim/

      Hope this helps,
      Michele

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