VMware ESXi Home Lab [2012]


If you’ve been following my tweets, then you know that I haven’t been doing a lot of CCIE studying. For about three weeks last month, I tried to finish my Openfiler + ESXi (vSphere Hypervisor) home project. Obviously, it wasn’t three straight weeks worth of time – few hours per day/night. I’ve been very excited with this home project and I’ve already put off another mini-project that I have to do – which is to install my Samsung 128GB SSD drive and drive caddy to replace my optical drive for extra HDD space on my mid-2009 15″ MacBook Pro.

Anyway, if you’ve been researching for whitebox builds then you’ve probably have seen people using Mac Mini as their ESXi host. I’ve considered running ESXi on Apple Mac Mini since others have successfully done it using this guide, but I’ve decided against it. The form factor of Mac Mini is hands down a good feature to have, but there are some limitations to it that may not work for the future growth of my home network and my need to play with different technologies outside Cisco.

There is also Intel NUC as a very attractive ESXi host. However, the older generation of NUCs needs to have a custom ISO so that the NIC would work. With the new Intel NUC (6th generation), the ESXi 6.0 Update 2 works out of the box on these units. I actually talked about it here since I’ve added another ESXi host in my home lab.

Before we delve into the ESXi build, let me give you a little bit of background of my old setup. My old server was supposed to be my ESXi since the motherboard is listed here as compatible with ESXi. However, upon building it and really giving a thought it turned out to be not the best solution for what I wanted it to do. I could make it work but as what other people would say just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Having said that, I just built it as a regular Windows box with virtualization software running on top of it to run VMs with different OS (Linux, Unix, and Windows) in them. It worked great and no complaints. However, as a technology enthusiast, there was this voice that kept telling me to run VMware ESXi at home. As you can already tell, the voice won and I’ve decided to buy and build a new home server. Besides, this particular build will be used for VCP studying if ever I decide to really get serious in pursuing it. I do want to get it, but it isn’t my day-to-day job so I am still contemplating. Yes, I am well aware that you need to have instructor-led training first before you can register to take VCP. I am actually currently enrolled in a local community college which is a member of VMware Academy. This is the cheapest route for me so I decided to sign up for the class. I could’ve asked my current employer to pay for the bootcamp style VMware vSphere: Install, Configure and Manage class but I’ve decided against it since it really is outside my day-to-day job responsibilities. I am just taking this class just to expand my knowledge outside the Cisco realm.

Anyway, for curious minds out there, here’s my old home server specs:

AMD Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition
ASUS M4A88TD-V EVO/USB3
2 x G.SKILL Ripjaws 8GB
Dell PERC 5/i
3 x Western Digital Caviar Black 1.5TB
Corsair AX850 PSU

Without further ado, here are the parts of the home server:

Lian Li PC-V351B
Supermicro MBD-X9SCL+-F
Intel Xeon E3-1230 V2 Ivy Bridge
Antec EA-380D Green
2 x Kingston 8GB DDR3 SDRAM ECC Unbuffered Update: It’s 32GB RAM now.
SanDisk Cruzer Blade 4GB USB Flash Drive

This whitebox build is in the high-end range, so if you are looking for just ESXi home lab use then this may not serve your purpose. There are other builds out there that are suitable for inexpensive home lab use, like HP N40L, so choose whatever will work for you. This build will also be used for ESXi home lab (nested ESXi 5.x) and for “production” so I wanted a more powerful host than the N40L and more expandable in the RAM side of things. As already mentioned, I run different OS with different purposes in my home server to provide services for myself, friends, and family. Some of these services are the following but not limited to proxy, FTP, SSH, and etc.

If you were paying attention, the build didn’t have any hard drives in it. This build was designed to run quietly and with low power requirements. I chose to use 4GB USB flash drive to install ESXi on to save power, money, and repurpose the OS hard drive on my old server. Since I do not have CD/DVD-ROM driver either, I searched the web on how to create a USB bootable flash drive and it was pretty straightforward, just follow this guide.

At first, I used Openfiler as my NAS and it worked great. However, I am convinced that the cause for crashing/rebooting of my NAS box was because my RAID controller was overheating. Never really spent a whole lot of time troubleshooting it because this project went over the projected schedule that I wanted to spend my free time on. With that said, I just pulled the trigger and bought Synology DS1812+ as my NAS for CIFS/SMB and NFS shares that my ESXi box will use as its datastore. So far, I love this Synology NAS box and will never go back to Openfiler. Don’t get me wrong, Openfiler is really good but I believe Synology or other NAS manufacturers out there is the way to go. Yes, I could’ve stuck with Openfiler by just buying a new RAID controller to save cost initially, but over time I believe I’ll end up paying more money on energy costs by using a regular PC.

Well, I hope this blog post is a little bit helpful for the people trying to build a whitebox ESXi host. Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll try to answer them as soon as I can. Enjoy!

You might also like to read

VMware ESXi Home Lab [2016]

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  • Thanks for sharing. I’ve been trying to find a good resource on building a whitebox and I think yours is very useful.