My career has been largely focused on building and operating infrastructure so my lab is focused on trying out hypervisors (mainly VMware), guest OSs, storage solutions, and cloud platforms. I occasionally tinker with applications such as databases, email, and I’ve even been known to do some web development but I’m by no means a developer. This page documents my current setup in case it’s useful to someone else looking to do the same.
My requirements in priority order – yours may vary;
- Simplicity – I’m trying to spend less time ‘supporting’ my lab and more time using it to learn new products, concepts etc. This is why I changed from using whitebox storage solutions (Nexenta etc) to my Synology 1512+ – it just works. It’s why I’m a fan of Autolab. My infrastructure (primarily my Synology NAS) is also used for general household stuff too, such as streaming videos, iTunes, storing photos and documents etc and my wife doesn’t want a degree in computing to use it.
- Performance. I prioritised host memory as it’s typically constrained. Hopefully I can scale up (when memory costs reduce) as the motherboard supports up to 256GB.
- Cost. This is a factor as I still have to pay the bills but I also think it’s worth investing in my career and I earn a reasonable salary. My current setup would be around £1200 all in, with running costs of around £150 a year in electricity (very rough guestimate).
- Noise – my lab is currently in the garage where it’s out of sight and out of mind so I’m not fussed about noise levels.
- Size/space – again not a high priority for me. My vHydra server runs headless so there’s no need for monitor and it’s in the garage so there’s plenty of space available.
- I used to run multiple hosts but decided a couple of years ago to go with a scale up approach and run nested, virtual hosts on my vHydra beast. Nearly three years on it’s still a good lab host and with hindsight I’m happy with my choice, especially given the trend towards server SANs and SSD caching (although it hasn’t seen as much use as I’d like due to the arrival of kids).
- My primary storage is currently a Synology 1512+ which goes above and beyond just storage to provide core’ services such as DHCP, NTP, VPN, and DNS (plus LDAP and PXE are in my plans for the near future). I ran a variety of Synology packages such as Plex (for streaming media), Crashplan (headless) for offsite backups, and I also use it as a Veeam repository (details here) for my lab VMs. It’s a 5 bay device populated with 5 WD Red 2TB disks setup in a RAID5 SHR, providing 8TB of usable storage.
- I’ve also got two SSDs in the vHydra host and these are used for VMs which need more performance (often my nested ESXi hosts). They also allow me to experiment with SSD caching, PernixData, VSAN etc.
- I’ve got a Cisco SLM2008 switch because it support LACP links and VLANs, features I use. It only has 8 GB ports, all of which I use, so scalability is rather limited but having a single host helps reduce port requirements. I also use a Vyatta VM within the lab to offer additional networking although sadly the free version I use has been discontinued after Brocade’s takeover of Vyatta. Sometime soon I hope to migrate over to NSX to get more familiar with it – once binaries are available! 🙁
- For VMware products I get much of my licensing via the vExpert program which is certainly easier than reinstalling every 30/60 days. Until the recent demise I’ve had a MS Technet subscription for the last decade or so – it’s going to be interesting to see what impact that has on what I build and evaluate. I’m also a VMUGAdvantage member and VMware recently announced some 365 day eval editions via that program. Increasingly I look for open source equivalents to avoid the issue altogether – there’s a lot of good stuff out there if you’re prepared to give it a try and tinker if need be.