Several people have asked me about what I am using for a lab so I put together this post about the lab I used to study for the VCP 5 exam. I also used this lab set up when studying for my VCAP4-DCA exam.
I run my lab in VMware Workstation 8 on a consumer desktop I picked up at BestBuy for right around $350. The desktop is a lower end ASUS model CM1630 with an AMD Athlon II x2 220 2.80 GHz processor running Windows 7 Home Premium. I spent less than $75 to upgraded the memory to 16 GB. Takes a little while to get everything booted up, but once the environment is up things run fairly well. When the vCenter Server Appliance, the vSphere Management Assistant appliance, and two ESXi hosts running several (3-5) nested DSL VMs are up they consume about 11 GB of the available RAM.
Here is a diagram of the way I have set up my lab in Workstation.
I have five networks setup in Workstation: one bridged for management, three host only networks to use for vMotion and storage, and one NATed network for VM connectivity. VMware Workstation allows you to configure 10 custom networks so if more are needed they are easy to add.
Network adapters can then be added to your Workstation VMs and connected to the configured networks. My lab diagram details how I have the networks configured and connected to my hosts.
For iSCSI and NFS Storage I use the Openfiler VMware Appliance. Pretty easy to set up and configure. There are several excellent articles on setting up Openfiler as an iSCSI target. Here is one and here is another one. To configure Openfiler for NFS check this article or this one.
ESXi is easy to install into Workstation 8 and you can find instructions on doing so here.
vCenter Server Virtual Appliance
The vCenter Server Appliance (vCSA) OVF can be downloaded and imported to Workstation just like any other OVF. Once imported I changed the memory from 8 GB to 4 GB and it seems to run fine. Instructions on setting up the vCSA can be found here.
Nested Virtual Machines
Most of the nested VMs that I run on the virtualized ESXi hosts are Damn Small Linux (DSL) VMs. Since the purpose of the lab is more for configuration/product/technology familiarization and not testing potential production workloads these small footprint VMs work great. If needed nested Windows VMs can also be run.
Using the Lab as a Study Tool
Hands-on experience with many of the objectives in VCP5 Exam Blueprint can be accomplished using a Workstation lab environment.
I was able to complete all of the following using this lab setup: Configure Software iSCSI, Configure NFS, VMFS-3 to 5 upgrade, Configure Storage Multipathing, Creating/Deploying/Cloning VMs and Templates, Configure HA, Configure DRS, Resource Pools, vApps, Configure virtual Standard Switched, Configure virtual Distributed Network Switches, Setup PVLANs, Configure Storage I/O Control, Configure Network I/O Control, Create Datastore Clusters, Configure Storage DRS, VUM, Creating and Applying Host Profiles, performance monitoring with the vSphere Client and resxtop, and some basic troubleshooting.
Need some ideas on things to do with your new lab? Check out this VMware vSphere Examples and Scenarios document.
As I mentioned before when you first fire up lab it takes a bit. I usually start up my openfiler VM and let it boot up all the way. Then I fire up the ESXi hosts and vCenter server and go grab a drink and a snack. Here a few things that can help speed things up.
- Disable your real time/on access virus scanner or at least exclude the directories where you store your Workstation VMs.
- Disable any background processes or services you are not using. If you don’t need it for the labs you are working on, disable it.
- Only power on VMs you need. For example, if you are not doing anything with VUM don’t power it on.
- Spread the VMs over different storage devices (Local Drives, USB Drives, NAS Device if you have one). I have my ESXi VMs on one drive, my vCenter on another, and my openfiler on another. I am hoping to add a SSD drive to my system just for the ESXi and vCSA VMs, I think that will probably help considerably.
- Have a little patience. When you bring up the environment let everything get stable before you start trying to work through labs. Watch the performance tab in Windows Task Manager until the CPU usage drops – just watch it, you will know when it is ready.
Taking It to the Next Level
VMware does not support running a nested environment in Workstation – apparently they feel pretty strongly about this and released a KB about it – but it does work and I think it is more than sufficient for study and product familiarization.
If you are looking at building a dedicated lab more suited for testing production workloads there are a lot of really great resources out there on putting together a the hardware necessary for a home lab. Here are a few great resources:
- vTexan’s VMware Home Lab
- Jason Nash’s vSphere Home Lab
- Kendrik Coleman’s VMware vSphere Home Lab – “The Green Machines”
- Jase’s Place Home Lab
If you are studying for a VMware certification exam, wanting to increase your familiarization of VMware technologies, or just want to set up a lab to do some basic testing a Workstation lab may work for you.
Tell Us About Your Lab
Do you have a home lab?
What works for you, what does not?
Are you running your lab environment on dedicated hardware or in VMware Workstation?
Anyone running their lab on virtual on free ESXi?
Share information about your lab in the comments. (Comments are moderated so there will be a delay in posting).