Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Building a vSphere home lab for VCP/VCAP-DCA preparation

From talking to many individuals who are wishing to achieve VMware certifications such as VCP or VCAP-DCA, most people have to prepare for exams in their own time. One of the important elements of both these exams, particularly the live-lab VCAP-DCA, is to use a vSphere environment to practice using the various administrative tools and interfaces in readiness for the exams.

Some people are lucky enough to have access to a lab environment at their workplace that they can "play" on, but many inviduals end up trying to build their own home lab. This can be done either be using a number of separate physical machines, or building a vSphere lab in virtual machines on products like VMware Player or Workstation, or even the free edition of ESXi.

Whether physical or virtual, generally there are four systems required:
2 x ESXi servers (ESX can be used instead)
1 x Windows server running vCenter Server, SQL Express, and the vSphere Client
1 x shared storage server running FreeNAS, OpenFiler, or similar

There are already many blog articles out there on how to build a virtual vSphere lab:

Here's a very useful site that deals with the software/build process and offers a recommendation on hardware too:

One of my students this week has just told me about an amazing deal for building a virtual home lab system, it's a HP ProLiant MicroServer on sale from EBuyer, with a £100 cashback offer - as of today the effective price you pay is only £137.99:

You will need to upgrade the RAM to 8GB in order to run the required virtual machines, but that's only going to cost an extra £64:

Of course, you might want to upgrade the hard disk to something like an SSD drive for better performance, but that's up to you - the 250GB built-in disk should easily be big enough to accomodate all your vSphere VMs.


  1. Good stuff !!

    Just to add, the microserver doesn't come with a hardware RAID, uses software, which can accomodate for the majority of your RAID requirements.

    Increasing the number of disks (total of 5 including the slot for the CD/DVD drive) will improve your performance substantionally.

  2. Now that Sandi Bridge supports upwards of 32Gb in UDIMM's, you could build a single box that nests ESXi hosts, shared iSCSI storage (OpenFiler, FreeNAS, EMC UBER, HP P4000 VSA) and a layer 3 routing appliance.

    It would be an interesting cost comparison.

  3. Colin Westwater22 June 2011 at 15:56

    So for a home lab what do you do about licensing vSphere? Wish VMware had a TechNet equivalent where you could run time unlimited versions of thier software in a non production environment to learn it.

    What do other people do in home labs? Re-install the trial every 60 days?

  4. I often thought about getting a HP ProLiant MicroServer, but the maximum of 8GB RAM held me from buying. Does anyone know if ebuyer ships to Germany?

    @Colin Westwater: My labs often don't live longer than 60 days, so that's no problem for me :)
    But you could create Host Profiles of your ESX(i) servers, export them and then after your reinstallation you play them back. So your host settings are saved.
    By the way if you're a VMware Partner you can order NFR licenses, which would be perfect for a lab; of course only if your employer allows that.

  5. Dell T110 II server is a better deal for the money. Thanks for posting /sharing your experience and resources.