Building a VMware vSphere Home Lab is a lot easier than one would think, and it might be exactly what you need to further your career. I have been focusing more this year on learning and certifications around a large range of technologies and I have a rather extensive learning road map I have laid out for myself. While quite a bit of these goals involve cloud technologies that don’t really require onsite hardware, some of them do. I have been running Oracle VM VirtualBox on my laptop, though that has drawbacks on my daily use and leaving the lab up, requiring me to power down servers and clients to not max out resource usage. I decided that I wanted to get these off my day to day laptop, and offload to a dedicated host. Since we use VMware vSphere at the office for our on-prem virtualization and its one of the training that my agency actually paid for in the last 3 years for me to attend I knew that would be my solution.
VMware vSphere Home Lab Costs
I am not going to lie and say this is easy to get into or that the costs are low for a VMware vSphere Home Lab. After all is said and done, Ill be in for a little under $1500 for everything hardware and software. Apparently you can put a price on knowledge, but not on ROI! I am sure there will be people who will metion being able to do it for cheaper or use hacked software, and if that works for them then great, this is my lab and I did not want to do it on the cheap.
VMware vSphere Licensing
One of the things I will warn up front is that unlike MS Hyper-V the full vSphere (ESXi and vCenter Server) is not free and quite costly. Luckily, VMware has given those that want to learn its products a way to via VMUG for the cost of $200 you get a 1 year license for a number of its products including the desktop VMware Workstation Pro (normally $249 new) for personal use in a non production environment.
Home Lab Hardware
This is where you find the most variation on different home labs, from Intel NUC units to full blown servers straight from a data center. If your costs are going to be saved this might be the one place you can do it based on what you want to do.
You could buy new hardware off Amazon or Dell, but I would recommend checking out r/homelabsales or craigslist for sale for some used equipment. After only a few days of looking I found a perfect server for what I wanted to do and it was only about 10 mins away from my house on Craigslist. Found a Dell PowerEdge R620 server with the following specs:
Intel Xeon 2650 x2 – 2.00ghz
128 GB DDR3 RAM
146GB SAS 15K x2 HD
H710 RAID Controller
Redundant Power Supplies
I reached out to the seller and had it at the house within a few hours at the price listed I knew it would not last.
I could have added more hard drives to the server but I wanted to have a separate NAS for a number of reasons, but when I tried to find what I was looking for on the used hardware market but really didnt see the savings compared to getting new for what I wanted. In the end I went with a Synology 2bay NAS DS718+, and upped the memory to a full 6GB on it, with two 3TB Western Digital RED NAS HDD.
Like everyone I had multiple hubs laying around but nothing that could do vlans, so I ended up getting a 8-port Gigabit switch (TP-Link) to take advantage of the number of NICs in the host and NAS. Since I wanted this in the basement and I didnt want to run wireless or run a cable from the main router on the 2nd floor, I used Ethernet over Powerlines (EoP) that I already had which gives me decent speed for what I need. If the Eop becomes an issue speed wise, Ill run a Cat5e from the 2nd floor to the basement, but hopefully I can avoid this.
Building the VMware vSphere Home Lab
After I received all the components at the house everything went together without a hitch. I got the NAS up and running in a Raid 1 configuration for just under 3TB of usable space, setup a SCSI LUN target for ESXi to use. Installed ESXi 6.7 from a bootable USB I created and booted up. Grabbed the vCenter appliance and installed it which gave me full access to all the vSphere tools.
There really were no gotchas for me, but I have been doing this a long time and I know others might not have that experience so if you have a question feel free to comment. Over the next few days Ill start building out a Windows Domain that Ill be using to test integration with Azure for testing Hybrid scenarios such as Azure Site Recovery.