A home lab can be a great resource for any App Dev, Sys Admin or Engineer. Its a great tool to learn about the products you are responsible for. I believe the value it will return to the company that you work for is ten fold. Think about it, you are learning at home on your own time, then bringing that knowledge back to your job to apply it towards development projects or support. Its really a win-win. My engineering team and I proposed to our department management a project to provide home labs to our engineering and app development teams. We thought it would be a great way to bridge the communication gap between the two teams and help reduce or eliminate shadow IT. One of the challenges we have come across working in a large company is knowing exactly what our development teams need to perform their job. Is it containers, OpenStack, or just some other product that allows them to move their projects and initiatives forward? The answer is probably yes to all or any of those questions and its more than likely already running under their desk. Our thought was to give the various teams a supportable (internal support) platform to work creatively and learn. Also a direct line of communication from App Dev to Engineering without going through the traditional channels. We are hoping this will provide a quicker turn around time to engineer the infrastructure to meet the needs of the developers and give them the tools they need. At least that’s the theory behind this pilot project. Over the next few posts ill share some of the cool things Im doing with my home lab and ill also let you know any feedback I receive from the teams using it and management. So lets get to it!
Part 1 – Hardware
When my team first set out to select the right hardware we looked around the internet. There are many choices and flavors of a home lab to choose from. Gone are the days where you need some big honking old decommissioned servers that suck power and cause your wife to complain about the sound and cost of electricity. Today’s home lab is small, quiet, powerful and efficient, and can provide a number of configuration choices for testing all sorts of builds and designs. Our requirements were pretty simple and standard. We wanted vSphere (no duh!) and some VSAN (yeah baby!) and a whole bunch of extra storage. Here is the run down of what we decided to get.
- 3 Intel NUC kits (NUC6i5SYH) – that’s a Core i5 6260U 1.8 Ghz processor
- 3 Crucial DDR4 32GB (2×16) DIMM kits – Each NUC will get 32GB of Memory
- 3 Samsung 850 EVO (MZ-75E2T0B) 2TB 2.5″ SSD SATA 6Gb/s – one for each NUC
- 3 Samsung 850 EVO M.2 (MZ-N5E120BW) SSD SATA 6Gb/s – one for each NUC (VSAN Cache)
- 3 StarTech USB 3.0 to Gigabit Ethernet NIC adapter – VSAN traffic will go over this NIC
- 3 Kingston Data Traveler G4 – USB Flash Drive 8GB – We’ll install ESXi and Boot from them
- 1 Synology DiskStation 5 Bay DS1515+ NAS Server
- 5 WD Red Pro NAS Hard Drives (WD8001FFWX) 8TB SATA 6Gb/s
- 1 Linksys (SE3016) 16 port unmanaged Switch
Full disclaimer here…. I did not purchase the hardware with my own money, my company purchased the hardware for a pilot home lab project I previously mentioned. So yeah I know what you are thinking, what a deal. I agree, but I really believe my company will get value back for the purchase and with some conditions, they seem to believe that also. You should expect to also purchase licensing. The licenses I’m using are my own. I have a VMUG Advantage, MSDN and I also get some free VMware licenses for being a vExpert. Really look at VMUG Advantage, its the best option and its very affordable. It goes without saying don’t use your production licenses. Info on VMUG Advantage can be found HERE. If your budget is tight, no worries, you can easily scale down (or up) to meet your needs and with all the options out there you should be able to build a really decent home lab.
All the hardware went together really nicely. I have to be honest, putting together all that stuff really gets my geek flag flying. Its almost a religious experience. Takes me back to when I was a kid home building PCs; but I digress. :). You shouldn’t really have any issues connecting all the pieces. One of the guys on my team did have one NUC only see 16GB of memory, he just needed to reset one DIMM and that was fixed.
In Part 2, Ill go over some design considerations and build out.