Yet another Home Lab story

Last Christmas Santa Claus was very generous for me! I found all the stuff to build a powerful home lab under the Christmas tree. I decided to share my home lab experience as I’ve learned the hard way how to choose, finance and set up such an environment.

At VMware, we have plenty of options to play with our products, including Hands-On Labs, VMware TestDrive portal,  VMware Cloud on AWS and our “Suitcase Lab” build by polish SE Team 🙂
Nevertheless, it’s nice to have some humming box at home for a wide range of tests, plays, and learning, not only professional ones.  I’ve discussed many options with Santa that could possibly suit my needs and this if what I found:

After evaluation, the last one won the competition. SYS-E200-8D comes in a form factor similar to a box of chocolates (Mini-ITX), it has an IPMI interface, low voltage 6-core Intel Xeon, it supports 128GB of RAM, has 4 NIC (2 x 10GbE and 2x1GbE), M.2 slot for NVME SSD disk. All of this with reasonable value for money ratio.
I decided to equip this box with a maximum amount of RAM and capacious SSD drive:  
– SAMSUNG SSD 970 EVO M.2 1TB 3500/2500 NVMe
– 128GB – 4x 32GB 2400mhz ECC-R (registered) X99 (7831027240)

Supermicro SYS-E200-8D is little noisy even with “Optimal” FAN preset. It got me so angry that I’ve scripted Raspberry Pi to query CPU and system temperature with IPMI Tool and set fan speeds accordingly using Superfans: Most of the time fans roll on 10% speed which is really quiet and keeps CPU temp below 68 Celsius.

The cherry on top was a Sandisk Cruzer FIT for ESXi boot. I failed with some other usb memory sticks so I recommend using this one not only for little size but compatibility too. 
Two sidetones here:

  • For flashing USB sticks with ESXi image on Windows you can use Rufus and on MacOS X BalenaEtcher does it’s job.
  • After preparing your bootable ESXi and initial configuration it’s good to take a backup – strange things happen in home labs sometimes 🙂 There is a special USB Image Tool for ESXi backups and restores.
  • To use your USB stick as a regular storage after it was flashed with ESXi you will need Rufus again to format it and change back to MBR.

My Home Lab runs ESXi 6.7 on bare metal, vCenter and additional nested ESXi’s with another vCenter for a 2 node vSAN cluster which I use only occasionally. That’s a story for another blog post though.

For networking, I chose Checkpoint L-50W which is a nice combo with Wifi AP, Firewall, Router, VLAN support, QoS, VPN gateway and more. It comes with an integrated switch of eight 1GbE ports and dedicated WAN/DMZ ethernet interfaces. Checkpoint allows you to configure most of the features in GUI which is proper for my level of experience in this area 😉 
Checkpoint connects to my ISP’s cable modem over the ethernet and I use it at home with a pool of 5 static, public IP addresses. The idea behind this lab was to make it portable, though, and use occasionally at the office, during workshops, conferences, customer meetings etc. For this, I do have additional LTE router Zyxel LTE3301-M209 with a SIM, data plan and public/static IP from OTVARTA – interesting MVNO that provides you with a public IP and do not require to sign up for long term agreements (you can resign anytime with 1-month dismissal notice). Both devices have the same routing and port forwarding configuration, both use DynDNS and share a The domain hosted on GoDaddy with a publicly trusted wildcard certificate. Thanks to that I can switch them and have my lab available from the Internet no matter if it’s at home or in the field.

Below is the detailed bill of materials with prices, which might be also helpful in planning your budget. Parts with asterisk * were bought on auctions from the second hand.

Supermicro SYSE200-8D 3 582 zł  824 €  $931  £716
SSD 970 EVO M.2 1TB  NVMe 1 099 zł  253 €  $286  £220
128GB – 4x 32GB 2400mhz ECC-R *
 2 600 zł  598 €  $676  £520
Sandisk Cruzer FIT 16 GB 23 zł  5 €  $6  £5
Checkpoint L-50W * 150 zł  35 €  $39  £30
Zyxel LTE3301-M209 *  347 zł  80 €  $90  £69
DNS Domain (yearly) 20 zł  5 €  $5  £4
Wildcard certificate (yearly) 1 250 zł  287 €  $325  £250
OTVARTA mobile plan (yearly) 420 zł  97 €  $109  £84
SUM (ouch!) 9 491 zł  2 183 €  $2 468  £1 898
Recurring yearly costs 1 690 zł  389 €  $439  £338

Stay tuned! I will share my lab adventures frequently 🙂

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