Building a Home Lab for VMware vSphere 5: Configuration & Installation

If done properly, you should be able to reproduce the training environment and run the labs from the VMware courses you take. It’s even possible to do advanced configurations, such as VMware View designs and SRM inside VMs hosted on a single host. Select hardware powerful enough to run ESXi as a VM and (as I said in part one) remember that you’ll probably want more than 4 cores or at least hyperthreading on the 4 cores, 12 to 16 GB of RAM, and x64 CPUs with Intel-VT or AMD-V support and enabled in the BIOS.  In this post, I’ll cover more hardware, VMware Workstation configuration, and the installation of vSphere and Virtual Center (VC). 

Note: This isn’t intended to be an in-depth review of how to install and configure vSphere as that is taught in the VMware classes and a VMware class is required for certification. 


If portability is important to you, consider a laptop instead. The laptop should support at least a quad-core CPU (eight core CPUs are now available and will provide better expandability and performance), at least 2 hard drives, and a minimum of 8 GB of RAM (with 16 GB a better idea). For my lab, I chose a Dell Precision M6500 laptop (which supports three hard drives and up to 32 GB of RAM) with a Core i7 processor. The M6600 supports up to 3 hard drives (in RAID 5 if desired) and core i7 processors. You’ll need a substantial system to run well.

As very few laptops support SCSI, be sure to get either a 7200 RPM SATA II hard drive or, better yet, a solid state drive (or possibly one of each so you can put the demanding VMs and applications on fast storage and use the slower, cheaper storage to store other VMs and applications, possibly even the host OS). SSD drives today are fairly inexpensive, so SSD drives are the best option if performance is needed.

Consider a laptop with at least one external VGA or HDMI port or a docking station that supports one or more such ports.

Tip: If you have an Android-based tablet or an iPad, you can get a program called “Air Display” that will allow you to use it as an additional monitor. I have used it quite a bit and find it works very well.

VMware Workstation Installation

One of the benefits of earning your VMware Certified Professional (VCP) is a copy of VMware Workstation. This is a great benefit, but not very helpful while you are studying to pass the exam. You can get an evaluation copy of the software from VMware or you can purchase the software for less than $200 (or upgrade for less than $100). Workstation is available in versions for both Windows (XP, 2003, 2008, Vista, and 7, both 32-bit and 64-bit) and Linux (including CentOS, Red Hat, SUSE, and Ubuntu, both 32- and 64-bit. The application itself requires 200 MB (for Linux) or 1.5 GB (for Windows) of disk space. VMware Workstation version 8 supports up to 64 GB of RAM per VM with the total RAM for all VMs limited only by available host memory. It specifically supports ESXi as a VM. The application itself installs like most other Windows or Linux applications so we won’t go over the specifics here. 

Installing vSphere servers and Virtual Center

To install ESXi, simply create a VM in Workstation with the OS set to “VMware ESXi 5” with at least 2 GB of RAM, a SCSI virtual hard disk of at least 10 to 15 GB or more if you plan on installing many and/or large VMs inside the ESXi VM and are not using shared storage. Be sure that all VMs that you want to talk to each other share a common network (typically, all will be set either to Use bridged networking if you want to see the VMs from other PCs on the network, or Use host-only networking if you want to restrict access to the vSphere VMs to the host that vSphere and the other VMs run on). In addition, the floppy, USB controller, and sound cards can be removed as they will not be used by ESXi.

Once the VM for vSphere is created, simply attach the ESXi 5 CD/DVD as an .ISO image to the virtual CD/DVD drive and install it as you would with a physical server. Once ESXi is installed, you can run it like a physical server and create VMs inside it as desired. You can then create a VM for vCenter per the standard VC requirements and install it like you would in any other physical or virtual environment. This can be in Workstation directly (and which will generally perform better) or even as a VM inside one of the vSphere VMs.

Excerpted and available for download from Global Knowledge White Paper: Building a Home Lab for VMware vSphere5

Related Courses
VMware vSphere: Fast Track [V5.0]
VMware vSphere: Install, Configure, Manage [V5.0]
VMware vSphere: What’s New [V5.0]

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