Building a Home Lab for VMware vSphere 6.0
This paper will discuss how to (relatively) inexpensively setup a simulated lab environment using VMware (the latest version). This white paper is broken down into three major sections; the first and most detailed is about the hardware required, the second is about the VMware Workstation configuration, and the third is about installing vSphere (ESXi) 6.0 and Virtual Center (VC).
Before virtualization, I had many computers around my house that required maintenance, upgrading, replacement, etc., as well as the power to run all of the equipment. This was very time-consuming and expensive. In 1999, I began using VMware Workstation 2.0 to create virtual machines (VMs) to study NetWare, NT 4.0, Windows 2000, etc. Since that time, I have used it in all of my studies and reduced my lab equipment to one computer, a powerful laptop. Originally, Elastic Sky X (ESX) didn't run in a VM, requiring more hardware to study and learn ESX. As of ESX 3.5 and Workstation 6.5.2, it is possible to virtualize ESX in a Workstation VM (or inside a vSphere server, for that matter, but we won't be discussing that in this white paper), although this required workarounds and was not supported. It is possible to run ESXi 6.0 inside of ESXi 6.0 or VMware Workstation 8.0 or higher. In fact, VMware and Global Knowledge teach their vSphere 6.0 courses in this manner (running ESXi inside ESXi). Using ESXi as the host virtualization platform works, but it requires a dedicated machine. This is often possible in a business setting, but may be difficult for the small business or in circumstances where spare hardware is not available. Hence, this white paper will discuss how to use Workstation 11.0 (the latest version) to create the simulated environment.
I often get asked by my students how to (relatively) inexpensively setup this kind of lab for study after class, and the result is this white paper. When specific vendors are mentioned, it is not an endorsement, but rather just an example of something that I have used and know works.
This white paper is broken down into three major sections; the first and most detailed is about the hardware required, the second is about the VMware Workstation configuration, and the third is about installing vSphere (ESXi) 6.0 and Virtual Center (VC). Note that this white paper is not 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.
The biggest question is whether to build your lab at a stationary location, such as in your home or on a spare server at work, or whether it needs to be portable. In many cases, a stationary configuration is sufficient, so the desktop/server route works well and is usually less expensive. If you need to do demonstrations for customers, study at multiple locations, etc., then a laptop configuration may work better for you, though it will cost more for a similar configuration.
As far as minimum central processing unit (CPU) requirements are concerned, you'll need at least two cores (or CPUs) to be able to install ESXi and/or VC, but this will be very slow. I suggest a minimum of 4 cores (or CPUs, preferably hyperthreaded) so there is enough CPU power to run the VMs and the host operating system (OS). Eight or more cores work well. If you're planning on creating and using input/output (I/O)-intensive VMs, and/or running many VMs, and/or doing a lot on the host OS while VMs are running, you should consider more than 12 cores. Remember that ESXi 6.0 (vSphere 6.0) requires 64-bit-capable CPUs to run, so be sure to purchase 64-bit-capable CPUs with either Intel virtualization technology (VT) or Advanced Micro Dynamics virtualization (AMD-V) support (both physically on the CPU and enabled in the basic input/output system [BIOS]). I point this out not because you are likely to purchase a decade-old computer that doesn't have a 64-bit CPU, but rather that the virtualization extensions in the processor may not be made available via the BIOS. ESXi also requires the No Execute/Execute Disable (NX/XD) feature to be enabled in the BIOS.