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How to Build a VMware vSphere 6.x Home Lab

Dec. 12, 2017
John Hales


Learn how to build a home lab for VMware vSphere 6.x to reproduce the training environment and run course labs.


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 two computers, a server in the office, and a laptop I use when traveling. Originally, ESX/ESXi didn’t run in a VM, requiring more hardware to study and learn ESX(i). Beginning with ESX 3.5 and Workstation 6.5.2, it is possible to virtualize ESX(i) 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 is not supported. It is possible to run ESXi 6.x inside of ESXi 6.x, Fusion 7, or VMware Workstation 11 or higher. In fact, VMware and Global Knowledge teach their vSphere 6 courses in this manner: ESXi servers needed for class run as VMs on ESXi hosts, which works well, but requires a dedicated machine. This is often possible in a business setting, but may be difficult for the small business or others where spare hardware is not available. Hence, this white paper will discuss how to use Workstation 14 or Fusion 10 (or higher) to create the hosted environment.

I often get asked by my students how to (relatively) inexpensively set up 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 an example of something that meets the recommended specifications.

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 6.x and vCenter (vC) 6.x. 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.

Lab Hardware

The biggest question is whether to build your lab at a stationary location, such as 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 probably cost more.

As far as minimum 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 four 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 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 at least 12 cores. Remember that ESXi 6 (vSphere 6) requires 64-bit-capable CPUs to run, so be sure to purchase 64-bit-capable CPUs with either Intel VT or AMD-V support (both physically on the CPU and enabled in the BIOS).