Expert Reference Series of White Papers. Building a Home Lab for VMware vsphere

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1 Expert Reference Series of White Papers Building a Home Lab for VMware vsphere COURSES

2 Building a Home Lab for VMware vsphere John Hales, Global Knowledge Instructor, A+, Network+, MCSE, MCDBA, MCT, VCP, VCI, EMCSA Introduction 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 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 whitepaper). I often get asked by my students how to (relatively) inexpensively setup this kind of lab for study, and the result is this whitepaper. 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 whitepaper is broken down into three major sections; the first and most detailed is about the hardware required, the second is about the Workstation configuration, and the third is about installing vsphere and Virtual Center (VC). Note that this whitepaper 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 that needs to be answered is whether to build your lab at a stationary location, such as your home or 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 to 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 2 cores (or CPUs) to be able to install ESX and/or VC, but this will be very slow. I suggest a minimum of 4 cores (or CPUs) so there is enough CPU power to run the VMs and the host operating system (OS). 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 more than 4 cores. Remember that ESX 4.0 (vsphere) 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 on the CPU and enabled in the BIOS). Copyright 2010 Global Knowledge Training LLC. All rights reserved. 2

3 As far as minimum memory requirements are concerned, you ll need at least 2 GB of RAM to be able to install ESX and/or VC, but this will be extremely slow. I suggest 4 GB of RAM if you re running a 32-bit guest OS (which I wouldn t recommend, but will work if you have to) or 8 12 GB of RAM if you re running a 64-bit OS. The actual requirements will vary depending on what you choose to install (both for VMs as well as VMs inside the ESX VMs), but I base this on the following configuration. VM Number Purpose ESX VMs allow for VMotion, HA, DRS, etc. to be used and studied. Virtual Center 1 Most businesses use VC for management tasks, and you ll be tested on using VC. Openfiler or other iscsi or NAS VM 1 VMotion, HA, DRS, etc. to be used; in short, shared storage is used frequently. In addition, you ll want to learn more about iscsi if you haven t already and Openfiler is a free way to do so. In addition, remember that the host OS will require some resources (typically, the better part of a core and 1 2 GB of RAM, depending on what you want to do). Desktop / Server The big question here is what kind of performance you require. If it is purely for study and performance, it doesn t matter, a desktop will be sufficient, assuming the specs below are met. On the other hand, if you will be doing a lot of work and/or performance is a bigger factor, consider getting a high-end workstation or a server so you can have more disk drives installed for better I/O performance. I use my computer for many learning projects as well as development projects for custom courseware and design projects, so I chose a server for my lab setup. Specifically, I bought a tower server over a rack mount version as I wanted the maximum number of disk drives possible. My server is a Dell PowerEdge 2900, but most vendors have equivalent models, or you could build one yourself. I am also primarily a Windows user, so I created my server with Windows Vista in mind (it was deployed before Windows 7 became available). I outfitted my server as follows. Component Number Reason Recommendation Xeon 5355 (Quad Core, 2.66 GHz, 12 MB L2 cache) 2 I wanted the most CPUs possible so I could run multiple VMs at the same time; I also wanted the most L2 cache available to make them as efficient as possible, given that the host OS, many VMs, and often Office applications and web browsers would all be used at the same time. RAM 16 GB I wanted the ability to run multiple VMs at once with RAM left over for Office, Acrobat, Web Browsers, etc. Buy the latest CPU family with the most cores and L2 cache at the fastest speeds in demanding environments. Windows only supports 2 physical sockets, so more physical CPUs will be wasted money in Windows host environments. Get at least 8 GB, GB would give you more room for more VMs and/or larger VMs. Copyright 2010 Global Knowledge Training LLC. All rights reserved. 3

4 Component Number Reason Recommendation 1 Gb Ethernet NICs 3 Came with server; minimum of 2 (1 for host I/O and 1 for VM I/O would be OK. 146 GB 15K RPM SCSI HD 10 This was all the server would take or I would have purchased more. I have 2 in RAID 1 for the host OS, 7 in RAID 5 for VMs and 1 hot spare. Monitors 2 I can see multiple VMs at once this way, for example 1 for the ESX servers and 1 for VC or 1 for the VMs and 1 for documentation, , etc. Note that on my server, I needed to get an x16 to x8 PCIe adapter as my server didn t come with an x16 slot and all video cards are x16 (search for x16 to x8 adapter for companies that sell this kind of product). Note as well that the riser card may make ports near the top of the video card inaccessible, so choose your video card carefully. This isn t an issue for most desktops. Choose a video card that supports the type of connection your monitors will use (HDMI or VGA) as well as the number of monitors you want to use. Get a 3rd if using NAS or iscsi not in a VM on the same computer. Get the fastest, smallest drives available and get lots of them for good I/O performance. Get SCSI or SAS drives if possible (15K vs RPM). 2 or more monitors will make it much easier to study; I d suggest at least 2 monitors if you have paper documentation and training materials or at least 3 monitors if the documentation and/or training materials are in an electronic format. My server configuration retailed for about $12,000, but I got most of it from various online sources for under $5,000. A quick online search for this paper returned desktops with 1 2 hard drives, 8 GB of RAM and a quad core processor without a monitor for $1,000 or less. Laptop If portability is important to you, consider a laptop instead. The laptop should support a quad core CPU and at least 2 hard drives and 8 GB of RAM. For my lab, I chose a Dell Precision M6400 laptop (which supports 2 hard drives and up to 16 GB of RAM). The M6500 supports up to 3 hard drives (in RAID 5 if desired) and core i7 processors. As with the desktops and servers described above, you ll need a substantial system to run well. A laptop with these specifications will typically cost more than $3,000. Copyright 2010 Global Knowledge Training LLC. All rights reserved. 4

5 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). Plugging in an external monitor may make it much easier to study, as mentioned above, so consider a laptop with at least one external VGA or HDMI port or a docking station that supports one or more such ports. VMware Workstation Installation One of the benefits of earning your VCP (VMware Certified Professional) 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 that is good for 30 days. It is available at tryvmware/?p=workstation&lp=1, or you can purchase the software for less than $200 (or upgrade for less than $100). Students and educators can get it even cheaper if they qualify for the academic discount. Workstation is available in versions for both Windows (XP, 2003, 2008, Vista, and 7, both 32-bit and 64-bit) and Linux (including Asianux, CentOS, Red Hat, SUSE, and Ubuntu, both 32- and 64-bit). For a complete list, go to The application itself requires 200 MB (for Linux) or 1.5 GB (for Windows) of disk space. VMware Workstation version 7 supports up to 32 GB of RAM per VM with the total RAM for all VMs limited only by available host memory. It also has better processor support and many new and upgraded features over Workstation 6. The application itself installs like most other Windows or Linux applications so the specifics won t be described here. Online versions of the manual are available on VMware s web site at pubs/ws_pubs.html. For those who use a MAC instead of a PC, check out VMware Fusion instead. It is similar to Workstation, and there are many on the Internet who have had success using it instead of Workstation. This is, however, beyond the scope of this document. Modifying the.vmx File for vsphere To install ESX, simply create a VM with the host OS set to Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 64-bit with at least 2 GB of RAM, a SCSI virtual hard disk of at least GB, more if you plan on installing many or large VMs inside the ESX VM and are not using shared storage (such as the Openfiler iscsi appliance). 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 [and any VMs inside them] to the host the vsphere and other VMs run on). In addition, the floppy, USB controller, and sound cards can be removed as they will not be used by ESX. Copyright 2010 Global Knowledge Training LLC. All rights reserved. 5

6 While this configuration will indeed install correctly, you will not be able to power on any VMs inside the vsphere VM. To be able to do so, power off the vsphere VM, browse to the directory containing the VM on the host hard drive and open the associated.vmx file with Notepad, VI, nano, etc. Make the following addition to this file: monitor_control.restrict_backdoor=true Save and close the.vmx file and restart the VM. You should now be able to power on VMs inside the vsphere VM. No special.vmx settings are required for the VMs that run Virtual Center, and the Openfiler appliance comes with the proper.vmx file if you choose to download the VMware version of Openfiler. Installing vsphere Servers and Virtual Center Once the VM for vsphere is created, simply attach the ESX 4.0 DVD as an.iso image to the virtual CD/DVD drive and install it like you would with a physical server. Once ESX is installed, you can run it like a physical server and create VMs inside it as desired (though all VMs inside the vsphere VM must be 32-bit VMs as 64-bit hardware virtualization support isn t replicated into the VMs). Create a VM for Virtual Center per the standard VC requirements and install it like you would in any other physical or virtual environment. If you wish to use the Openfiler appliance, refer to the document How to Configure Openfiler iscsi Storage for VMware ESX 4 listed in the references section. Summary Carefully select hardware powerful enough to run ESX as a VM. Remember that you ll probably want more than 2 cores, 4 GB of RAM or more, and x64 CPUs with Intel-VT or AMD-V support and enabled in the BIOS. The cost of such a system will be far lower than purchasing several systems and recreating the environment with physical systems, networking equipment, etc. Done properly, you should be able to reproduce the training environment and run the labs from the courses you take. It is even possible to do advanced configurations, such as VMware View designs and SRM inside virtual machines hosted on a single host. Copyright 2010 Global Knowledge Training LLC. All rights reserved. 6

7 Learn More Learn more about how you can improve productivity, enhance efficiency, and sharpen your competitive edge. Check out the following Global Knowledge courses: VMware vsphere: Install, Configure, Manage VMware vsphere: Fast Track VMware vsphere: Troubleshooting For more information or to register, visit or call COURSES to speak with a sales representative. Our courses and enhanced, hands-on labs and exercises offer practical skills and tips that you can immediately put to use. Our expert instructors draw upon their experiences to help you understand key concepts and how to apply them to your specific work situation. Choose from our more than 1,200 courses, delivered through Classrooms, e-learning, and On-site sessions, to meet your IT and business training needs. About the author John Hales, VCP, VCI, is a VMware instructor at Global Knowledge, teaching all of the vsphere classes that Global Knowledge offers. John is also the author of many books, from involved technical books from Sybex to exam preparation books, to many quick reference guides from BarCharts, in addition to custom courseware for individual customers. John has various certifications, including the VMware VCP and VCI, the Microsoft MCSE, MCDBA, and MCT, the EMC EMCSA (Storage Administrator for EMC Clariion SANs), and the CompTIA A+ and Network+. John lives with his wife and children in Sunrise, Florida. References How to Configure Openfiler iscsi Storage for VMware ESX 4 How to Install VMware ESX 4.0 on Workstation as a VM Installing ESX 4.0 on VMware Fusion SRM in a Box Upgrading an ESX 3.x virtual machine to ESX do?language=en_us&cmd=displaykc&externalid= Copyright 2010 Global Knowledge Training LLC. All rights reserved. 7

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