Home Lab, the PC you already have.

The simplest home lab to study for VCP5 certification is a single PC with at least 8GB of RAM and running VMware Workstation, Fusion or Player.  The benefit here is that you may already have all the hardware you need and if it’s a laptop it can go to work, home or on the road with you so you can study anywhere.

My Laptop lab is a nearly three year old laptop, an HP 6730b with a 2.5GHz Core Duo (not even Core2) CPU and upgraded to 8GB of RAM.  I have also replaced the primary HDD with an Intel SSD and added a second HDD (7200RPM, 500GB) in place of the DVD drive.  The RAM upgrade was essential for lab use. The disk upgrades were both great, but not essential. 

A very important requirement is that the CPU should support Intel VT or AMD V (these are the CPU feature that allow 64bit VMs such as ESXi to be run) and the BIOS must allow you to turn these on.  Of course you must then turn the settings on in the BIOS, it’s sometimes called Processor Virtualization, before completely powering the computer off then back on.  A reboot won’t cut it, you must power cycle.  You also need to install a 64bit operating system, I am using Windows 7 Ultimate 64bit. 

You will need to install two ESXi servers in VMs, the process with the current release of Workstation, Player and Fusion is pretty easy.  When you are creating the new VM choose to install from the ISO image of the ESXi installer and the VM options should be set automatically.  If you have to choose then the VM should be a 64Bit OS, 2 vCPUs, 2GB RAM and a hard disk of at least 6GB size.  I usually create my VMs with at least two NICs and usually on a Host Only network so I don’t have any chance of the VM presence leaking into the physical network.  Preventing leakage is very important when you take your laptop to customer sites or your employer’s corporate network.  A quick write-up on creating the VM is by Henri who used VMware Player, Vladan shows an even simpler process on Workstation 8 and the awesome Cody Bunch has documented the process with Fusion 4.

In addition to the two ESXi server you will need a vCentre server, you could use the Virtual Appliance form however I haven’t had success with having only 2GB of RAM for that appliance.  I usually use Windows 2008 R2 as my vCentre platform, using TechNet licensing since I subscribed this year.  The VM has a single vCPU, 2GB RAM and a 60GB disk.  I also have a second NIC on the vCentre VM and use NAT networking for that to allow Internet access for updates and software downloads.  Alternatively use the host folders feature of Workstation to provide access to downloaded files.  After you’ve installed Windows you can install vCentre, that is a process you should be studying.


Now you have two ESXi servers and vCentre, the remaining requirement is shared storage.  There are a lot of ways to do this, I have used OpenFiler in a VM, as well as Microsoft Services for Unix NFS server.  Since vSphere supports a lot of storage options you have a lot of choice here. Right now I am using the free edition of the Rocket Division iSCSI server called StarWind.  There’s good documentation on the Starwind site, including a rather dated guide to using StarWind with ESX that still has the information you need. Starwind allows my vCentre VM to also be my iSCSI target, slightly reducing the total memory footprint of the lab VMs.  This does have the down side of making my vCentre VM very slow to startup (10-15 minutes), since it is seriously short of RAM.  If I had a newer laptop that could take more than 8GB of RAM then I’d up the vCentre server to 4GB or more.

I would suggest running the vSphere client in the operating system on your physical PC, this will give you the best user experience, you probably already have it installed.


For test VMs I have created two Windows XP VMs.  Cloning, templates and guest OS customisation are all tasks to study. With all of this running my laptop is still responsive however it’s using almost all of it’s physical RAM. Of course I’m still running Firefox, Outlook and iTunes as well so I should probably up the vCentre VM to 3GB and shut down the extra programs.


If you have the choice make sure your PC has a separate hard disk for the VM files, this avoids the PC swapping IO conflicting with the VM IO in a nasty spiral of poor performance.  Also if you are buying a new PC I’d suggest making sure you have one with VT-x/EPT or AMD V/RVI features, this will allow you to run 64bit guests on the ESXi VMs.  In addition the more RAM the better, fill every slot with the largest DIMM that makes sense and is supported by your motherboard.

My laptop lab is a great way to run a basic vSphere test and training lab on a computer that I always have with me.  It is the only lab that is practical to take with you if you travel by air.

© 2011, Alastair. All rights reserved.

About Alastair

I am a professional geek, working in IT Infrastructure. Mostly I help to communicate and educate around the use of current technology and the direction of future technologies.
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