Home Lab Upgrade


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Home Lab upgrade!

Hi Folks, recently I wanted to «upgrade» my home lab, and I was thinking the best way to have an affordable, low consumption usable home lab for a ESXi Cluster, nothing fancy, just to be able to deploy a couple of little VMS, play with HA, DRS, shared storage and so on.

I started checking out the Intel NUCs, but then I realized that it comes «empty», so it becomes costly at the end.

Then, what about HPE Gen 8-9 Servers, «the wife would kill me»
They are noisy, expensive and consumes tons of electricity!

So, looking over the hardware I have, I looked into my Workstation, a Lenovo P320 which it has 64GB of ram, more than sufficient to run a Nested lab, but I wanted something more realistic, with wires and lights, you know, Im a hardware and wires lover!

I kept the Workstation as base Server, Planning tu run there the base or foundational vms I normally run like: vCenter, DNS, AD, a Storage Appliance and a Veeam Server.

lets keep it «low profile», so, Nowadays normally we do have a laptop or workstation capable enough to run a vmware workstation or a ESXi to place a vcenter instance and a Windows Server machine, pretty basic.

Then, I though, I need a switch, and I had an «old» 1Gbps Router – switch capable of Vlans, so perfect for this task.

Now Im just missing some hosts to add to the picture, and I found these little guys:

Zima Board

Looking at them, they were quite perfect, the top performing setup has a 4C processor, 8GB of RAM, and a local NVME 32GB, so perfect for a ESXi mini server.
Ah! forgot to say: it has a 4x PCI-E and 2 SATA Ports!! Amazing!!

Everything was going soooo good, until the tragedy came, 
Realtek Gigabit Ethernet, not supported by vmware vsphere…. nooo!
but wait a second, I told you already they’ve got a PCI-E port?

Exacly, I looked over into my warehouse, and there you go! a 4 Ports Intel NIC card!
Fully compatible and ready to be installed!!

Now, with all setup, lets get into it, installing Vsphere 8, no problem!!

NIC Card, OK, system ready and first boot OK!

Then I did the same operation with the other two Zima mini CPUs I’ve got!
Configured the initial parameters, IPs, Hostnames, DNSs, etc. and ready for next steps!

By the time, I setup a vCenter instance and a Software Appliance for Storage, Simple NFS datastore for home lab experiments, a Quantum DXiv Community Edition.

After a few configurations, added those three ESXi hosts into my vcenter instance, create the cluster, and let it build, and…. Voila!

The cluster was up and ready to be used!

Let me show you a few pics of how it looks now from the vCenter perspective!

 

The normal electrical consumption for this little guys is around 6W each, pretty low, a little more with the Ethernet PCI-E card, but nothing overkilling like a full server, and not counting noise and hit!

My overall cost, taking into count that I do own the workstation, switch and I made the Ethernet cables, around 200$ per Zima Server, so around 600$.

if you plan to start low, you can do it with only two Systems, so around 400$ + shipping.

Hope you enjoy it, and don’t hesitate to give them a try and have some fun!
will try to follow this up, and upload some future info, tests and ideas.

cheers!


14 comments

Userlevel 7
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Thank you very much for sharing @HunterLAFR! I was looking at the intel NUC recently from Notebookbeliger and I wasn’t quite satisfied. This looks really interesting rom your test and the link referenced. I will have to do a little bit of research and then decide.

Userlevel 7
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Very interesting. I am always looking for affordable test equipment.

I will have a look at the Zima boards.😎👍🏼

 

Userlevel 7
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Nice writeup Luis! I really should invest in a homelab setup, but for now I gerry-rig something at work to do little tests I need or want to do. 🤷 You gave me something to think about now tho… 😊

Userlevel 7
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Very cool lab setup Luis. Will have to check out Zima now.  😎

Userlevel 7
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Interesting setup.  I’ve not heard of the Zima devices.  I thought you might be able to get the onboard NIC’s running with a Fling, but maybe that was just for USB NIC’s.  Certainly looks quiet.  Looking at the eMMC size on those though, I’d probably be connecting things to a NAS for shared storage and just use the eMMC to host ESXi.

HPE is a pain in that if you use any non-HPE approved components, it runs the fans at 100% which is indeed pretty loud.  I’m not a fan of HPE hardware anyway.  With that said, I do love my Dell lab gear.  My R610’s are very much aging, and I’m sure no the most power efficient but they are pretty quiet.  I don’t have any complaints about my current R520 but it is in my garage so I don’t really hear it.  But I can say the likes of the R720 is actually louder than the R610’s and even 12th Gen Dell is pretty old now considering current models are 15th and 16th Gen.  And again, not going to be nearly as energy efficient as what you have there.  I’m fortunate in that my electricity is pretty cheap and last I checked on my energy consumption on my UPS, I pay about $7 USD per month to run the lab at home.  I’d hate to know what it costs for the bigger lab at the office though where I average 3-6 hosts and an Equallogic SAN with 16 spindles pulling power and generating heat.

Userlevel 7
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@HunterLAFR Great write up! I’m always looking for alternatives for homelab equipment. I’ll definitely look into the ZimaBoard.

Userlevel 7
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I’ve never heard of those either. 

 

I have a nuc and it’s great for home assistant, but I had some extra SSD’s kicking around and didn’t have to add to much, I bought it off ebay so CPU/Memory were included also. My IBM and HP servers are off now as well due to the fan noise and I don’t run them full time anymore.  

Low power is pretty important too as my power bills were starting to creep up quickly when I had a Fiber SAN running downstairs. lol. 

Userlevel 7
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Wow, that is pretty cool @HunterLAFR I’ve not come across Zima boards before. Going to do some research on them. 

By the way, if anyone wants a Intel NUC, now is the time to get one as they are being decommissioned:

Intel begins purging NUC PCs from inventory • The Register

Userlevel 7
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Thx for sharing @HunterLAFR. I didn’t know the Zima boards. I’m a NUC fan 😄

Userlevel 7
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Wow, that is pretty cool @HunterLAFR I’ve not come across Zima boards before. Going to do some research on them. 

By the way, if anyone wants a Intel NUC, now is the time to get one as they are being decommissioned:

Intel begins purging NUC PCs from inventory • The Register

Indeed @dips , but ASUS will take over the production of NUCs

Userlevel 7
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I just saw this from the same company that makes the Zima boards so I thought I'd share here. Affordable NAS. It looks interesting. 

https://zimacube.zimaboard.com/

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I am going in the same direction of @dloseke, implementing a new lab with a Dell PowerEdge R630; a point of attention when choosing a lab is the components' support for the vSphere 8.x release. Veeam Backup & Replication v12 only supports up to vSphere 8.0 U1 currently, as described in the user guide.

For cpu, there are many of them in deprecation and discontinuation status:

CPU Support Deprecation and Discontinuation In vSphere Releases (82794) (vmware.com)

Also, if you want something more serious, noisy, and energy consumer, you also need to check compatibility with vSAN and either NSX.

VMware Compatibility Guide - cpu

Hardware Requirements for vSAN (vmware.com)

 

Userlevel 7
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I just saw this from the same company that makes the Zima boards so I thought I'd share here. Affordable NAS. It looks interesting. 

https://zimacube.zimaboard.com/

Thanks for sharing @HangTen416 and we hope it is cost effective as well unlike other brands. It would be a great addition ...

Userlevel 7
Badge +8

I just saw this from the same company that makes the Zima boards so I thought I'd share here. Affordable NAS. It looks interesting. 

https://zimacube.zimaboard.com/

thats a nice piece of hardware,

Now Im also waiting to get my hands on this new board from Zima, the Zima Blade
they say that supports DDR3 SO DIM up to 16GB, so, with that in mind, my plan is to do something with those and vSan, just for the record 😏

cheers!

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