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My New ESXi Lab System

For a while now , i have been thinking about building a Lab Server at home , that will save me time and effort for my day to day dev and other tech stuff. and decided to go with VMWare’s ESXi solution for a virtual environment.

My basic requirements were :

  1. need to run at least 6 resource demanding machines at the same time
  2. need for virtual networking
  3. silence in my lab
  4. performance.

After some spec digging , I finally went for the following spec :

  • Motherboard : Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R (link)
  • Memory : Crosair 12GB (6x2GB) DDR3 1333 (link)
  • CPU : Intel i7 920 (link)
  • CPU Cooler : Thremaltake V1-AX CPU Cooler (link)
  • HD : 4x WD Caviar Blue 500GB 7200RPM 16MB WD5000AAKS (link)
  • RAID Controller : Adaptec 2405S (link)
  • Display : Gigabyte HD 4350 512MB GDDR2 DX10.1 HDTV DVI HDMI PCI-E (link)
  • Case : Antec - Nine Hundred Two (link)
  • PSU : Thermaltake ToughPower W0103 600W PFC (link)
  • Additional NIC : Intel PRO/1000 GT Desktop Adapter (link)

Although the Motherboard of my choice includes 3 (!) built in RAID controllers for different raid approaches , i had to introduce a more robust RAID controller that will support my demand for performance ( RAID 10 ) , will offload the CPU cycles to a dedicated processor , and will also be supported by VMWare ESXi , which is not trivial. same reason goes for the additional NIC – the Intel PRO/1000 MT is there in order for the ESXi HSC to have all drivers and hardware in my box officially supported.

Some design decisions :

  • first , i wanted to make sure that the network card is officially supported , because as of now , VMWare only supports specific certified hardware ( an up-to date list of supported hardware can always be found here ) but the problematic ones are always the network controller and the disk controller (which halt the install if the install process doesn't like them). that's why i went with an Intel one, which at the time can be purchased in eBay for around 25-30$.
  • for the disks , i chose 4 x Caviar Blue 500GB disks, and wanted to use them as a RAID 10 array , so all and all i will get 1TB of extremely fast storage, and i chose the Caviar Blue, because unlike the Caviar Green which throttles down to save energy , i need performance – and the Caviar Blue maintains a constant 7200RPM rate.
  • the network card consumed my one and only PCI slot on the Motherboard , so although i was already considering a PCI Express RAID Controller , this became an essential part. at first i thought i could try to use one of the onboard RAID controllers , but VMWare rejected them, which at the end was ok – since by introducing the Ataptec card , all of the CPU cycles that are required to maintain the RAID are offloaded to a dedicated processor on the card. choosing the adaptec was fairly easy , since i wanted 4 disks in RAID 10 and PCI Express , and then i came across this article from Overclock3d.net which was enough to convince me im taking the right approach.
  • for power supply i went as i always do with a Thermaltake Toughpower PSU , which i calculated based on their online PSU calculator , and multiplied by 1.6 as I always do when scaling a PSU.
  • for RAM , just wanted a Triple Channel memory, and as much of it as i can get for a descent price, same as for display – i just had to have a display adapter in , so this was a cheap one with DVI+VGA+HDMI which made sense to have for future screens if i ever need one on this system.
  • for the chasis , i wanted a box that will be cool , good air flow and fanning , and will be easy to build a heavy duty system into. my only complain will be that in order to mount drives , i had to take out the drive bay out ( the bold holders are hidden ) which took some time, but other than that , its an impressive beast. a good review of the box could be found here.

The ESXi latest version at time of install is the 4.0U1 which has more than a handful of features.

I am a happy chap today.

 

not one of my standard posts … but hey , its my blog :)

Barry.

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Hi,
In the past year I bought two desktop computers to serve as ESX servers, at home.
I'm using dual boot so the workstations are used as standard windows machines and as ESX servers, as needed.
Just that since the inception of Vmware Workstation 7 which allow to run ESX server in a VM - I don't see the need for using my workstation as ESX server - I don't really need to run lab environment in ESX , I just need to practice and simulate ESX Service console commands and issues.
You really went the extra mile with the dedicated raid controller and the choice of building a raid-10.
Expensive but still if performance is what you seek you got it right.

Cheers

I think microsoft.com/hvs/ and citrix.com/essentials/ would be a better choice. maybe that's just me

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Sorry for my bad english. Thank you so much for your good post. Your post helped me in my college assignment, If you can provide me more details please email me.

Hi Barry,

I'm installing ESX on my new home server, but hit some issues. I wonder if you had experienced around this. My server config is:
* MB: Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R
* Memory: Kingston 16GB DDR3 1333
* CPU: Intel i7 930
* NIC: Intel Pro 1000 PT Server Adapter.

When I install ESX, my keyboard failed to response after the init state. I need to put in "noapic" in the boot option to get through this (this way may not be supported in ESX4). After that, the system can't still detect my cdrom and stuck there.

I wonder if you had done anything on the BIOS to make it work?

Yours,
Kenneth

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    My Name is Barry Shteiman, im a devoted tech junkie, and this is my blog.
    E: barry.shteiman -at- gmail.com
    Twitter : bshteiman

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