ESXi Home Lab?

Hi all,

I am getting burned out at my current job at an under-staffed MSP and I have just started studying for the VCP5-DCV exam to help build out my resume that has limited experience. I want to set up a ESXi home lab to play around with, but I have some limitations. I live in an apartment and don't have anywhere to put loud server equipment. I already have a FreeNAS box that I will be using as my SAN for testing. I also have an older Dell PowerConnect managed switch with gigabit ports that I can replace the (very loud) fans in and use.

I am looking to buy/build two ESXi hosts for relatively cheap, just needing to run 4-5 VMs each and being relatively quiet as they will likely be running in my room. My current FreeNAS box runs in a Fractal Node 304 and is very quiet, I was thinking about sticking with that form factor. Below are the parts I'm looking at buying:

  • Fractal Node 304
  • ASRock E3C224D2I
  • Intel i7-4790S
  • 16 GB DDR3 1600
  • Whatever boot drive I find laying around

This will run me about $700 per host. Does anyone have any suggestions for bringing the price down or improving performance for about the same price? Thanks much.

any specific reason why you are building two hosts?

To set up clustering/failover.

last i checked clustering wasnt available on free version of ESXi. could be wrong though as i use XenServer for my VMs

Ah, thanks for bringing that up. I totally spaced that ESXi doesn't have HA clustering. I will have to think about this more.

XenServer allows it under free version but apparently like no businesses run on XenServer. so could always setup one host and still learn most of it.

From your experience what do businesses like to run? KVM maybe?

I work with lot's of clients who are predominately on the Microsoft .Net, SQL Server stack for their applications and databases. Most virtualise on ESXi 5.1/5.5 or Hyper-V on Windows Server 2012 R2.

The only clients I work with who use Openstack or something else based on KVM or Xen are cloud providers who have their own heavily customised solution for obvious reasons. These guys rave about these and for them a proprietry solution wouldn't work as they can't cutomise it in the same way and would pay $$$$ in licencing.

Getting back to home clusters, I was thinking a couple of these would be nice to build a small home cluster on:

For a free modern Hypervisor a full free version of Microsoft Hyper-V is available from here (180day eval versiosn of Windows Server 2012 R2 are also available from the same location):

This version is not built on the Windows GUI, so is a little bit more complex/involved to set up. Most shops deploying this version would probably be running the full System Center stack which includes Virtual Machine Manager and Operations Manager etc. You may be able to get eval versions of those from Microsoft but they are not essential for a small VM cluster.

This was a useful guide for learning a bit about managing that version of Hyper-V;

For an overview of Hyper-V clusters, this is worth a read, although it was written for the version running the Windows GUI:

Finally you will find some people who knock Hyper-V. In a mature form it is new compared to VMware and Xen but in my experience the newer versions are solid and work well. The principles (and PowerShell commands) you learn from it are also useful if you want to start working with Azure as it is built on a customised Hyper-V platform (you can port VM's between on-premises Hyper-V and the Azure cloud).

Have fun!

Agreed, where I work we use Hyper-V and ESXi.

In response to @rockking's post about XenServer, most businesses don't use it due to the lack of people who know about it, and the lack of a major company backing it for stability. For example, if one of my Hyper-V VMs breaks and kills a few TBs of data, I can call MS or VMware and make them send out a tech to fix it, I might not get the data back, but I'm not going to spend 3 days working on the VM. The point about Xen is that because of it's lack of use, it makes it very difficult for people to adopt it.

I was looking into building a server, but I found that I could buy one for less.

I found this Lenovo TS440 for $399. The processor alone would cost around $300 if buying separately, and it's a 4 core, multi-threaded, 22nm Haswell processor on par with core-i7. It also comes with a RAID card which is somewhat neutered in that it only runs RAID 0, 1, or JBOD unless you buy a little adapter to let it run RAID 5 or 6, but since I was setting up RAIDZ, JBOD was perfect for me.

It runs fairly quiet. You can hear the low hum of the tiny power supply fan. When you start it up, it sounds like a vacuum, but the sound quickly dies down after that. For comparison, I have a mini-fridge in the same room as the server and the sound from the fridge is louder than the server.

One caveat is that you'll have to buy drive caddy's at about $15-$20 a piece, and if you're installing an SSD, you'll have to find a way to mount it. I just set up a 2.5" hotswap drive bay in the open 5.25" bay. And of course, add more ECC RAM as needed.

It's big compared to a node 304 - 2 ft long and 18" tall - so about 5" longer than your typical mid-tower and 4" shorter, and about equal width or slightly skinnier than most mid-towers.

i found these to be great home servers for that need. i have two of them
not this model but the Gen prior to, they are pretty quiet, if you add an Intel Pro Dual PCI-E nic card
you could make a pretty killer cluster

i don't think you'll be able to cluster ESXi with out a license key, you'll need Vcenter server, you will also need a SQL server if you plan to have HA and DRS.
i took the VCP about 3 months ago and i can tell you that the book i used:


are great resources for this test, i would suggest running one node for the lab and using these books.
will also save you some $$

I’m in the same boat, but I’ve already got a Server setup to practice with, but I’m having issues, and slowly working through them. Wish I could find someone who know’s vShere who I could just ping/pick their brain.

@ibreakthings once you get a system setup, let me know. I’m trying to make two VM clusters (each w/ 3VM’s) and two storage pools (w/ 3 VM’s each). I’ve got everything setup, but having issues getting everything to communicate with one another. I’ll get here eventually.


If you need help with vSphere, fire up a new thread and I’ll see what I can assist with.


So many changes since this thread was made. Make a new one if you need assistance.