In February 2014 I’ve build myself a new whitebox ESXi server to replace the server which died on me when testing a Nvidia Quadro K5000 graphics card. One year later, I started my new job at VMware and I need to dive into some new products like vCenter Orchestrator, vRealize Automation and the new Operations. And besides that VMware released so much new technology with the associated requirements that I needed a new home lab.


What do I need and what do I have?


Storage is already in place. My current setup uses two Synology NAS boxes

  • a DS1512+ with five 3TB, 7.200 rpm SATA disks, 2 x 1Gbps LACP. Net capacity 11TB.
  • a DS411j with four 2TB, 7.200 rpm SATA disks, 1 x 1Gbps. Net capacity 5,5TB.

Both Synology boxes are running NFS.


The networking part is also ready. I have an HP ProCurve 2824 (J4903A), this is a 24-port HP ProCurve Switch with 20 ports with a speed of 10/100/1000Gbps and 4 dual-personality ports for 10/100/1000Gbps or mini-GBIC connectivity. This switch has a 48 Gbps backplane capable of up to 35.7 mpps and supporting Link Aggregation, VLANs, basic IP routing, QoS.


So everything is in place, now I need servers. First of all, having just one server is a problem. If you want to patch, upgrade, etc. you have to shutdown the whole lab environment. So, I want more than one server to be able to vMotion. That will come in handy because I also want to test Virtual SAN which requires at least three servers. Besides that the servers need to have at least two network interfaces to support regular network traffic, vMotion traffic and Virtual SAN traffic. But I don’t want to end up with a huge energy bill at the end of the year, so they must be ‘green’.

I looked at the HP NUC and Dell mini servers but after a tip from a colleague (thx Geordy) I decided to build my new home lab on some Shuttle Slim-PC’s.

I went with the Shuttle DS81 and added the following components:



I picked the cheapest Intel Core i3 processor that I could find because my experience with previous home labs is that CPU is never an issue. Memory is he main problem and with the DS81 only supporting 16GB you may need an extra server to handle the memory load. Because the Intel Core i3 processor supports hyper-threading, you get 4 logical processors at 3.6GHz.

For Virtual SAN I chose a 1TB disk for capacity and a 128GB SanDisk SSD for caching. I will use the 8GB SD-card to install ESXi on.

After assembling all three servers I started the installation to find that the Realtek 8111G network interface is not recognized by the ESXi 6.0 (RC) installer. After some research I found some different drivers and the VMware Front Experience ESXi-Customizer. After some trial-and-mostly-error, I found the correct driver. I injected the net51-drivers-1.0.0-1vft.510.0.0.799733.x86_64.vib into the VMware-VMvisor-Installer-6.0.0-2159203.x86_64.iso with the ESXi-Customizer and it works like a charm including Virtual SAN! All three servers up and running, I modified the VESA brackets which came with the Shuttles to stack them and mounted in my utility closet.

After installing the vCenter Server Appliance, my new home lab looks like this!

NoteI measured the power usage, the entire lab (servers, storage, network) uses 240W during normale operations.