Thursday, July 12, 2018

What's in a HomeLab?

As we think about advancing our career and helping the clients we serve a dilemma is presented. How do we learn and educate ourselves before we get onsite and in front of the client? Often, we find ourselves looking in the closets of our employer trying to scrounge for the previous generation of hardware where half of it is in the closet because it’s broken. We end up spending half our time trying to perform firmware updates and pillage though the old hardware simply trying to find the pieces that work.
Enter… HomeLabs…

HomeLabs allow geeks to enter their own domain free from the bonds of employer hardware that tends to get sold off as soon as some over eager sales person hears about something that he or she can sell. Yes, home labs can get expensive especially if one expects to build up everything all at once. However, with a little patience and persistence one can be put together over a short amount of time that rivals many SMB environments we find ourselves in from time to time. How does one get started you might ask? Any PC you have laying around the house that might have some sort of modern processor, preferably something with an ‘I’ in front of it will help make things easier. Mac or PC with some ‘I’ processor, 16+ GB of ram and maybe some storage of SSD type is really all you need to get started with VMware Workstation / Fusion or the free VirtualBox.

Sticking with VMware products allows you to migrate to ESXi very easily if that is one of your goals. Typically, you can catch a 30% off type of deal every couple months and may overlap with the 30 day free trial. Another method of obtaining software is through VMUG Advantage+ for $200 or $180 with code HOMELAB. This provides not only VMware Workstation or Fusion but the entire suite of products including NSX and VRA, only the 2 hottest on-premise cloud products on earth.

Hardware you ask… Beyond the modest PC HomeLab machine many parts can be obtained through EBay, deals from some SMB looking to get rid of some hardware or sales from one of the online geek shops. You can start with a simple i7 based machine with 32GB or 64GB of ram and a SSD drive or you could go for a couple SuperMicro 2U servers with an Emulex OCe11102 10G card ($40 typically), 2 or more supporting ESXi while one of them as a FreeNAS SAN. 10G switches can also be easy to come by with a little patience. For a while AWS’s first 10G switches were on EBay for around $300 but sometimes you can find an IBM G8124 top-of-rack switch for less than $500. This switch ‘new’ goes for around $10K and has port to port latency less than a good FC switch (600 ns). Other network devices can be had for around the same price. If you are not ready for 10G but need something better than a 5 port Linksys switch there is always the Cisco SG300 or SG500 switches which support layer 3 and priced very reasonable.

Bottom line, you can start your HomeLab on a tighter budget. Pair a modest budget with VMUG Advantage and a bunch of other demo licenses and you have a nice way to help advance your career.