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The Quest for the Right Virtual Home Lab Server

Earlier this year, I wrote that I was going to start a next-generation home lab. Alas, I haven't made any significant progress on the topic. But I did have a power outage that made me realize that my older, power-hungry servers are wearing out my battery backup units quicker than they should be. This, and the fact that my wife was not so happy about how long it took me to bring the shared drive back online, has made me revisit the lab to both modernize and simplify the configuration.

At VMworld 2015, I had the chance to catch up with Paul Braren, who blogs at Tinkertry.com. Paul mentioned how we was now migrating to a new server for his home lab server, and got one from Supermicro (Figure 1). The unit Paul has found as a sweet spot for his home server has a number of key characteristics:

  • Capable of running up to 128 GB of DDR4 RAM (DDR4 is newer, very fast memory)
  • It's small, only weighing 15 pounds
  • 10GB ports (10GBase-T)
  • Capability of nesting many ESXi or Hyper-V hosts (especially for VSAN)
[Click on image for larger view.] Figure 1. This Supermicro has the power for a home lab, and maybe even a remote office.

Additionally, there are 6 SATA drive ports, allowing both solid state drives (SSDs) and larger capacity hard drives for many configuration options.

What probably appeals to me most is its simple device configuration, yet with the ability to run everything I need in a home lab. The only real issue I see is that the 10GB Ethernet interface driver isn't recognized by ESXi. It may have a driver eventually, but the 1GB interface works fine.

I'm also keen to draw less power. One of the current servers I have has two power supplies that each can draw 1000 watts. This device only has one power supply, drawing 250 watts. And yes, there are fewer interfaces, processor capabilities and fans in place; but keep in mind that this is a home lab server.

Do you have a good use case for the home lab server? What's your preferred hardware situation? Share your server preferences below.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 09/25/2015 at 11:28 AM


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