Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Building a New Home Lab

IT engineers and administrators loathe discussions about budgets. To us, it's just something that management should worry about. We just want to keep the systems up and running, and to play with implement some cool technology so our skills don't stagnate. We think, "You worry about the dollars, we'll worry about the infrastructure."

Except it doesn't work that way.

If you've ever wanted some perspective on IT budgets, challenge yourself to build and fund a new home lab. All of a sudden, every dollar matters.

I'm in the process of building a new lab, so I'm doing some research to see what I'll need to purchase in order to have a decent VSAN environment at my disposal. This is a well covered topic: Duncan Epping discusses hardware selection for VSAN here, and Chris Wahl covered some options, too. But as you read through these articles, you'll soon realize that the technology is the easy part.

Start pricing out some of the solutions and you'll learn that a VSAN lab is significantly more costly than a vanilla vSphere lab. For a vSphere home lab, you could pick up a pair of servers from craigslist for a few hundred bucks. Hell, you could even pick up a NetApp FAS2020 on eBay with a diskshelf for about $600. Add in a few networking devices, and you could have a serious home lab for under $1,000. But VSAN depends on new technologies that prevent you from just selecting a server based on the number of drive bays.

You'll need to refer to the VSAN HCL early and often so that your disk controllers, HDDs, and SSDs are VSAN ready. Sure, you can get VSAN to run on devices that aren't listed there, but if you're going to invest in a home lab, you should invest in the certified hardware. Otherwise, just go to VMware's HOL and whet your VSAN appetite there.

You'll quickly learn that budget is everything. Because now it's YOUR money. It's not just a line item on a spreadsheet that lives on a network share.

So over the next few weeks, I'll be sharing my research and designing my lab environment. And this time, the biggest design constraint will be cost.