So You Want a Home Lab

In 2008 I purchased a Dell T110 tower server for my home. I wanted something to run ESXi 4 on so I could run Windows 2003 servers to study for my MCSE. From that point on a home lab has been critical to my success as a technician. It is very common for a technical professional to have some sort of personal space to mess around with.

There are many reasons someone may want to spend hard earned money on a home lab. I wanted to buy the server to have a safe space to learn Windows Server 2003. I know people who bought their first equipment because they wanted to change their career or software focus. It can be easier to drop some money on your own hardware than to try to get access to a system you don’t explicitly need to use.

For the sake of this article and series on my home lab lets assume we want to work with VMware products. Many of my questions should apply if you want to work with other technologies.

If you want your own lab you need to make some decisions. What do you actually want to accomplish? Do you want a persistent infrastructure? If you’re learning VMware would you be able to use nested virtual machines? Do you prefer fresh deployments to run tests or do you want to keep your settings between tests? How much do you want to spend?

Each of those questions will lead you to a different solution. Perhaps using a workstation virtualization platform would work well. Nested Virtualization is very common and a great way to dig into VMware. All of my lab work for the VCAP5-DCA was done nested on my T110 tower. Physical hardware is much more expensive and requires space, power, etc but gives you a more “true to production” experience.

I personally wanted discrete hardware that isn’t dependent on my iMac being powered on. The convenience in knowing I have resources was worth the money. I don’t mind rebuilding but want most of my configuration changes to persist. This lead me to buy physical hardware. In a future article I will detail what I actually use and why.