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Home lab operators: Ditch your servers ... now!

Brit vTardis creator hails the combination of Core i7 laptop and Windows 8's virty power

John Robinson's Home Lab

At last year's Melbourne VMware user group (VMUG) conference, VMware's Mike Laverick opined that IT pros need a home lab these days, because bosses have stopped shelling out for training.

Plenty of you agreed with that proposition. Some even showed us their very own home labs.

Most used old servers, an arrangement that this year's Melbourne VMUG conference heard is a redundant approach.

The source of that pronouncement? None other than Simon Gallagher, a member of the London VMUG steering committee, former VMware staffer and – most importantly for this article – creator of the vTardis home lab. Gallagher describes vTardis as follows:

“A small, low cost physical infrastructure (or single server) which is capable of supporting several multi-node ESX clusters. It provides an infrastructure representative of enterprise-grade vSphere/vCD deployment through heavy over-subscription of physical hardware as well as providing 'production' home services like media streaming, data storage, DNS, DHCP etc.”

vTardis has been around since 2010, with some variants able to run on laptops. But in Melbourne Gallagher said he's been able to ditch servers altogether, thanks to the combination of a Core i7 processor and … Windows 8?

The Core i7 resides within a Lenovo W530, a laptop Gallagher says is up to the job of running a home lab because it can handle 32GB of RAM. With a 512GB solid state disk and VMware Workstation 10 aboard, he says he has no trouble running up to ten ESX instances, complete with nested virtual machines.

Gallagher says lesser laptops will struggle to pull off that trick, and noted that the Core i7 3720QM he's using offers Intel's implementation of second level address translation (SLAT), Extended Page Tables, as this technology makes it easier for virtual machines to use memory (AMD's equivalent is called Rapid Virtualization Indexing). Not all Intel or AMD CPUs offer SLAT and Gallagher's messages was don't try this stuff at home without it.

If you do own such a machine, Gallagher said all the hassle of server-powered power bills can go away forever, as can the need for a man-cave like his own Geek Cabin in which to house the lab.

One problem Gallagher did identify for those who would like their own vTardis is software licensing. VMWare offers 60-day evaluation software, but rebuilding a lab every 60 days is painful. The free version of ESXi lasts forever, but is missing some handy features like vCenter, vMotion and clustering. Now that Microsoft has more-or-less killed TechNet , similar problems await those contemplating a Hyper-V home lab.

Let's not finish on that sad note. Instead, let us know if your home lab has been collapsed into a laptop. Let's also ponder what could be possible at home with the likes of Eurocom's Xeon-powered, 12-core, 24-thread laptop. ®

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