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  • 1.  Basic learning lab hardware help

    Posted May 06, 2011 08:36 PM

    I'm going to ask a question that may seem very basic to anyone with server hardware knowlege, but I'm hoping for some idea's none the less. And to preface, this is for a lab with just me using it, not production environment so speed itself is not a key factor. Price, noise level, size and then performance are my criteria, in that order.

    I recently (and stupidly) dropped way too much money on a single beefy server to play with vSphere (Tyan MB with Dual 8-Core AMD G34 Processors/64GB RAM) and an OpenFiler iSCSI (using 4x1.5TB drives in an old workstation) connected to the server through NICs and a basic DLink "dumb" switch. Very quickly in the learning process did I discover what a poor choice all that was. Lot's of limitations and lot's of wasted money on a dead end setup. I will say it set up and runs flawlessly though in its limited capacity, but it's also extremely nosiy.

    I'd like to get 2 G34 Socket motherboards and drop a CPU and 32MB of RAM into each so I can set up 2 discreet ESXi 4.1 machines to recitfy this (learning vMotion being a biggie). On the surface this seems like it'd easy. But I have a few new requirements which is where I need the help...

    I don't really know server hardware, specifically rack gear instead of towers (for the obvious reason I'd like to continue learning more enterprise level hardware), so while I can simply buy 2 motherboards from somewhere like NewEgg, I'm at a loss about the other components, like the case, PSU,fan's/cooling to fit in a low profile, iSCSI interfaces(?) and other hardware components not found in larger tower/self contained servers.

    I believe to have a minimal lab that will let me go further in my learning I'll need:

    - 2 ESXi boxes (to start with)

    - Some type of raid array box to run openfiler (that ISN'T just a repurposed workstation) maybe using SaS instead of SATA?

    - A switch that supports vLans and other features

    - Am I missing anything?

    So I'm wondering if anyone has any hardware or learning resouce suggestions (A site that covers server components would be most beneficial) and thoughts on the least expensive hardware/components available that will do the basics and not limit my learning? It's impossible for me to get a job at a company with this type of setup where I currently live, thus the need to learn on my own for now.

    Thank you for any help!

  • 2.  RE: Basic learning lab hardware help

    Posted May 06, 2011 08:57 PM

    I've moved you post to the VMware ESXi forum.

    What are you planning to do with your current hardware.  One option would be to run ESXi VMs on your current host.  You'd be able to run ESXi in a cluster and vMotion / HA / DRS 32 bit VMs.  That might suffice for your training needs.  In my lab I have 3 physical hosts running ESXi, but right now about an additional 7 ESXi VMs for various tests, etc.  If you know exactly what you want to look at, then virtual ESXi servers may suffice.  If your test VMs don't have to be 64 bit, or you don't have to run FT, then running ESXi VMs will be fine. 

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  • 3.  RE: Basic learning lab hardware help

    Posted May 06, 2011 09:21 PM

    Hi Dave,

    I should have included 2 additional points...

    1. My server just crashed this morning making me realize the value of multiple hardware resources and my new motivation to expand

    2. I've tried out software solutions (like ESXi in Workstation, etc) and that's why I'm investing money now into hardware. I have a Technet subscription and a lot of what I do in the VM's is Windows 2008 R2 64bit servers.

    I'm open to any other thoughts though :smileyhappy:

  • 4.  RE: Basic learning lab hardware help

    Posted May 06, 2011 09:43 PM

    You mention putting a lot of time and money into your previous attempt and now you are proposing to start again with building two new servers from components. I would perhaps look to Dell, HP, IBM or ?? and find a tower server that matches your specs. I don't know that you would need 32GB RAM per server. I think you would run out of processor in a single CPU machine before you hit the RAM limit.

  • 5.  RE: Basic learning lab hardware help

    Posted May 06, 2011 11:36 PM

    In Workstation mindframe, I can understand putting together the components to build your own killer system.  You get much better bang/buck.  However, in the VM world, and ESXi servers, there's a lot of time to be lost (how much is yours worth?) making sure that every component is on the compatibility list.  I've found vSphere to be pretty picky about its hardware.  Since the big boys have put all their hardware through testing, it's a lot easier to go to Dell or IBM and pick a server, knowing that they spent all the man-hours of certifying everything and keeping the drivers updated.

    Yes, secondary hardware is a big plus, and worth it - however you get there.

    Good luck!

  • 6.  RE: Basic learning lab hardware help

    Posted May 06, 2011 11:55 PM

    The value in real servers from the likes of Dell, HP, IBM, Fujitsu, SUN etc. is that they are treated as a whole and not a collection of parts. I use HP servers and when I apply firmware updates, all components are updated. It isn't just the BIOS or the disk controller. It can and does extend to NICs and even hard drives and onboard sensors and management interfaces. Slight differences in components or how they interact with each other can be adjusted with firmware updates. You might get few BIOS updates for a motherboard but those seldom extend beyond the first year. Since real servers tend to stay in production for extended periods it isn't unusual to see firmware updates to accommodate new software even years after manufacture.