A recent comment I made on Chris Wahl’s blog seems to have generated a little bit of interest, so I thought I would expand upon my thinking about this.

The comment I wrote in response to the “The New Haswell Fueled ESXi 5.5 Home Lab Build” post is included here:

Great review of your lab kit once more!

I’ve been looking at new lab kit myself and have been considering E3-1200v3 vs E5-2600v2 processors. Obviously an E5 based machine is going to be more expensive than an E3 based one. However- the really big draw for me is the fact the E5 procs can use more than 32GB of RAM.

Looking at some rough costs of 2* E3-1265Lv3 32GB X10SL7-F-0 servers vs 1* E5-2640v2 64GB X9SRH-7F server (same cases and roughly similar cooling components) it seems that the two E3 servers are more expensive.

Do you consider 32GB to still be sufficient for a home lab? And within a year or three time? I’ve not considered the cost-benefit of a E3 now and replacing it (probably similar cost) with the “latest and greatest” equivalent in 2 years time. I guess it depends on one’s expected depreciation time frame.

Who would have thought VCAP-DCD that scale-out vs scale-up questions would be relevant to one’s home lab :)

(In fairness, I was looking at having this “lab” environment also run a couple of “production” VMs for home use concurrently, so the 32GB would not be dedicated to the LAB)


Going through various lab scenarios with some VMware software prompted me to consider options as far as home lab or standalone ESXi hardware was concerned. Also, I have some ageing server hardware which still runs vSphere but no nested 64-bit VMs (yes, fairly old E54xx and E5300 CPUs, without EPT and other cool new features) which needs to be replaced.

So, my requirements when considering the hardware for a home lab were

  • modern Intel CPU (I just prefer them… my choice – no debate 🙂  ), so i7, E3-1200v2 or E5-2600v2 are all in the running
  • sufficient RAM
  • remote KVM (i.e. iLO, DRAC, etc), remote media and remote power cycle
  • cost is a factor so high end server kit is probably out
  • power consumption must be considered. Electricity is not cheap these days and less power translates on the most part to less heat too

Now all are fairly self explanatory apart from the RAM. In my particular case, I would want to have the LAB kit also run a “production” workload of a couple of home servers (currently approximately 6-8GB RAM depending on TPS and workload). This presents a couple of challenges. How to separate things out sufficiently? I could go for a “big” server with more than 32GB of RAM or have more than one “smaller” server.

In terms of efficiency and reduced complexity, a single bigger server is probably going to give more scope for expansion in the RAM department. In my experience, RAM is constrained before CPU for most situations (even more so with my VMs ). So, the 32GB limit of the i7 and E3 is definitely something to consider. The E5 gives 64GB and upward, depending on chipset, motherboard, DIMMs in use, etc.

So given I currently need about 7GB RAM for my “production” workload, that would leave 24GB (of a maxed out i7/E3 CPU) for the LAB.  Is 24GB sufficient for my lab purposes? That is a question I am still grappling with before actually purchasing any new kit.

I have managed to run a Site Recovery Manager set up under VMware Workstation on a desktop machine (i7 and 32GB RAM). The performance was “OK” but I noticed a few packets being lost every 15 minutes or so. (I started the ping tests after noticing some network connectivity issues). I attributed this packet loss to the VR traffic causing some bottleneck somewhere, but that is a post for another time.

Clearly 32GB is sufficient for many workloads. Even 8GB would be sufficient for a small two node ESXi cluster with vCenter on a minimalist Windows VM. So – what is the necessary LAB RAM size? Well, to answer that you need to look at the workload you intend to run.

Not only that, you need to factor in how long this lab needs to last and what your expansion plan would be. Do you have space for more than one machine?

So to wrap up with some take-away bullet points to consider when thinking about home/small vSphere labs:

  • 32GB “hosts” (be they ESXi to run nested ESXi and other VMs or Workstation to run nested ESXi and other VMs) are still perfectly viable for the VCP-DCV/VCAP-DCA/VCAP-DCD exams
  • 32GB “hosts” may struggle with cloud lab setups. More VMs doing more things
  • 32GB is a limit imposed by the choice of CPU – i7/E3 and cannot be expanded beyond. Worth bearing in mind if one only has space for a single machine that needs to last for a few years
  • Less RAM and “smaller” CPUs will tend to use less power, create less heat and produce less noise than bigger machines and will be more suited for home use
  • Fewer larger hosts will likely be more “home” friendly
  • More smaller hosts will likely give more lab opportunities – real FT, real DRS, real DPM
  • Scale up vs scale out – factor all options. For instance, my rough costing spreadsheet, as mentioned above, showed a single E5+64GB RAM server was cheaper than two E3 with 32GB servers
  • the i7 and E3 servers tend to be single socket while the E5 can be dual socket capable

Next time I come to replace my lab I will probably lean towards a single E5 with 64GB RAM (if RAM prices have dropped by then) on a SuperMicro motherboard.  Or a E3 with 32GB and a much smaller Intel NUC or Shuttle based box for “production” workloads.

So – yes, 32GB is currently sufficient for many home lab uses… but not all 🙂


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