VMware vSphere 6, Update 2 Home Lab

I’ve been running various VMware ESXi home configurations for many years. Until recently, I’ve been using Apple Mac Minis and kept hoping Apple would get around to updating them to run additional memory in their next release. Alas, no such luck. I used VirtuallyGhetto’s guide back in the day to set them up. This is a great setup. It’s painless to configure, quiet, and has low power requirements. Here’s that guide linked below.

VirtuallyGhetto’s Mac Mini ESXi guide

Unfortunately, these days, I need something with a lot more memory and processing power. But I still want something small, easy to setup, quiet, and easy on the power bill.

After some research, I decided to use Shuttle PC’s SH170R6. It supports 64 GB of RAM, the latest Intel Skylake i7 four core 6700k processor,  a built in Intel i219LM network adapter, and an integrated video port. The power supply is only 300 watts and the CPU is a 95 watt processor. The old mac minis use 85 watts each. So my power will be more than my old mac minis but the processing power is much more and has four times as much RAM so I think it’s an excellent tradeoff. The setup is fully recognized without any additional software drivers with VMWare ESXi 6, update 2. Unfortunately, because of the newer Skylake chipset, you can’t run older versions of VMWare on this platform.

Shuttle SH170R6 on Newegg

Also, after doing some additional research, I discovered it’s got an M.2 port so I decided to use it to load ESXi onto a small M.2 drive it as opposed to booting ESXi off of an external usb drive.

The labs I’m doing  these days are focused on networking so I added an additional four port Intel I350-T4 PCI-E network adapter. This isn’t the cheapest card available but it’s recognized natively without drivers and supports IO-SRV. I’m building a lot network function virtualization labs and want to experiment with the support of IO-SRV in VMware vSphere. These ports will be trunked to my three Juniper EX2200-Cs that are configured into a single virtual chassis. I’m using the built in Intel adapter as the VMware management interface.

Intel I350-4T on Newegg

Here’s some photos of the external layout and form factor of the Shuttle SH170R6.

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Here’s what it looks like inside without the drive cage installed. It’s got plenty of room to install the components. A nice touch is most of the cables are already plugged in from the factory. It makes for a very clean setup.

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Another cool feature is the Integrated Cooling Engine 2 (ICE 2) Heat pipe technology by Shuttle. It comes with the case and does an excellent job of keeping the CPU cool.

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Here’s what it looks like outside of the case. It’s a very simple design.

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So for storage, I’m using an ADATA M.2 128 GB card and 960 GB SSD. The M.2 card is for ESXi and the SSD is for VM storage. The ADATA is much bigger than what’s needed for the ESXi OS but it was only 50 bucks on newegg.

Also, to mount the SSD in the case I picked up this Sabrent adapter. It’s only 1o bucks and it allows you mount two 2.5 inch SSDs in an 3.5 drive bay. I might expand the internal storage in the future. It’s nice to have options.

Sabrent 3.5-Inch to x2 SSD / 2.5-Inch Internal Hard Drive Mounting Kit

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Here’s the SSD drive mounted in the Sabrent adapter.

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Here’s the M.2 drive mounted in the case. It sits flat in the case so if you have a longer PCI-E card it’ll have good clearance and not interfere.

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I got G.Skill Ripjaws RAM for this system.

G.SKILL Ripjaws V Series 64GB (4 x 16GB) 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM on Newegg

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The Shuttle comes with thermal paste so it makes it a snap to get the cpu mounted with the heat pipe heat sink.

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Here’s what it looks like with the CPU and heat pipe heat sink mounted. Nothing to see here!

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Here’s all of the components installed except drive cage.

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Here’s the layout once the drive cage is installed.

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Here’s what two Shuttles look like installed in my lab. In this setup, I’ve got 128 GB of RAM and 8 i7 cores to play with. You can also see my old mac minis in the center.

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I’m really happy with this setup. It’s dead quiet, even under full CPU load. These days, my two QNAP network storage arrays are the loudest things in my rack setup. The three Juniper EX2200-C POE switches are fanless so they are silent as well.

The full lab along with the Juniper switches allow for excellent, close to real world, virtualization and networking scenarios. The Juniper EX2200s support full Junos OS features such as VLAN trunking, virtual chassis, LAG, VLANs, private VLANs, PoE, QoS, and layer 3 routing protocols.