I’ve had the lab running for a couple of weeks and I have made a few observations in relation to the configuration of each host.
As mentioned in my previous post Home Lab Hosts – Just in time for vSphere 5, I used server class motherboards, requiring ECC RAM, with iKVM, etc. Here are a couple things I noticed that stood out:
I chose the Intel Xeon E3-1230 processors because I wanted to be able to have quad cores with Hyperthreading, as well as support for VMDirectPath. In running 20 or so VMs my CPU utilization has been less than high. I haven’t had the opportunity to leverage VMDirectPath as of yet, but I am still happy I have the ability to.
If VMDirectPath support isn’t a big deal for you, an Intel i3-2100T (i3-2100 isn’t on the board HCL) should suffice to run most workloads. The i3-2100 series processors have dual cores and Hyperthreading. These processors retailed about $100 less each on NewEgg than the E3-1230 processors did. Alternatively if you aren’t nesting as many ESXi hosts (I have 8 right now), you could also look at the Intel Pentium G620 which is similar to the i3-2100 series, but without Hyperthreading. Those retail for about $77 each.
Choosing the i3-2100T would drop the total cost by $200, while choosing the Pentium 620 would drop the cost by around $315.
Update: Keep in mind that the G620 isn’t the only lower cost CPU compatible. The G840 and G850 are similar, and provide a higher clock speed. To be 100% sure the processor chosen is compatible, always check the motherboard manufacturer’s support site for compatibility. (Tyan in this case)
I had heard rumors about the new ESXi 5 host cache feature, and that it required SSD drives to leverage it, but is it really necessary in a lab? I haven’t really stress tested the builds yet, so I’m not sure of the benefit as of yet.
Many people run their labs off of USB sticks with much success. Had I dropped the SSDs from the build, that would drop the price by another $200.
I really like the board I chose. Even though it isn’t on the VMware HCL, it has been a very solid board thus far. I absolutely love the iKVM, and can’t imagine having 2 “headless” systems without having a remote console (iLO, DRAC, ASMA, etc).
The only ding, is the EPS12V power requirement, which I had a workaround for.
The Add-in NICs
I knew that the board had support for 3 NICs, but didn’t realize that the 3rd would work as a NIC for ESXi and work for the iKVM simultaneously. Big win there. I bought 2 additional NICs to ensure I had at least 4 network connections, provided I went with multiple switches for frontend and backend networks. To be honest, I only have 2 NICs (of 5) online right now.
Did I need the additional NICs? Today no, tomorrow likely. Had I scaled back to 1 additional NIC for each board, then that would have dropped $50 from the cost. Had I only went with the onboard NICs, that would have dropped the price by $100.
The bottom line
I’m pretty happy with the rigs as they are now, but I could have scaled them back and have been fine for a little while.
If I had gone with the i3-2100T/no SSD/no additional NICs config, I would have saved about $500, bringing the cost around $1,150, or $575 each.
Going with the Pentium G620/no SSD/no additional NICs config, I would have saved about $615, bringing the cost around $1,035, or $517.50 each
Keep in mind that both of those configs will run ESXi, and have 16GB, with iKVM. Still a win in my book.