Home Lab

   I really liked my ESXI host, but I was always thinking about my own server. I then discovered that a lot of retired servers were listed on eBay. I found a very good used server that I thought about getting. This server was a Dell R710 Server. It had 8 2.5-inch hot swap HDD bays. This would allow me to create multiple RAID arrays that I could access through ESXI. Each array would be a datastore that I could use to store my VMs. This amount of storage has given me ample choices. In fact, I truly don’t know if I will be able to fully use all of it.

   Now where was I going to install a rack server. In a rack of course. With a rack I would be able to house this rack server and all rack components that I would purchase in the future. I did acquire more rack components. I now have a 1GB unmanaged switch (to tie into my home network), 3 Cisco 1841 routers, 3 Cisco 2950 switches, the Dell R710 ESXI server, and a custom-built PC that I did myself. I just want to say eBay and Amazon used purchases are your friend. I did say previously that I was addicted to tech.

Here is my Home lab (sort of final but when is that ever the case):

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White-box Build

   I used that White box build for a while but there was this nagging thought at the back of my head. What was that thought? I was thinking I really want a server. Then I thought that it would be too expensive. Corporate grade servers cost thousands of dollars new. I’ll just keep using my White box build. The VM addiction continued. I transferred my VMs to this new ESXI host that I now had. With ESXI I would have the ability to use the same software that a lot of companies used in their own environments.

   I only had one place that I could house my ESXI host. I kind of tried to incorporate it in a way that it would be out of sight when not in use. I had an old 1930’s style radio cabinet that I used as a furniture piece. It was the unused space inside where the radio components had been previously removed. I detest unused space. I always wanted to find a use for it but could never figure how to. This was a perfect fit. You may be asking about the monitor. There isn’t one. I used an HDMI dummy plug. An HDMI dummy plug is a piece that tricks the computer into thinking that a physical monitor is attached to the PC. I then used the ESXI web interface to access, create, and use my VMs.

For more information:

HDMI dummy plug: https://www.amazon.com/Headless-Display-Emulator-Headless-1920×1080-generation/dp/B06XT1Z9TF

EXI web interface: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqdW1qllw-Q

ESXI

   I continued to use VirtualBox for some time. I still wanted to further may ability to create VMs. So, I went back to google to find out more. The reason for more research was since I was having issues with VMs not being able to directly access the peripherals of the computer host. In doing that research I was discovering that the issues I was having was due to the fat that VirtualBox is a type 2 hypervisor. This type of hypervisor sits on top of an already installed OS in the computer. As such, there was a separation between the VMs and the physical hardware of the host. What I would need was a type 1 hypervisor, also known as a bare metal hypervisor, which would have direct access to the peripherals of the host.

   I discovered through research that there was free version of the VMware ESXI program that I could download. All I would have to do is to register an account through VMware and I could download ESXI for free. I had a PC that I could use as the ESXI host. I went through the compatibility list and discovered that most of the PC’s hardware was compatible. There was one component that was incompatible. The NIC card in my PC was not compatible with ESXI. There seems to be a work around, however. I could take the ESXI iso file and insert the required drivers that would allow ESXI to access the NIC. By doing do, I would be creating a custom ESXI iso that could be installed easily on that PC.

   I created a bootable USB key that I used to install ESXI on my PC. It worked without a hitch. I know had an ESXI host that I could use to continue my VM creation. I continued to use my ESXI host, also known as a white box build. A white box build is when you install ESXI on a non-server grade PC. I would love to have a server but how much would that be. It wouldn’t be cheap because a server is what a corporate business environment uses in a professional environment.

For more information about ESXI:

VMware ESXI for free: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZL61TahZ4qk

Installing ESXI: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERAOywXH4l0 ; He installs it on a server but the same process could be used to install on a PC.

Intranet-work Speed

   One thing I have noticed since using Virtual Box as my hypervisor is regarding network speed. I am not getting my full potential network speed. I used to have an internal network speed of 100MB but recently upgraded to 1GB networking. I did that by buying a new router form my home.  I upgraded the router to 1GB and am thinking of upgrading all equipment to fully utilize this higher intranet speed.

   So how has this affected my intranet speed? It has improved but I have noticed some inconsistencies. On the 100MB intranet speed I would get almost 10MB throughput on my physical PCs and equipment. On the virtual side of the network I was not getting even close to that speed. I would consider myself lucky if I got a throughput speed of 3MB. So, the question is why am I not getting full 10Mb throughput?

   Since I have upgraded to 1GB intranet speed It is faster. My physical PC ands equipment is getting an average of about 80MB which is so much better. On the virtual side I am still not getting close to the protentional speed. I thought that I would upgrade all cabling to CAT6 in order to make sure this bottle neck wasn’t due to the CAT5 cabling.

After upgrading the cabling, I did notice an increase in speed. I was however not getting the higher speed in my VMs. After doing some research I think I may have found out why. I believe it is because VirtualBox is emulating the NIC connection. I wonder if you could somehow pass the physical NIC connection to the VM? I have notice when trying to stream video in the VM that the video is extremely choppy. I believe it is due to the same issue of emulation. The hypervisor is emulating to the hardware. The issue is that this emulated hardware is not performing as high as physical hardware does. The VMs run on hardware that doesn’t even truly exist. So, can you really be that demanding when it comes to performance. After all, it is a PC running in software only. Will emulated hardware ever truly be identical in performance to physical hardware? Technology is advancing at an incredible rate. So, maybe one day it will.

If you are curious about the limitations or specifications of the different CAT ratings watch this video at the following link.:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VlywgqM9ig ; or go to this website and read for yourself:

https://www.howtogeek.com/70494/what-kind-of-ethernet-cat-5e6a-cable-should-i-use/

New CPU

   With the newer computer my VM creations are a lot better performing. I believe it is due to the newer CPU in the PC. On my older laptop I only had an A10 CPU from AMD. It performed well as a general-purpose laptop processor. As a CPU for VirtualBox it was adequate but not as well performing as my newer CPU. In the newer PC it came with an i5 CPU from Intel. This i5 processor is so much better, in my opinion. It is the i5-6400 with a speed of 2.70 GHz.

I5-6400 A8-7410

   As you can see, I did get a boost in CPU frequency. In functionality it seems lighting fast compared to the A8. I can tell the difference between the i5 and A8 processors, regarding responsiveness. I am unaware if this performance boost is due to the newer processor or maybe due to differing CPU die manufacturing processes.

    Is this a case of the Intel VS AMD debate. The ongoing question of “Which CPU is better/faster”? I can see benefits of both. I guess I am in the middle camp of “does the CPU do what I need”? I can see the cost benefits of using AMD as it is remarkable cheaper compared to Intel. I can see also why the use of Intel processors is so much higher. It does seem that they perform faster but the cost is so much higher. When I build/but a PC the main question is of balance. Does the balance of performance vs budget decide on what CPU I choose? It depends on the use of the PC. Is it a general use PC or a higher end PC? It seems that would be the most necessary question to ask.

How do you fall in the Intel VS AMD debate? If you are unsure of the debate you can check out the following link for more info:

Is this a question that will ever be resolved? In this writer’s opinion, the answer is a definite “I don’t know VS will it ever”.   

Upgrade or New?

   Using VirtualBox on my computer was great for a while. After some time, I wanted to run more VMs at one time. The limitation I had was the limitation of my PCs resources. In particular, the main limiting resource was memory.  At the time, I only had 9GB available memory. The rest of the 12GB installed memory was being shared to the integrated GPU of my CPU. 

   If I wanted to run multiple VMs at one time I need to increase the available memory. It would have been easy enough to just buy some more compatible memory modules and upgrade the PC myself. The I thought to myself. Why don’t I just but a new computer with more memory already installed. So, I did exactly that. I went to the internet and did some research. I looked for PCs that that were on sale. The only way I could buy a faster PC was to buy a budget PC. I had to balance price compared to overall performance.

   After some days of research, I decided to take the plunge. I bought a new PC with 12GB of installed memory. Like the computer I had before but all the installed memory was available. That would increase the number of VMs I could run at one time. If I used 2GB of Ram for the host PC, then I could potentially run 5 VMs at once. This would almost double what I could run before.

   Now I admit the isn’t the fastest PC choice there was. It was the fasted PC within my budget. The next PC I get I am going to build myself. This is the first desktop I have bought since my very first one. I have built all the other desktops myself. In my opinion, not only could I have built a PC cheaper that the one I just purchased. It would also have been higher end. The reason I didn’t was due to time. I needed a new PC within a short period of time. My older laptop’s HDD was making a clicking sound. This clicking sound meant the HDD was living on borrowed time.


At What Cost?

   After a while of working with VMware Workstation Pro, I began to think about the licensing aspect of the software. The software did perform as needed but licensing was a bit pricey. I began to wonder if paying the yearly licensing fee was worth it. Is there other cheaper hypervisor software available? I did as most people would, I went to google of course. There was plenty of software available but still had to pay a licensing fee. It was then that I discovered a hypervisor with the perfect price. That price was free!

   There were other free hypervisors. What software did I choose? That software was VirtualBox. It was a little different that VMware Workstation Pro, but it did what was needed. The interface took a little to get used to, but it did successfully create VMs as before. On with my VM creation addiction. I created a folder for my previously downloaded ISOs and recreated my previous VM collection. Some of the VMs did not need to be reinstalled. Some versions of windows enable you to create a system image backup. Like a VM snapshot it creates a full system image of your PC’s hard drive. That image includes all programs and files. I was able to use the windows installer’s system image recovery to do this.

If you are interested in the VirtualBox software. Then the link is as follows:

https://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Downloads (available for different OS’s)