How to set up a Home LAB for vSpehre 4 and vSphere5 – part 1

This post if for users who wants to learn or play with VMware vSphere 4, vSphere 5 and vSphere 5.1. Many people wonder how to set up fully functional VMware cluster at home ? Well it’s possible and one don’t need to have two physical servers with shared storage – that would be to expensive. What you can do is buy powerful white box PC, install OS, VMware workstation or VMware ESXi free version and do some configuration. In an examples below all VMware test lab will run on Windows and VMware workstation

What have to be installed  to have fully functional VMware LAB ?


  1. Quad core processor or Hex Core processor Intel or AMD List of a supported processors
  2. Motherboard  supports at least 8GB RAM
  3. 8GB RAM 1333Mhz – of course you do not need to have 8GB RAM, in my opinion 6GB is a minimum
  4. disks – depends on budget you can have SSD, SATA (at least 7200) in RAID0  or mixed of both SATA and SSD


  1. Linux or Windows 64bit OS
  2. VMware workstation 9 or VMware player
  3. VMware ESXi free version

VMware LAB

  1. vCenter
  2. 2 ESX(i) hosts
  3. shared storage
  4. Active Directory – it’s not mandatory to have it AD but it’s good to have it ( one can test AD authentication to ESXi)
  5. DNS – optional – easier to manage whole infrastructure with DNS instead edit /etc/hosts

How to start it ?

  1. Install OS on workstation
  2. Download and install VMware workstation 8 or VMware player 4
  3. Create 2 VM’s and install Windows 2008 r2 x64
  4. On one of the 2 VM’s configure AD and DNS for lab
  5. On second VM’s install vCenter server
  6. Create two VM’s follow that instruction if you have older version of VMware workstation
  7. If you have VMware Workstation version 8, create ESXi VM is very simple – VMware workstation 8 has ESXi profile in an available Guest OS type. After creation you have to enable hardware vitualization features in VM configuration if you planning run 64bit VMs on virtual ESXi host. How to enable hardware virtualization feature ? Answer you can find by clicking that link
  8. On both VM’s install vSphere ESXi
  9. Connect you ESXi to vCenter and create a cluster
  10. Now, there is a time for shared storage – download, install and configure OpenFiler iSCSI appliance
  11. Connect iSCSI targets to ESXi hosts  a basically Home LAB is ready

[box type=”info”] To avoid error “You may not power virtual machine on a virtual machine” during power on Virtual machine on you brand new LAB, edit virtual machine vmx file and put below parameter. monitor_control.restrict_backdoor = “true”[/box]

Home LAB logical design

[box type=”warning”] Keep in mind VMware vCenter and ESXi evaluation license is valid for 60 days – after 60 days reinstall is necessary

Note if you would like to run 64bit guest OS on your virtual ESXi box VMware workstation is a must[/box]

[box type=”info”] Useful links:

Artur Krzywdzinski

Artur is Consulting Architect at Nutanix. He has been using, designing and deploying VMware based solutions since 2005 and Microsoft since 2012. He specialize in designing and implementing private and hybrid cloud solution based on VMware and Microsoft software stacks, datacenter migrations and transformation, disaster avoidance. Artur holds VMware Certified Design Expert certification (VCDX #077).

  • arrietty

    thank you so much for this article and your blog in general. Really appreaciate you sharing all your experience with us. Especially when I struggle to get my head around some of this stuff even though I’ve been working with VMware for 3 years! Still am Looking forward to trying out vSphere 5.

    • Hi

      You are very welcome, soon I will update my article with how-to test SRM 5 in a BOX


      • VMAmp

        Autur, how is your home lab performing using the above configuration. I am building my first esxi whitebox home lab. I will be spinning up many VMs running intense applications such as System Center products, SQL, SharePoint, etc. Is your setup able to handle about 10 – 12 VMs without glitching?

        • Hi

          Well, 10 machines running quite well, but in a top I see max memory usage, so if you can buy max memory to your whitebox. Quad core processor average utilization around 20%.

          • VMAmp

            Oh, OK. A few days ago, I stood up an ESXi host with the following specs:
            Motherboard – ASUS P8-Z68-vLX
            Processor – Intel I5 2500K (quad core)
            RAM – Corsair DDR3 3x 8GB
            Hard Disk – 2x 1TB Western Digital “Black” SATA3 with 64MB cache (For now)
            The ESXi 5 installation went well with exceptions of a NIC card error. Although the install completed, the onboard NIC keep dropping connectivity so I installed a Intel Pro 1000 GT and that resolved the issue.
            The motherboard support RAID (0, 1, 5, and 10) but when I configured a RAID 0 and created a datastore, EXSi appears to be looking at the drives separately instead of both drives together in the RAID. I think I am going to have to purchase a hardware RAID controller if I want to configure a RAID that EXSi recognizes. I am strongly considering returning the drives and investing in a Iomega Ix4-200d NAS but I am not sure which will perform better (internal or external storage). The NAS have SATA2 drives and I am concerned about going over 1GB Ethernet ports using ISCSI. Which configuration will have better performance in terms of disk read/writes and IOPs? It seems that internal SATA3 storage operating at 6GB bus speeds would have better throughput making it faster than the NAS setup. What are your thoughts Artur (anyone)?

          • VMAmp, despite what mother board manufacturer says, the raid included in most of the motherboard is simply software raid and as such is not supported by ESXi. So if you want RAID you will indeed need to go for a real raid Adapter.

            Regarding the performance, I have no experience with the ix4, but it will be slower than disks in the server. It doesn’t mean it can’t be used, but in raw numbers for IOPs and data transfer, the local disk do better.

    • Vikram Sokhi

      Hi Artur,

      First of all thanks for the lab setup. I am new to the world of virtualization. Hardware wise I have HP ML 350 G6 server with Xeon 5504 processor with 500 GB hdd and 18 GB of RAM. I try to replicate your lab. I install windows 2008 R2 on my server and make it an AD and than install vmworkstaion 8 and created 2 esxi hosts and one another windows 2008 server with vcentre installed. I also created one freenas virtual machine and assign 100gb of disk space. I configures the datastore on freenas but when i try to add data store to my esxi hosts i keep getting error message “call hostdatasystem.nfs mount failed:unable to connect to nfs server.

      I cant get my head around it why I am getting this error. Is there something I am doing something wrong.

      Hope to hear from you soon.



  • Hello there, You’ve done an excellent job. I will definitely digg it and in my view suggest to my friends. I’m confident they’ll be benefited from this web site.

    • Thanks a lot, glad to help someone


  • Hi,

    thank you for these information.
    Do you know of an easy way to find hardware that is ESXi compliant to make a cheap testbox ?
    I had a quick look at the compatibility matrix but it seems it’s more server oriented, so there are no cheap solutions.
    Main problem is the motherboard and network card. Any recommendation ? Is your current lab hardware compatiable with ESXi ?

    Thank you.


    • Hi Frederic,
      I did not installed ESXi directly on my hardware but I can give a try and let you know. Today I should have few minutes to test direct ESXi installation.
      What version would you like me to test ?


      • Hi Artur,
        If you could test with ESXi 4.1 u1 or version a 5 that would be nice.
        Thank you.


        • Hi Frederic,

          I did tests installation for both ESXi5 and ESXi4, see my post to view results


  • Minhaj Ahmed

    I have workstation 7.0 can I use the same scenario to build my home lab with this version. Please let me know.


    • Hi

      Yes, you can use the same approach build your home lab


  • Jay Theriot

    Great post! Follow up question. After I get this topology setup will I be able to do vlan tagging from the physical desktop’s network card (Provided it supports vlan tagging) through to OS through VMWare Wrokstation to both ESXi virtual servers? I want to make sure I can test vlans throughout this process. Thoughts?

  • i have i5 processor with 6gb RAM, can i set up the lab ?

    • Artur Krzywdzinski

      Hi Noel, if Intel Virtualization Technology (VT-x) feature is listed in BIOS advance settings, you should be OK, 6GB of RAM is not much, to be honest with you, but enough at the beginning

  • Thanks Artur you have been really helpful and this is a wonderful thing u have done, am trying from my end, i want to experiment HA,DRS,vMotion,svMotion. i know FT won’t support, i just want to make sure i have little knowledge before i can study for the VCP5 and get it cleared. Please do help me with the doubts when i have, Thanks in advance. Happy Holidays man all the way.

    • Artur Krzywdzinski

      Hey Noel, go for LAB in a box approach (this post) use VMware workstation, with your hardware you can easily set up a 2 ESXi, 1 vCenter and shared storage. With this config you can test HA, DRS, vMotion, svMotion, replication, VDR and even SRM or vCloud Director (8GB+ RAM would be sufficient).

  • Doug Tyre

    Thank you Artur! this saved me hundreds of dollars. Just did my openfilter VSA and it works great. I imported the VSA VM into Workstation rather than one of my virtual ESXi 5 hosts and works better for me. I have 16GB of RAM and I needed all of it. Only thing that is slow is install of windows into VM on ESXi.