Cheap and green ESXi homelab – Part I

In the need for a lab to exercise for my MCSE and MCSD certifications, I have been busy lately figuring out the right way to set it up. ESXi is chosen as hypervisor, because I can choose to run HyperV on top of it, enabling me to play with both hypervisors, without dismantling my infrastructure. The other way around isn’t a possibility.

A few possibilities that passed my mind:

  • Use my old PC to host the lab.
    Gave it a try, but only having 4GB available turned out (obviously) to be a big problem. The CPU was allright (i7 870). Storage consisted of a stack of WD green disks, which  ran into performance issues right away. RAM was the first bottleneck to upgrade. Too bad the maximum amount of RAM was 8GB. Trashed this possibility.
  • Use my PC at work through VPN.
    PC has a bit more memory (16GB), so that shouldn’t be a big problem. Processor (a cheap i7) also no problem. IO a BIG problem. The disk in this machine turned out to be even worse than my WD green disks. Trashed this possibility.
  • Get a bit of resources on a corporate ESX test cluster.
    No cluster existed, so this was an easy one.
  • Privately rent a bunch of VPSs.
    Turned out to be fairly expensive, although some do have very nice offerings. Please check out: http://klauwd.com I will probably use them for one of my other projects.
  • The last option was getting a better PC at home. Because my home is fairly Mac centric, I wasn’t too happy with this solution, but it turned out to be te most viable one. I have taken a look at getting a second hand Mac Pro 3.1 or 4.1, but these pieces of art still cost a fair amount of money. Too my opinion a bit too much.

So I was really getting a PC. Looked at two particular machines that are currently reasonably priced second hand. The HP Z600 and the Dell T5500. Both have great specs like the option to have Dual CPU – Quad Core Xeon running at 2.93 Ghz. Giving me 16 threads. Awesome. Second biggest issue still is the storage. Dead slow 7200 RPM SATA or SAS disks. This would require an investment buying me a few SSDs, next to the expensive machines, making it a double expensive option. But the biggest problem these machines have, is the lack of energy efficiency. The T5500 heating up my desk from underneath it, wasn’t a very pleasing idea.

I decided to build something by myself. My first PC build since the 90′s. My old 8088 and 80386 didn’t even need any heatsink. The old times, when you needed to change the crystal, if you wanted to change your CPU speed.  True jumperless ;)

My new PC had to be cheap, green and fast for the purpose of this lab. So CPU isn’t that important. Running a typical MS AD lab doesn’t utilize your CPU that much. Storage is a whole different story. That needs to be fast, preventing me from getting annoyed. There also has to be enough RAM to accommodate all the virtual machines.

Anyways, as a Mac enthousiast I decided to choose the the casing of my new PC first. It should be simple, cheap and the less ugly one (because they are all ugly) I could find.
I ran into a brand Fractal Design. They make some very simplistic cases, so I decided to buy their cheapest model. The Fractal Design Core 1000 USB3. Simple, not hitting the top on the ugly scale and cheap.

The processor had to have support for VT-X, VT-D and I decided to be happy with a Quad-core non-HT model. HT doesn’t deliver that big an advantage, especially in my lab environment. Nice piece on this subject: http://wahlnetwork.com/2013/09/30/hyper-threading-gotcha-virtual-machine-vcpu-sizing/
I decided to buy the Intel i5 4440 processor. A common CPU, on-cpu graphics, well priced.

For the memory I just bought the cheapest 32GB DDR3 1600 RAM I could find.
4 x Crucial Ballistix Sport BLS2CP8G3D1609DS1S00CEU

The motherboard had to be sort of out-of-the-box ESX compliant. Because it had to be cheap, I decided to drop full compliancy right away. I came up with a board that works great after injecting a NIC driver into the ESXi installer ISO. ASRock B85M Pro4

Storage had to be SSD. All my Macs have SSD and it’s just awesome. Booting a physical or virtual computer from a conventional harddisk should be forbidden by law.
Decided to buy 2 240GB SSD’s to accommodate the VMs. Crucial 2.5″ M500 240GB
One of my old Apple disks will contain installation sources.

The whole config including everything like PSU, SATA cables costed me around 750 Euros. I sold my old PC for 300 Euros.

In the near future I will post my experiences regarding this setup. Beneath are a few pics of the building proces in reverse order:

ESX Booting

ESX Booting

The finished product

The finished product

Everything connected

Everything connected

Disks on the tray

Disks on the tray

Position of the disks

Position of the disks

CPU mounted

CPU mounted

Starting the wiring

Starting the wiring

The motherboard

The motherboard

The case

The case

PSU

PSU

 

Sabayon 4.2 on a Dell XPS M1330

During my quest finding the perfect GNU/Linux distribution for my daily computing needs during the last 13 years, I have ran into Sabayon Linux. Sabayon 4.2 to be precise. You can get it in two flavours a KDE and a GNOME flavour.
I don’t care about either of those two. I want to use XFCE this time.
Because Sabayon doesn’t come in an XFCE flavour, you’ll have to choose GNOME or KDE to startup with.
I have chosen KDE….but GNOME is fine too.

During installation you’ll have the option to chose the kind of installation. Or KDE (or Gnome on the GNOME DVD), or XBMC, or FluxBox, or blablablabla.
Obviously no XFCE there either…..Because I wanted a clean starting point, I chose to go for the FluxBox installation.
That way I would have a minimal and more important clean installation perfect for installing XFCE later on.
The installation is pretty straight forward. Not very much additional choices that can be made.
After installation the idea of the clean installation went up in flames.
Despite the fact that I chose for the FluxBox installation a lot of KDE stuff was installed.
Ah well….we can uninstall the useless stuff later on, as I did.
Sabayon 4.2 does a good job handling all my notebook’s hardware. Everything is detected and it all works out of the box. No need to install the Nvidia drivers…they are already there and just work. No need to fiddle with my soundchip….it just works. Just install XFCE and you’re ready to go. Thumbs up to Sabayon!

A few things I had to alter to the configuration to get rid of some annoyances:

* System bell/beep
One of the most anoying things while working in the terminal on Linux is the system bell.
Especially if you like to use tab (auto-completion) and you don’t have an exact match.
On Sabayon (not sure if it is Sabayon or my M1330) the beep isn’t a real beep. It’s even more annoying.
It’s some sort of high pitched chicken. Had to get rid of that one….fast.
You can easily achieve that by editing the following items:
- Uncomment the “#set bell-style none” to make it look like “set bell-style none” or if you like “set bell-style visual” in the file /etc/inputrc.
This disables the beep in the consoles after reboot.
- Add “/usr/bin/xset -b b 0″ to some of the possible places for this. Like your X session manager or xinitrc.
- Add “blacklist pcspkr” to the /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist file.
This disables the pcspkr kernel module after a reboot.

* Trackpad
The M1330 has a fairly small trackpad. Sabayon by default has trackpad scrolling enabled on the edges of the pad. I don’t like that. If you want to disable this, open “/etc/hal/fdi/policy/11-x11-synaptics.fdi”. In this file you’ll see four lines that say something about scrolling. Depending on your needs set the ones you don’t like to “false”. I personally disabled all…..what a relief.

Firefox offline detection

A quickfix for one annoying Firefox 3 behavior. Since version 3 Firefox has the ability to detect if the networkmanager in Linux is connected to a network. If so, then Firefox will pop in to online mode, otherwise it will go into offline mode.
Very annoying if you’re sitting in the train using wvdial (or any other dialer outside networkmanager) to connect to a 3G network, and have to disable offlline mode over and over again.

This workaround will keep your Firefox in online mode:

  1. Type about:config in the addressbar.
  2. Search for the setting called toolkit.networkmanager.disable
  3. Set its value to true

Your Firefox will not pop into offline mode by itself anymore.