I originally intended to use my old Dell XPS 420 as a lab machine.  I installed ESXi 4.1 on it and started to load it with VM’s and it turned into my production home server.  The VM’s became too valuable to shutdown and free resources for my home lab.  And to boot it can only be expanded to 6GB of RAM.  This for an ESXi host is extremely light.

So, I decided to put my shiny new Dell XPS 15 to work using VMware Workstation 7.0.  I’ve since migrated to 8.0 and couldn’t be happier (well I could use more RAM).  I’m able to run 3 ESXi hosts, vCenter and an Openfiler SAN.

I’ve been extremely impressed with the labs I’ve been able to run with this setup.  I’ve been able to run nested VM’s within the ESXi hosts with the storage located on the virtual Openfiler SAN.  This has allowed me to do advanced scenarios including vMotion and FT and HA labs.  For the HA labs I’ve had to scale the ESXi hosts down to 2 hosts to allow 4GB of RAM for each ESXi hosts.  I’ve found you need a minimum of 4GB of RAM to do HA.

This is actually my only complaint about the lab within my production laptop.  16GB of RAM would allow me to do a great deal more within VMware workstation. Oversubscription obviously works very well within VMware workstation 8.  I have a total of 2TB of disk space thin provisioned on a laptop with a 750 GB HD and only use 100 GB total space which includes my production data.  The VM’s total 8.5 GB of RAM not including the overhead of my host OS.  And, I’ve assigned a total of 9 vCPU’s.  My total utilization rarely goes over 20% even with some of the advanced labs.

Just like production networks my bottleneck is almost always memory.  Disk I/O can be an issue at times but not as much as memory.  This is why I’m still leaning toward purchasing a desktop with a minimum of 16GB of RAM.  I’m debating because my laptop’s performance has pleasantly surprised me.  I’ve taken to using it as my primary machine and cannot complain about performance for everyday computing and it almost meets all my needs for a Virtualization lab.

My XPS 15 VMware Workstation 8 Lab
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