Author Archives: The Boss

Home Lab – 10Gbs Install

Next bit of the Home Lab update – a 10Gbs link between the 2 servers.   For less than £50?

Mellanox MT26448 ConnectX 10GbE. (PCIe 2.0)

From the US.  £48 delivered.  In 8 days.  2 cards, 2 cables with SFP+ on each end.  Courtesy of eBay.

installation went like this:

  • Shut down server and unplug
  • remove top cover and remove daughter-board
  • Install card on low-profile side
  • re-install daughter-board
  • close server and reconnect power
  • Fire It Up!

ESXi 6 detected it and installed the drivers without any intervention, happily displays 10GbE.

Same for the other server.  Hook up the cable and lo and behold – 10Gbs goodness in your system.

First test – vMotion.  2 new vmk ports – and with a mask of   Swap the vMotion traffic over.   I had used vMotion over the USB ports and it was pretty quick taking 30 – 40 seconds for a hefty vm.  Over the new 10Gbs it went….. 2%… done.  In about 5 seconds!

But its not all speed I’m interested in, its being able to run a number of VLANs and networks across it.  This is a lab after all.  I need a couple of decent SSDs and more RAM and VSAN is next on my target list.

To go along with VCSA 6.5 HA.  I set that up this afternoon – running over 10Gb.  Works really well.

The long-term plan is to find a managed switch with 4 x SFP+ and 24 or 48 copper ports then I can expand what I can do with 10gbs.  With another 2 cards and cables……


Home Lab – USB 3.0 NICs.

Carrying on from my previous post – Home Lab – reloaded! I thought I would detail the additions I’ve made.

The first was a follow-on from a post on VirtuallyGhetto – William Lam’s excellent blog.

He has a post detailing how to set up a USB 3.0 single or dual NIC adapter.

I have followed the instructions and can confirm that it works a treat and takes 2 minutes to install.  Download the VIBs from Williams page, follow the instructions and Robert is your mother’s brother!

I used the Dual-port StarTech – £50 from Amazon.  USB 3.0 has a throughput of 5Gbs.  So 2 x 1Gbs NICs are not exactly going to push it are they?  Network speed is excellent, although I haven’t monitored it yet so don’t have the numbers.  But I do now have 4 x 1Gbs ports.

The StarTech adapters also support LACP, Jumbo frames (4000kb max), and lots of other goodies.  So if you are NIC-challenged – its an easy setup and an easy win.

Home Lab – Reloaded!

Right.  I have a new home lab.  Still have the old one but the new one is SO much better.

I decided to bite the bullet and buy new.  Restrictions included:

  • Price – it is a home lab after all
  • Power consumption
  • WAF
  • Size
  • Normal operating volume

I really liked the Supermicros but at the price point and with DDR4 being the price it is, they were just too expensive.  So before Christmas I did some extensive research, and stumbled upon the HPE DL20 Gen 9.  They are on the vSphere 6 HCL, They use the E3 v5 Xeons, and its the cheapest server I could find with the E3-1230-V5, the lowest powered of the E3 family with hyperthreading.  So I bought 2.  And was surprised to find them arrive with rapid-rail mounting kits!  Its all good!  And I am a very very happy camper!

And as far as the WAF goes – well she said that I could dip into savings to build my lab, but it MUST be future-proofed.  And I MUST be happy with it afterwards.  Would be rude not to comply.  After all….

The story so far:


  • 1U shallow 15″ depth.
  • 2 x PCIe 8 slots on daughter board
  • 2 x M2 headers on the Mobo
  • 2 x 1gbs NICs – one shared with iLO
  • Mine came with 16GB – 1 x DDR4
  • They are whisper-quiet, the fans do spin up occasionally and it sounds like they are breathing.  VERY Quietly!
  • Booting off a SanDisk 32GB USB 3.0 drive from the onboard socket
  • ESXi 6.0U2 – HP Custom Image
  • No CD but who uses them these days?  I have a USB BluRay player anyway if I need it.

Only negative is the inclusion of 2 x USB 2 ports on the front – but no VGA.  Odd.  2 x USB 3.0 on the rear with a VGA there though.  In a tight rack its a tad frustrating having to pull the server out to struggle to plug in the monitor though a small gap at the back in but I have resurrected an old 2-port KVM to use with them so that’s not necessary any more.

They come in 2 storage configurations – 2 x 3.5″ SAS and 4 x 2.5″ Hot-swap SAS.  I opted for the 2.5″ hot-swap for greater flexibility.  However no drive caddies.  This IS HP don’t forget.  However – Amazon to the rescue – £12.  Not HP genuine but have the spinney round LEDs.   I bought a pair of WD Red 750GB 2.5″ NAS drives.  There are reasons for this:

  • They are SATA – but consumer-grade SATAs are not designed for 24×7 operation.   The WD NAS Drives are.
  • They are designed for hot-swap and RAID – so can handle failing properly and being removed from a RAID without taking the whole set down.
  • I already have 2 of the 3.5″ WD Reds in 3TB versions and really like them.
  • Its a HOME LAB not an enterprise production datacenter.  SAS drives are just too expensive.  These were a good price.  Don’t care about massive performance differences.
  • NAS can present NFS datastores and run VMs happily.   So these should do fine.
  • I also run iSCSI from both servers to a 3TB WD Red in a Synology NAS.

This is the basic setup.  I will add other posts to separately detail the further enhancements – USB 3.0 NICs, 10Gbs NICs, VCSA 6.5 and so on.

These little servers just keep giving and I’m really happy with them.






AWS and Windows 2012 Server

Windows 2012 Server has been around for a while but like many IT professionals I haven’t had much exposure to it.  I’ve spent most of my time recently on 2008 and upgrades from 2003.  I don’t actually need 2012 Server myself, so how do I get experience with it?  Enter AWS!   I’ve signed up for the 12-month free trial and am running an instance of 2012 Server R2 to get a feel for the new features, and look and feel of it, but also a good opportunity to have a look at AWS.  Seems ok so far, and the vm runs fast enough for my needs.  RDP session is stable and quick even though I’m in the UK and it – according to Amazon – is in Oregan, USA.  Why?  No idea – I’d have thought Ireland was a more efficient location.  But it’s their system….

Windows 2012 Server R2 seems ok, but still not a fan of the flat tile interface and that you still seem to have to click in a lot of places to get the simplest of things done but there seem to be some good improvements under the hood.

vSphere 6.0

Well – vSphere 6.0 is upon us.  Almost.  I watched the EMEA live launch last Tuesday, and it’s pretty good from what I saw.  There are some really good new features and the maximums have been lifted yet again.  No documentation out yet though.

The massive improvement in the vCenter appliance capacity – 1000 hosts, 10,000 vms.  I’ll be using that now rather than the Windows-based install.  No Windows license or CALs to worry about.  Gotta be good!

SMP for Fault Tolerance makes it actually usable.  A single CPU is a bit pointless but 4 is much more realistic.

High-latency or long-distance vMotion.  At Last!  Being able to vMotion between vDCs and vCenters; across large geographical distances.

I really like the Fault Domains – Rack Awareness as they called it.  I could have used that and more of these new features in a project I was involved with a couple of years ago.

So much really good stuff to play with there.  I believe it’s available from March so will be getting hold of a copy for my lab.

VMware Home Lab – Intro

For a long time I’ve wanted to build a home VMware lab for working toward the VCP qualification.  Having taken a step back this year from other commitments that have taken up huge amounts of time for the last 3 or 4 years I now want to aim to get it out of the way by the end of Q2 this year.

I was going to use the Dell 1U Cloud Server that I bought a couple of years ago, but it’s simply too loud and wifey won’t let me run it for any decent length of time- and besides you don’t need the heating on when it’s running!  I was also going to use my Synology NAS as I have an old 100GB iSCSI target on it already.

So last year – as I do a lot of this stuff for my job – I bought a Lenovo W540 laptop with a whopping 32GB RAM and a 4-core i7 (8 cores with hyper-threading) specifically for running vms.  I work a lot with VMware so need something to run vms on.  It also has a CD replacement 1TB hard drive.  I bought a copy of VMware Workstation 10 and had a play.  The 1TB drive frankly is way too slow.  So after a bit of research into the speed differences between Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 – I bought a 500GB Crucial M4 SSD and a USB 3.0 caddy –  there’s very little between them.  Having loaded up the drive, I can run a full AutoLab off the SSD with practically no loss of performance.

But then it went missing.

So I had to start again.  I bought another 500GB M4 and another USB 3.0 caddy,  Only this time I’m going to do things a bit differently.

Having signed up for the new VMUG Advantage program, I got myself a 365-day licenced vCenter 5.5.  I already have the relevant vSphere client, but though I don’t like it I really aught to get to grips with the new web client.  I have 2 ESXi 5.1 hosts – I want to go a proper upgrade path  to 5.5 U2 and have VUM running properly.

I had a look at the way a lot of people ran their labs and finally settled on something akin to this one:

My current setup is as follows:

  • VMware Workstation 11 (Really don’t like the new interface – looks like an old CDE or Win 3.1 icon set.)
  • DC – Windows 2008 R1
  • Domain: Lab.local – I know – so unimaginative.  But short to type!
  • OpenFiler NAS with 40GB iSCSI and 10GB NFS shares
  • 2 nested ESXi 5.1 hosts – build 799733 – lots of updating to do for practice.
    • 4GB RAM
    • 2 vCPU – 2 cores each.  Because I can…
    • iSCSI and NFS datastores
  • vCenter 5.5

So that’s it for now.  I have some small Linux OVFs to try out on the hosts.

That’s it for now.  I’ll post updates as it goes along.






Well – many thanks to my kid brother Nick, a graphic designer.  He’s been working on the logo and branding for me and done a great job.  Very happy with the results: versatile logo, smart-looking stationery and the banner on this site.

You can catch up with him at

Memory lane…

Whilst preparing some of the pages for this site I began thinking about my journey into IT and how my outlook on technology has changed.

My computing history ran alongside an engineering career, something I still have a deep love and affection for.  I am still fiercely proud of my engineering skills and experience.

In the 1980’s I bought a new Commodore Vic20 which I  had for several years before acquiring an Apple ][e with 2 x 5.25″ external floppy drives that the monitor sat on.  That gave way finally to the onslaught of IBM and an XT (that I still have) took pride of place.  A whopping 2MB RAM – power computing!   Then began the x86 climb along Moore’s law.  I progressed to a 268, 386 – and that was joined on the motherboard by a 387 co-processor.  I thought it was cool, anyway!

486 SX -> DX (different versions) gave way to Pentiums.  Brings tears to my eyes just remembering!  Especially installing Windows 3.11 from 500 (ok, 9 – I think, 7 with the OS and 2 with the network drivers if memory serves) floppy disks while my wife was shouting at me to leave it alone and come and have dinner!  Ahh – happy days!

Well, that’s changed again and again over the years.  On the early 486 I ran SuSE 5 – again I still have the 5 CDs that it came with.  Early KDE – that was soooo slow!