Introducing the Small Budget Hosted Virtual Lab (SBHVL) project

This week there is the VMworld 2012 in San Francisco, and lots of the VMware bloggers have been very busy in the last days preparing for this event. I'm sure there will again be lots of exiting news, product updates and announcements from VMware and other vendors. I won't be there, but I will closely follow these news.

Like many of us I also want to be able to try out myself all the new and cool stuff that we will see at the show (and also some older stuff that I have not yet looked at so far), and this is why I was looking for a possibility to run my own lab. And I had a concrete vision of how it should look like: For cost and manageability reasons I wanted to have everything in only one powerful physical box (that is running VMware ESXi 5 of course). ESX(i) is able to virtualize itself, and with every new version it has gotten better in doing so. Today you can not only run multiple virtual ESXi instances on a single physical ESXi machine, you can even run nested 64bit guests on the virtualized ESXi hosts and use the full set of Enterprise features (VMotion, Storage VMotion, DRS, HA and even FT) in a virtualized vSphere environment.

One way to achieve this is to buy a decent computer with a modern powerful CPU (with at least four cores), lots of RAM (16 or better 32 GB) and large hard disks. Although ESXi runs on a broad range of hardware not all of the devices that you find in affordable consumer PCs are supported. So, you either need to spend the money to buy a system from the official VMware HCL, search for a pre-built system that includes only compatible devices, or build such a system on your own. Anyway the Whitebox HCL at will be helpful then.

However, I chose another option: Instead of spending the money and taking the effort to select, buy, build and run my own box at home I decided to rent a box from a hosting company. The final impetus I needed was an offer from the German hoster Hetzner that I couldn't resist. I don't want to advertise for them here, but it is not easy to find a hosting provider that not only offers hardware that is fully compatible with ESXi, but also supports you with installing ESXi on it, and all that while keeping a very competitive price. The only other one I could find (based in Germany) is

The SBHVL (Small Budget Hosted Virtual Lab) project is about how I have set this thing up. You may consider this a reference implementation, you might adopt it completely, only parts of it, or not at all. Maybe you will just stumble over some interesting ideas or links to other useful information sources that will help you to set up something similar or to achieve something completely different ... I plan to write a series of posts about the project with the following contents:
  • Part 1: Networking and Security
  • Part 2: Backup and DR
  • Part 3: Remotely accessing and managing the environment
I will mention specific (and preferably free) products that I used to implement certain functionalities, but - like with the hosting provider - there are always alternatives to use, and I will also note these whenever I know them. I neither intentionally endorse any of the vendors and products that I will mention nor have I been sponsored by them.

Enough said, stay tuned for the first part that will appear here shortly ...


  1. Hi Andreas.

    I'm based in the Netherlands and other interested in hosting my Lab online. Can you maybe what product from Hetzner you are using and what it costs.

    Kind Regards,

    Erik Jongkind

    1. Hi Erik,
      please drop me a note by e-mail (or Twitter or Google+) and I'll be happy to answer your question.
      - Andreas

    2. Hi Andreas,

      Do you know of any free TCO and ROI spreadsheets which can be used to determine costs and returns on invstement for hosting a virtual lab environment

    3. Hi Gary,
      I am only aware of the German online service that does a pretty good and independent job at comparing providers. I have not yet found a similar service in English.


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