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3 Useful Projects For Your vSphere Home Lab

by Team Nuggets
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Published on April 21, 2016

So you're ready to rock vSphere for testing, fun, and eventual profit. But, what to do?

Labs are a great way to experiment and learn. Here are three virtualization projects to help hone your skills with VMware vSphere 6.

Step 1: May I See Your VMware License, Please?

Before you do anything, you'll need to buy a vSphere license or sign up for a free 60-day evaluation to get access to all its features. Grab a trial license here.

The most affordable lab option is vSphere Essentials, which allows perpetual usage. Your Essentials license nets you vCenter Server and three ESXi hosts, as well as full API functionality. This is at a minimum, a viable setup for a decent home virtualization lab.

Pro Tip: To get the most out of your lab, you'll need at least 16GB of RAM, a 40GB+ SSD for VM storage, and a 64-bit processor with VT-x/EPT (Intel) or AMD-V/RVI (AMD).

Step 2: Virtualize your vSphere Lab via VMware Workstation

Don't have the funds for lab-worthy bare metal hardware? With a powerful laptop or desktop PC, you can nest the entire vSphere lab environment within VMware Workstation.

Take your lab with you on the road or simply keep it on hand as a backup if your physical lab suffers an epic fail.

With Workstation, you are free to experiment with advanced vCenter Server features such as Fault Tolerance, High Availability, vMotion, and DRS (Distributed Resource Scheduler), all essentials for a cutting edge and functional lab simulation.

Advantages of running vSphere in Workstation include:

  • No need for physical routing equipment;

  • Quick deployment for testing concepts;

  • Only a laptop or desktop PC required; and

  • Minimal power consumption.

Keith Barker's VMware vSphere 6 (VCP6-DCV) course covers a virtual home lab setup with this approach. Now that you're virtualized. Let's get to the fun stuff.

Project 1: Deliberately Infect VMs with Bad Stuff

Viruses and malware can't infect your vSphere hypervisor unless they are specifically designed to do so, as in the case of VENOM and similar exploits. Even then, the occurrence is rare and seldom seen outside of targeted attack scenarios.

Discover new malware that can compromise the hypervisor from within the VM, and you may have an award-winning security research project on your hands.

For everything else, you can safely practice removing nasty code from different OSs in an isolated VM sandbox.

Another great idea is to set up attacker and defender VMs for pitting your ESXi machines against each other in active pen-testing sessions. The penetration testing software Metasploit is your friend here.

Project 2: Build a Full Stack Web Server

Do you have keen sysadmin skills, networking know-how, and a grasp on web dev? You may be a budding full stack developer, so let vSphere be your ticket to building that dream web app in your basement.

Use vSphere and vCenter Server to split your machine into a virtual server rack including an HTTP server, DNS server, mail server, database server, firewall server, and so on, as needed.

Now, one thing web users love is speed. Lucky for you, vCenter templates present an easy opportunity to benchmark pretty much everything.

"Ubuntu Server or CentOS? Apache or Nginx? PostgreSQL or Microsoft SQL Server?"

Don't bother the folks at StackExchange; test these options yourself and find the best mix with benchmarking tools like weighttpd and HammerDB. Be sure to run the tests from your VMs so they won't skew the results.

Bonus points for using HA to automate host failure recovery. Slow sites suck, but users getting Error 404'd from a server glitch for the entire night while you're in bed is unforgivable.

Project 3: Go Commando with vCLI and PowerCLI

Much like underwear, GUIs are nice but inessential. Learning your vSphere Command-Line (vCLI) is not only personally rewarding, but also very useful in the real world.

As the old saying goes, "Anything GUI can do, CLI can do better." This is particularly true of vSphere using vCLI and a dash of scripting.

Get started with the vSphere 6 vCLI Documentation and practice building/re-building your ideal home lab using just your keyboard and CSV spreadsheets for keeping track of your setup.

Once you're comfortable with that, automate everything and unleash the clones with PowerCLI!

Roll up your sleeves with Keith's VMware course, and then get your hands dirty with these VMware vSphere projects and more.


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