Building a robust test-lab at home with virtualization

Blogger Brad Bird is building a home lab for testing, development, and training -- it's power extended with virtualization. Do you have a test lab? How would you set it up?

Virtualization is not a new topic but how many of us use it at home? I hang around with a bunch of geeks, so all of my colleagues have been virtualizing at home since it has been possible.

Early last year, I spent a couple of thousand dollars and set out to build a lab I could use for testing/development/training. Basically, the lab is for anything and everything that I cannot do on a company's production servers, including developing presentation scenarios that companies like so that they will hire me to reproduce them on their production servers!

I thought I would share what set up I am using, in case you're thinking about this too. Or, if you have one of your own, I would appreciate your thoughts on the home lab.

So this is what I am working with:

  • 1 router/4-port gigabit switch (working as gateway/firewall)
  • 1 16-port gigabit switch
  • 1 4GB AMD 64-bit (dual core) small form factor PC with roles:
    • Server 2008 Domain Controller
    • Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2
    • SQL Server 2008 x64 physical host
    • Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 host
  • 1 16GB Intel 64-bit (quad core) small form factor PC as a Hyper-V host with VMs:
    • Server 2008 R2 Domain Controller
    • System Center DPM 2007 Server
    • MOSS 2007 Server
    • System center Operations Manager 2007 R2 Server
  • 1 4GB Dell Latitude D820 Core Duo laptop
  • 1 4GB Dell latitude D830 Core2 Duo laptop (just found out this goes to 8GB, sweet!)


  • The 16GB system is doing fine since I have been conservative when allocating resources to my VMs; I can maybe get an SCCM 2007 R2 VM on there as well to showcase operating system deployment, patch distribution, and application virtualization.
  • I went to the D830 possibly controlled from an external eSATA drive as a DPM 2010 server with some mass storage to showcase the product and to back up my entire environment.
  • Mass storage is needed. I was going to purchase either a Drobo, or maybe a Dell MD3000i, Thecus, or the like (chime in here with experiences). I don't have to purchase iSCSI mass storage since I can use Starwind to create iSCSI targets to connect my systems to.
  • The 16-port switch was purchased to retire an older 10/100 8-port switch because some network cards in my systems and in my OfficeJet printer won't communicate below 1000MB and my router only has 4 ports. I may need another switch to handle iSCSI dedicated traffic.
  • I intend to leave my lab accessible all the time so I am going to purchase a Fortigate or comparable device to handle port filtering and offset processor load from my router/gateway.
  • I may need another system to install VMWare ESX (VSphere) on since I am showing customers how to manage both MS and VMWare virtual environments.

So far, $4,000 has been spent on my lab over the last 30 months. More is needed but as you can see, because of virtualization, these dollars can go pretty far.

Virtualization is great but it does not eliminate all costs, as you can see.

IT pros, have a look at what I am doing and if I can help anyone with more details, I am happy to do so. I am also looking for experiences or feedback to help improve my lab.

By Brad Bird

Brad Bird is a lead technical consultant and MCT certified trainer based in Ottawa, ON. He works with large organizations, helping them architect, implement, configure, and customize System Center technologies, integrating them into their business pr...