Lab Upgrade: HP Z440 Running VMware Workstation 12 Pro

It’s been a while since I’ve published any new posts.  I’ve been busy working for a great client.  I’ve also been upgrading my lab environment.  I recently added an HP Z440 Workstation with 8 Cores and 64GB of RAM.  It’s a purpose built machine for running VMware Workstation 12 Pro.  I’m using this machine to run the following workloads:

  • Cisco VIRL – IOS and NX-OS Network Simulator
  • Cisco UCS Platform Emulator
  • Nested ESXi
  • Windows Server Guest OS
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux Guest OS

Cisco VIRL

Cisco VIRL is a network simulation tool that runs within a Virtual Machine.  It allows the user to run up to 15 instances of IOS and/or NX-OS.  This allows the user to simulate various network configurations.  There are pre-built configurations.  You can also build configurations from scratch.  You can access the console of each device and issue real commands.

Cisco VIRL allows the user to work with real IOS and NX-OS operating systems.  The only difference is that they are running in a virtual machine within VIRL rather than on a physical router or switch.

VIRL takes advantage of nested virtualization.  The VIRL appliance itself is running a linux guest OS.  Within the linux guest OS there is a hypervisor called KVM.  The IOS and NX-OS images are deployed in separate KVM virtual machines.  It’s all managed by a GUI application called VM Maestro.  More information can be found at the Cisco VIRL site.  There’s also a CBT Nuggets Course that covers VIRL.

Cisco UCS Platform Emulator

The Cisco UCS Platform Emulator allows you to work with Cisco UCS Manager in a lab environment without having to purchase a rack full of equipment.  Details can be found here.  I’ve found that you can do just about everything that you can do when connected to a real Fabric Interconnect, with a few exceptions.  It’s a great place to test out configurations.

Nested ESXi

Nested ESXi is one of the best tools for a Virtualization Engineer to have in their toolbox.  Nested ESXi allows you to run ESXi within a Virtual Machine.  This means running the real version of ESXi, not an emulator.  With a powerful enough workstation, you can deploy multiple ESXi hosts, each within their own VM.  For a complete solution, you can deploy vCenter Server on a Windows Server virtual machine.  I use the iSCSI feature of my QNAP NAS to deploy Datastores to my ESXi hosts.

Windows Server Guest OS

I’ve been running my own internal Active Directory Domain within VMware Workstation for a while now.  It’s allowed me to test changes before ever doing them in a production environment.  I’ve added member servers including Server Core and Server with a GUI.  This has allowed me to test the configuration of every possible variation of Windows Server that I could imagine.  I’ve also been testing out the Tech Preview releases of Windows Server 2016.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux Guest OS

I’ve deployed Red Hat Enterprise Linux within VMware Workstation to test many different features.  It’s where I did the lab work for my blog post on mapping disks between VMware and Red Hat.  More recently, while working on a project for my client, I needed to use rsync to migrate some application data from an old server to a new one.  VMware Workstation allowed me to quickly deploy 2 Red Hat servers to test rsync.  I was able to test the rsync command line options before ever running it on my client’s servers.

Summary: HP Z440 with 8 Cores and 64GB RAM running VMware Workstation Pro – A Virtual Data Center In a Box

With a powerful enough computer running VMware Workstation, you can almost simulate an entire Data Center in your home office.  There are some limitations, of course, but as the technology improves and more vendors develop emulators as Virtual Appliances, the options will continue to grow.

Bret Miller – President and Principal Consultant, LMR Computer Services Inc