The SSD and the Home Lab

I thought I’d do a quick post about the impact an SSD (and perhaps a memory upgrade) can have on a home lab.  I tend to lag behind when it comes to access to both technology and experience (which I’m trying to change) so this isn’t a super-duper state-of the-art lab, but it does show what can be done in many cases with a modern PC and a modest investment.

A few months ago, I wrote this post on building a VMware View lab using just a PC with 8GB of RAM.  Yes, it was slow and painful, but it was possible and it could be done.  I had wanted to do so much more in the home lab – ranging from vCloud Director to vCOPS to vShield, but I found my home lab (with one SATA spindle) either inadequate or intolerable.  The break in the clouds came when I realized that I had a line of credit with Dell (note:  I’m not advocating personal debt here, but I viewed this as an investment in my development).

The CPU (Intel Core i7 (Sandy Bridge)) was fine, but I would need both more RAM and faster disk if I wanted to do more with my lab.  Dell only had one model of SSD available (Intel 320 SSD) so there wasn’t much research to be done.  I ordered the 120GB SSD drive along with an additional 8GB of RAM (for a total of 16GB) using my Dell credit for about $300.

The memory alone had a profound impact on what I could do – with more RAM available there would be less swapping and I could be more generous in memory allocation to VMs, but the biggest impact was the SSD.

SSD Performance

The SSD drive (and RAM) appeared the next morning and I quickly ran a few tests.  One of the biggest problems in traditional hard drive is the “seek time” that is consumed when the hard drive head moves across the platter to locate the desired blocks – most commonly seen in random I/O patterns (as opposed to sequential).

Sequential operations were anywhere from 50-150% improved, but the real “WOW” factor came with random access patterns.  Consider the following random access tests from first the hard drive and then the SSD:

image

A max of 52 IOPS and a max of 35 MB/s.  Now for the SSD:

image

Huge differences of a factor of thousands in some cases.  For the random transfer size the SSD was about 8 times faster!

How would this transfer into real world scenarios?  One of the first tests I did was an automated “smart install” of Windows 2008 R2 on VMware Workstation 8.  There are significant amounts of time where the disk is not used during a Windows OS install, so I wouldn’t experience anything like a 800% improvement, but the time required was reduced from 19 minutes to just 9 minutes – a very significant and welcome improvement.  I was able to rebuild most of my lab VMs in the single day as opposed to several days for the same task in the old lab.  I used the linked clone feature of VMware Workstation 8 which – when combined with the SSD makes it really fast and efficient to provision new VMs as well as being space efficient.

There’s a few steps and details in the home lab setup ranging from networking, DNS, AD and more that I worked through – not sure if there’s any interest in a step-by-step configuration for a home lab but perhaps I’ll save that to write on a rainy day if there’s interest.

Intel SSD Toolbox

My SSD was OEM so it literally came with nothing, but I looked around and found that Intel has this nice SSD Toolbox for their SSD drives.  It gives detailed info on your SSD drive and includes some optimization checks including:

  • Disabling Superfetch/Prefetch on the SSD drive
  • Disabling ReadyBoost on the SSD drive
  • Checking for defragmentation tasks (Intel recommends that defragmentation not be run on their SSD drives)

It also has an “optimization” feature which Intel recommends that you run weekly, which will basically de-allocate blocks which are no longer in use.

The Home Lab

The home lab I think is critical for many who wish to gain more experience and/or test scenarios which they may be unable to do in the office for one reason or another.  Much like certification, you need to make a financial investment for the opportunity that a home lab provides and not everyone is able to make these investments, but if you can afford it, it can often be a very efficient investment.

The combination of increasing RAM to 16GB and adding an SSD can make a world of difference for a home lab.  Working on VM’s now feels like I’m running on a really fast SAN – and I have more RAM to support more complex combinations of VMs (including ESXi hosts) to enable many more lab scenarios.  I’m looking forward to being able to do many things with VMware View, vShield, vCloud Director, ESX5 features and much more.

If you’re looking for a new system or upgrading an existing one for the educational opportunity that a home lab can provide, keep these points in mind.  In my case it took a $300 investment in RAM and SSD to open a whole new set of possibilities with what I could accomplish in the home lab.  As for me, I’m really excited about what this upgrade now allows me to do, and I’m sure that I’ll be posting more entries here about various lab activities and experiences that I’m looking forward to both experiencing and sharing the results.

8 Responses to The SSD and the Home Lab

  1. svenf says:

    Thanks for this post!

    Please could you outline a bit more in detail your home lab setup?

    Especially I’m interested in what’s now residing on the new SSD (just host OS, or in addition the ESX VMs, the vCenter VM etc).

    Thanks!

    Sven

    • BlueShiftBlog says:

      @svenf Thanks for responding.

      As my SSD is 120GB and I want to do a lot of testing with many products (View, vCD, vCOPS and more) I’ve elected to dedicate the SSD just for VM’s only. While it would be nice to have the OS on an SSD drive, the host OS is “fast enough” most of the time. So the SSD is being used only for VMs in my case. If you are using linked clones you definitely want these on any SSD!

      • Uriber says:

        謝謝囉!我發現原來詞音的輸入也算方便,那就沒有必要換了,畢竟對linux我也很不熟悉!今天測試的時候遇到一個問題:開機後,無線網路雖然自動開啟,但是卻無法自動連上之前常用的無線網路,必須要靠手動選取才行。另外的困擾是:休眠之後,無線網路再離開休眠模式後,也無法字型抓取,從網路設定進去後,嘗試手動連已設定好的無線網路,會出現錯誤訊息如下:Configuring interface ath0=lan2 (inet)run-parts veorbse /etc/network/if-pre-up.dath0: ERROR while getting interface flags: No such deviceError for wireless request Set Frequency (8B04) : SET failed on device ath0 ; No such device.ath0: ERROR while getting interface flags: No such deviceath0: ERROR while getting interface flags: No such devicewlanconfig: ioctl: No such deviceath0: ERROR while getting interface flags: No such deviceError for wireless request Set Encode (8B2A) : SET failed on device ath0 ; No such device.Error for wireless request Set ESSID (8B1A) : SET failed on device ath0 ; No such device.ifconfig $IFACE upath0: ERROR while getting interface flags: No such deviceFailed to bring up lan2.進入無線網路 >重新整理後,卻發現什麼無線網路都沒有,只能重新開機,才能再手動連的上。這樣似乎很麻煩,eeePC闔上休眠行來後,去找不到任何網路,只能重新開機,真的很麻煩!不知道是否是哪裡設定沒用好呢?謝謝回覆我的問題

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  4. Superb site yoou have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any discussion boards that cover the
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  5. virtual guru says:

    Why would you spend so much time building a home lab when you can rent it from viadmin.com for example or even from vmware…

    • Kevin says:

      You’re right. The difference is that post was written years ago when these options were not as available as they are today.

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