So today I will share with you some of my research I did for building a VMware based homelab.

I must confess I did not yet buy one. I am a bit hesitant because I know myself; Once I start i can’t stop and I am convinced my wife also has something to say about that.

But not let my doubt hold you back when you want to get your own homelab. So Let’s divi shall we?

Why get a homelab?

Getting a homelab is not only a really cool thing to do but there can be some great benefits for you careers as well.
It gives you a play environment where you can test, automate and break stuff. You can learn from your mistakes without breaking stuff in production. It can also help you convince others in your company to deploy new features and products if you already have knowledge and knowhow about the product. In addition a homelab can also help you study for VMware exams.


The hardware will form the bases of your VMware based homelab but first of all, sit back and think about what you want to do with your VMware based homelab. Buying the most expensive, biggest, best hardware money can buy does not make a lot of sense if you only want to host a couple of containers. Maybe you would be better of gettings a Raspberry PI in that case.

Now that we have established where we want to use the hardware for let’s see what is out there.

You can of course use your own PC and run VMware Workstation or VMware Fusion on it but if you really want to go all out here are some other options to consider

  1. Intel NUC
  2. “Rent” a bare-metal server from an Internet Service provider.
  3. Buy a second hand server on for instance ebay or any other second hand marketplace.
  4. Buy a new server
  5. Build your own white label server
  6. Get a 2018 Mac Mini which is fully supported and on the VMware HAL

There are more options out there but this is a nice starting point I think. So for me this was the point where I started googling the different options and looking for the pros and cons of these options.

Pros and cons list

Intel NUC– Power consumption
– Lots of different CPU’s available
– Some say in the configuration
– Memory
– Hard Drive
– Can be expensive
– Most of them have only 1 NIC
– Most of them can fit only 2 Hard Drives
– CPU’s are all laptop CPU’s so less powerful
Rent a bare metal server– A lot of flavours available
– No machines in your own home ( no noise, no high electric bills)
– Support on hardware from the ISP
– Possibility for hardware refresh
– Expensive
– No cool gear at home
Buy a second hand server– Cheaper than renting one
– Lot’s of options out there
– No need for space heaters anymore in your home office
– Electric bill can run quit high
– Dealing with hassling of prices, picking up the hardware, etc.
– They are rather big
Buy a new server– The world is your oyster, you can buy whatever you want
– Cool new gear is always good
– Expensive
– Dangerous, once you start you cannot stop
Build your own white label server– You have your own pick in hardware
– You can build compact systems
– Building something yourself
– Can be expensive
– Hardware maintenance can be a doozy if you buy from (a lot) different vendors
Mac Mini– One box containing everything you need
– Vendor support
– Runs ESXi out of the box
– Expensive, especially if you add more RAM or storage
– Not a lot of options available to pick from

Pick a winner and go with it

With this list in hand I decided that for me going for the Intel NUC is the best option. Therefore i started looking around which NUC to get. However I soon realized that one of the pros i mentioned was also a con; The choice is massive.

I ended up on this site which contains a lot of useful info on Intel NUC’s, especially the section on which NUC to get is very useful. I concluded that if I am getting a NUC the NUC8i5BEK is best for my needs.

The reason for this is that I want to be able to run 64 GB of RAM and have a nice CPU against affordable costs.


Software is the second most important part of the build. Are you going to run ESXi only or are you going to be running a full SDDC stack (ESXi, vCenter, NSX and vSAN). For now I will stick with ESXi and vCenter so the NUC I favour should do nicely.

Keep in mind that the more software you want to run the more resources you need. For instance vCenter alone already uses 12 GB of RAM

If you want to add VRA or VRO and also run some additional VM’s or maybe mess around with Tanzu you need to make sure you pick the right resources.


The last part you need to be aware of of is licensing. ESXI comes in a free version so i you intend to run a single ESXi host with some VM’s you are all set. But if you want to run vCenter of other VMware products you need to have a valid license which can be expensive.

Of course there are programs out there that offer NRF licenses (not for resale) like the VMware vExpert program

VMware based homelab, final thoughts

So in conclusion there are a lot of considerations to make but whatever option you pick be aware of the addictive nature of building your own setup. Before you know it you have a whole cluster of hosts running with a vSAN, Cloud director or any other cool software stacks you can think of.

Useful links and information I gathered to pick the right option for my build (when it happens)

If you like this blog post have a look at some of my other posts here.


By Arjen Kloosterman

Sr. Solutions Engineer @ Netapp

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