Building a Hyperion Home Lab: Choosing Your Processor

Before we get started, here’s the entire series in case you need to look back (or ahead):

Now that we’ve covered your Hypervisor choices, hopefully you’ve decided a direction you would like to go.  For those of you that want to stick with a desktop implementation that you can use for things outside of a lab, your CPU choice will likely differ from those of us that go dedicated bare metal.  So what are the key features of a processor that we will look at from a Hyperion Perspective:

  • Single-Threaded vs. Multi-Threaded Performance
  • Power and Heat Constraints
  • Size Constraints
  • Cost and Longevity

When we look at Hyperion environments, we know that there are a great many services.  On top of the number of services, we also know that most of the software does a great job of multi-threading.  This means that when we look at building an environment for Hyperion, we will care more about multi-threaded performance than single-threaded performance.  One drawback to more cores in a processor is generally that it lowers the operating frequency of each core.  And of course, as we add more cores, we add more cost.  Generally speaking, if you are going with a desktop system, I would recommend getting at least a quad-core processor.  If you are looking at server-based options, there are a lot more choices.

Power and heat constraints will also drive our processor decision.  If you plan on running your home lab in your home office, you will likely prefer something that doesn’t sound like a leaf blower and doesn’t take up too much space.  The newer the processor, the lower the total energy consumed and heat produced will be.

The size of the system will also determine where you can realistically place the system.  Will it fit on or under your desk?  Will it need to be placed in a closet somewhere?  The size of the system will of course have an impact on the amount of processing power, memory, and storage that you can contain in that system.

Finally, and probably most importantly, how much does it cost and how long will it last?  Ideally, we’d like a system to last several years and we want to spend an amount that lets us get the most bang for our buck.  The processor we select will also have a massive impact on the total cost of the system.  In this series we will cover seven (7) configurations in an attempt to find a variation for most budgets and needs: Desktop High Budget, Desktop Medium Budget, Desktop Low Budget, Server High Budget, Server Medium Budget, Server Low Budget, and Tiny Server.

Before we get into the specific processor details, let’s first talk about why we would want to go the desktop route versus the server route.  The desktop configurations can be used for a variety of things, not just our lab.  Our high budget desktop system can be used in either configuration as the hardware is supported.  You will always have a monitor, mouse, and keyboard attached to these systems.  They will likely be place where you work or have family members using them.  Our server configurations are built for one purpose…hosting VM’s.  All of the options we will cover can be completely headless (no need for a monitor, mouse, or keyboard).  They will also come with hardware completely supported by ESXi and other bare-metal options.

On to the options:

Desktop High Budget

The processor I would choose right now in the high end budget configuration is the Intel Core i7 6700k.  This processor is based on the latest Intel Skylake architecture and supports up to 64GB of DDR4 memory.  It has four (4) physical cores with hyper-threading support giving us eight (8) logical processors operating at 4.0 GHz.  The current price of this processor is $416.99 on Newegg and $413.99 on Amazon.  If you happen to have a Microcenter nearby, you can get this process for $399.99 along with an additional $20 discount if you bye a motherboard there as well.

Desktop Medium Budget

For the medium budget configuration, I would choose the Intel Core i7 6700.  This is basically the same as the 6700k but with no overclocking features and a lower operating fequency (3.4 GHz vs. 4.0 GHz).  The current price of this processor is $349.99 on Newegg.  If you happen to have a Microcenter nearby, you can get this process for $339.99 along with an additional $20 discount if you bye a motherboard there as well.

Desktop Low Budget

For our lowest budget configuration, I would choose the Intel Core i5 6400.  This processor is still has four (4) physical cores, but does not support hyper-threading.  It operates at 2.7 GHz.  The current price of this process is $189.99 at Newegg.  Microcenter does not carry this particular processor, but they do have the 6500 for $199 with the $20 promotion.  There are much cheaper processors in the Skylake product line, but once we get below four cores, you may as well stick with your laptop.

Server High Budget

Our server processors will go across a much broader range of product choices.  Our desktop options are pretty much Skylake configurations.  Our server options span three different generations of processor.  The high budget processor that I would recommend is the Intel Xeon E5-2620 V3.  This processor is based on the Intel Haswell architecture and supports single and dual processor configurations.  I would recommend going with the dual processor configuration because after all, this is our high budget option.  The processor operates at 2.4 GHz with six (6) physical cores and twelve (12) logical threads.  This means that in a dual processor configuration we have 12 cores and 24 threads to play with.  The budget for such a beast?  $419.99 per processor at Newegg.  The processors will support up to 1.5 TB of RAM…so long as you have a few gold bars laying around to pay for it.

Server Medium Budget

Our medium budget option for a server is basically what I’ve done.  If you search on Ebay for Intel E5-2670 SR0KX you should find plenty of deals for cheap processors.  These are based on the Sandy Bridge architecture and can be had anywhere from $90 to $190 per processor depending on your patience level.  They have eight (8) physical cores and (16) logical threads operating at a frequency of 2.6 GHz.  In a dual processor configuration this gives us 16 real processors and 32 virtual processors.  They also use less expensive DDR3 RAM, which we’ll cover later.  The processors only support 768 GB of RAM, but let’s be honest, if you are lucky you will have 256 GB.  Most of us will end up with 64GB or 128 GB.

Server Low Budget

For our low budget server option, I would go with the Intel Xeon E3-1220 V5.  Based on the Skylake architecture operating at 3.0 GHz, it has four (4) physical cores without hyper-threading support.  Like our Core i7 and Core i5 options, this processor tops out at 64 GB of RAM but adds support for ECC memory.  If you don’t really care about ECC memory, you could stick with any of the Core i7 or Core i5 options above as most of the motherboards we’ll talk about later support both Xeon and Core processors.

Tiny Server

In general, most of the options above can be placed into a tiny server (mini ITX).  But, those options don’t support 128 GB of RAM.  Our tiny server option is the Intel Xeon D-1520.  This is a fully integrated processor that comes with the motherboard (built-in).  This processor has four (4) physical cores and does support hyper-threading.  Each core operates at 2.2 GHz.  It has all of the features we would normally see on our server-class boards like IPMI and Intel LAN.  The price for the board and processor is $489.99.  It’s also tiny…

That’s it for processors.  Here’s a quick summary of the processors in a table:

ProcessorPriceGHzPhysical CoresLogical ThreadsMax MemoryNewegg LinkArk Link
Intel Core i7 6700k$414.9944864Newegg LinkArk Link
Intel Core i7 6700$349.993.44864Newegg LinkArk Link
Intel Core i5 6400$189.992.74464Newegg LinkArk Link
Intel Xeon E5-2620 V32 @ $429.992.46121,536Newegg LinkArk Link
Intel Xeon E5-2670~2 @ $150.002.6816768Newegg LinkArk Link
Intel Xeon E3-1220 V5$218.4834464Newegg LinkArk Link
Intel Xeon D-1520$489.992.248128Newegg LinkArk Link

Next up…our motherboard.


Building a Hyperion Home Lab: Introduction and Choosing Your Hypervisor

Before we get started, here’s the entire series in case you need to look back (or ahead):

Welcome to the first in a series designed to help anyone interested in building their own virtual home lab for Oracle’s Hyperion EPM stack of software.  So why would anyone want build such a thing?  For me, there are two reasons.  First, to stay on the bleeding edge.  I like having the newest release up and running within a day or two of the release.  Second, I’m tired of giant laptops and starting up and shutting down software.  With my home lab, I just carry my reasonably-sized MacBook Pro and RDP into anything else I need.

Today, we’ll focus on the software we will use for our lab and then we’ll dive into the major hardware components in later posts.  Why do we start with software?  Because it will have a major impact on the hardware choices we make.  More on that later…

So how do I choose the Hypervisor that’s right for me?  First, let’s talk about what a Hypervisor is.  In short, a Hypervisor is a platform for creating and hosting Virtual Machines.  There are two main types of Hypervisors.  First, we’ll talk about the one’s many of you are already familiar with.  Those that run on a standard operating system like Windows or Mac OS X (and the few that use Linux as a desktop operating system).  Hosted Hypervisors, as they are called, are designed to allow a system host Virtual Machines, but not isolate that system into that single task.  You’ve most likely heard of the most popular of these:

VMware Workstation (and Fusion) is my particular favorite.  I work a lot with VMware ESXi and it allows for me to manage my ESXi servers, work with my local VM’s, and transfer back and forth between the two.  It also works great on both Windows and Mac OS X platforms.  This means I can work on my VM’s on my Windows-based desktop and my MacBook Pro.  But, it is definitely not free, which is clearly a drawback.

As a free option, we have Oracle VirtualBox.  While VirtualBox is technically an Oracle product, it still operates somewhat outside of Big Red.  It’s a great piece of software, and it also works across both Windows and Mac OS X.  But, it doesn’t interface with ESXi and if I want to move VM’s back and forth, I have to convert them each time.  For me, this kills it as an option for my day-to-day use.

Finally, we have the Mac-only option of Parallels.  The lack of interoperability kills this for many people, but for those that plan on using their Mac, this is a great option, and it interfaces great with Mac OS X.  Like VMware, Parallels is not free.  It it moderately less expensive than VMware, but there is still an investment.

Now that we’ve covered the options available for our desktops and laptops, let’s move on to the good stuff:  Bare Metal.  The idea behind bare metal is to provide a system with the singular purpose of high performance virtual machines.  Of course this means that the system does absolutely nothing else.  This also means that we are venturing out of your typical consumer products and into the land of enterprise products.  So why does that matter?  Because when you get into enterprise products, the hardware that you can use starts to shrink due to the vendor support of that hardware.  Here are a few of the most popular bare metal options:

Again, I have to go with VMware as my favorite.  For many of the reasons above, but honestly, for one main reason:  virtually every client I have uses it.  I have a scarce few that use Hyper-V and none using anything else.  VMware also has a free Hypervisor that works great.  If you need functionality beyond the free version, you can spend $200 and get the entire suite of products for your home lab using the VMUG Advantage program.  The biggest drawback to VMware’s bare metal option is that hardware support is much more challenging.

Microsoft Hyper-V has two versions available.  There is a headless version and the role that you can add to Windows Server 2012 R2.  Both provide a high quality solution with probably the best hardware support out there.  If I wasn’t a VMware fan, this would be my next choice.  I’ve previously run my lab on Hyper-V and it was a good experience.  But, the lack of interoperability with my desktop and laptop along with the lack of clients made the switch to VMware the logical decision for me personally.

Oracle VM Server is an interesting option.  You can use this free of charge for some period of time so long as it isn’t in production.  There are a variety of Oracle provided VM’s that are native to this Hypervisor.  But again…few clients actually use this technology.  And the community at large is much, much smaller.  ESXi and to a less extent, Hyper-V have huge communities of people that can help you for free.  Not so much on the Oracle VM side of the house.

Finally we have the Xen Project.  This is another free option that is open source.  I’ve not had a ton of experience with this Hypervisor, but I’ve always heard good things.  It has a decent community, but for me it just didn’t make sense to go with a technology that few, if any of my clients were going to be using.

So there you have it…a lot of choices.  Desktop…or bare metal.  VMware…or the other guys.  As this series continues, I’ll reference the options at a high-level to help with the decisions surrounding hardware selection.  While you wait for my next post on the topic, you can check out a few websites with a wealth of knowledge:

  • TinkerTry – A website devoted to home labs
  • ServeTheHome – This is less on the software side and more on the hardware side, but has a great forum for support and deals
  • VMWare Communities – Similar to what we are used to with the Oracle Forums
  • Derek Seaman’s Blog – He has a great set of tutorials and is a very active blogger
  • Vladin – Another active blog with great information


Essbase Format Strings in Smart View, The Excel Add-In, and Financial Reports

Last year I had a post about working with strings in Essbase.  To illustrate how to work with strings, I used a features called Essbase Format Strings.  This basically allows us to return a value other than that of the intersection based on MDX logic.  For instance, if a number is great than zero, return the text Positive or if it less than zero, return Negative.  This allows us to show text values inside of an Essbase retrieve.

Today we will dive a little bit deeper into how this works in each of our popular interfaces with Essbase:  Smart View, the Excel Add-In, and Financial Reports.  First we’ll look at the classic Excel Add-In.  This is pretty simple in that we really have no control over what we show.  The Excel Add-In will only show the value of the format string:EssbaseFormatStrings1

As we can see, the value of the format string is displayed.  There are no settings to turn that off in the Excel Add-In (that I can find).

Next up, we have Smart View.  Smart View is a little bit more aware of the concept of Essbase Format Strings.  It actually has a setting that we can turn on and off.  Using the default settings, we get this:


This looks nearly identical to the Excel Add-In retrieve.  Now let’s look in our Smart View options:


Here we see an option to enable and disable our format strings.  So what happens when we turn this setting off?


Now we see the 0 that we configured as the value to be returned by our calculated member, instead of the format string.  So what does this look like in Financial Reports?EssbaseFormatStrings5

We’re back to the format string showing!  And like the Excel Add-In, Financial Reports just displays the value of the format string and there’s no way to turn this off.  Hopefully this provides a little clarity as to how Format Strings work and how we can display them in our various popular interfaces.


New Year, New Blog Posts

It’s been a little longer than I would like between posts lately, but with the holidays..that’s life.  The good news is that I’ve been doing plenty of work, just nothing post-worthy.  So what are some of the accomplishments that didn’t merit a post but should result in a ton of content:

  • Added a new server to the lab to both add capacity and allow for some initial physical versus virtual performance testing and tuning (update to the lab page coming)
  • Began the process of upgrading to VMware ESXi 6.0
  • Began upgrading the processors on the main ESXi box to Xeon E5-2670’s (8-core/16-thread)
  • Upgraded VMware vSphere to 6.0.
  • Was notified that I will be speaking at Kscope16 (seven years in a row as a KScope presenter!)
  • Began preparing a ton of content for the new year

And on that note, I have a ton of interesting (at least to me) content coming up this year:

  • Continue the Planning Repository series
  • Continue the Powershell series
  • New series on Building Your Own Hyperion Lab (more hardware focused, less software focused)
  • New series on Performance Tuning Essbase (more software implementation of the hardware side)
  • Any other fun topics that pop up or any questions I get from colleagues and readers

That’s it for now.  Look for more updates hopefully on a more frequent basis now that we are past the holidays.  And finally…Happy Belated New Year!