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):
- Introduction and Choosing Your Hypervisor
- Choosing Your Processor
- Choosing Your Motherboard
- Choosing Your Memory
- Choosing Your Chassis and Power Supply
- Choosing Your Storage
- Putting It All Together
- The Build and Installing ESXi
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