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Home Lab Gen IV – Part V Installing Mellanox HCAs with ESXi 6.5

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The next step on my InfiniBand home lab journey was getting the InfiniBand HCAs to play nice with ESXi. To do this I need to update the HCA firmware, this proved to be a bit of a challenge. In this blog post I go into how I solved this issue and got them working with ESXi 6.5.

My initial HCA selection was the ConnectX aka HP INFINIBAND 4X DDR PCI-E HCA CARD 452372-001, and Mellanox MHGA28-XTC InfiniHost III HCA these two cards proved to be a challenge when updating their firmware. I tried all types of operating systems, different drivers, different mobos, and MFT tools versions but they would not update or be OS recognized. Only thing I didn’t try was Linux OS. The Mellanox forums are filled with folks trying to solve these issues with mixed success. I went with these cheaper cards and they simply do not have the product support necessary. I don’t recommend the use of these cards with ESXi and have migrated to a ConnectX-3 which you will see below.

Updating the ConnectX 3 Card:

After a little trial and error here is how I updated the firmware on the ConnectX 3. I found the ConnectX 3 card worked very well with Windows 2012 and I was able to install the latest Mellanox OFED for Windows (aka Windows Drivers for Mellanox HCA card) and updated the firmware very smoothly.

First, I confirm the drivers via Windows Device Manager (Update to latest if needed)

Once you confirm Windows device functionality then install the Mellanox Firmware Tools for windows (aka WinMFT)

Next, it’s time to update the HCA firmware. To do this you need to know the exact model number and sometimes the card revision. Normally this information can be found on the back of your HCA. With this in hand go to the Mellanox firmware page and locate your card then download the update.

After you download the firmware place it in an accessible directory. Next use the CLI, navigate to the WinMFT directory and use the ‘mst status’ command to reveal the HCA identifier or the MST Device Name. If this command is working, then it is a good sign your HCA is working properly and communicating with the OS. Next, I use the flint command to update my firmware. Syntax is — flint -d <MST Device Name> -i <Firmware Name> burn

Tip: If you are having trouble with your Mellanox HCA I highly recommend the Mellanox communities. The community there is generally very responsive and helpful!

Installation of ESXi 6.5 with Mellanox ConnectX-3

I would love to tell you how easy this was, but the truth is it was hard. Again, old HCA’s with new ESXi doesn’t equal easy or simple to install but it does equal Home lab fun. Let me save you hours of work. Here is the simple solution when trying to get Mellanox ConnextX Cards working with ESXi 6.5. In the end I was able to get ESXi 6.5 working with my ConnectX Card (aka HP INFINIBAND 4X DDR PCI-E HCA CARD 452372-001) and with my ConnectX-3 CX354A.

Tip: I do not recommend the use of the ConnectX Card (aka HP INFINIBAND 4X DDR PCI-E HCA CARD 452372-001) with ESXi 6.x. No matter how I tried I could not update its firmware and it has VERY limited or non-existent support. Save time go with ConnectX-3 or above.

After I installed ESXi 6.5 I followed the following commands and it worked like a champ.

Disable native driver for vRDMA

  • esxcli system module set –enabled=false -m=nrdma
  • esxcli system module set –enabled=false -m=nrdma_vmkapi_shim
  • esxcli system module set –enabled=false -m=nmlx4_rdma
  • esxcli system module set –enabled=false -m=vmkapi_v2_3_0_0_rdma_shim
  • esxcli system module set –enabled=false -m=vrdma

Uninstall default driver set

  • esxcli software vib remove -n net-mlx4-en
  • esxcli software vib remove -n net-mlx4-core
  • esxcli software vib remove -n nmlx4-rdma
  • esxcli software vib remove -n nmlx4-en
  • esxcli software vib remove -n nmlx4-core
  • esxcli software vib remove -n nmlx5-core

Install Mellanox OFED 1.8.2.5 for ESXi 6.x.

  • esxcli software vib install -d /var/log/vmware/MLNX-OFED-ESX-1.8.2.5-10EM-600.0.0.2494585.zip

Ref Links:

After a quick reboot, I got 40Gb networking up and running. I did a few vmkpings between hosts and they ping perfectly.

So, what’s next? Now that I have the HCA working I need to get VSAN (if possible) working with my new highspeed network, but this folks is another post.

If you like my ‘no-nonsense’ blog articles that get straight to the point… then post a comment or let me know… Else, I’ll start writing boring blog content.

Turning a ‘No’ to a ‘Yes, you can attend’ for VMworld 2018

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I’ve been lucky enough to make it to very VMworld since 2008 but it wasn’t always easy getting there. Being the former Phoenix VMUG leader and currently a 7-year VMware employee I’ve come across all types of VMworld tips. In this blog post I’ll share those tips to help turn your No into a Yes.

Setting your goals on VMworld — Okay, so you got the big No from your employer. Normal reasons for a denial are “costs too much”, “value”, or “we can’t afford to have you away”. Fair enough, but the real question should be – how prepared were you to support you ask? Imagine you are the manager and an employee somewhat casually asked you to spend $1000’s to go to an event you may never even heard of. What would your reaction be? Chances are you’d say no too. In this blog post I list out my tips to help enable you to be successful.

#1 Make VMworld your goal and your focus!

Set a goal to attend VMworld – Say it again “Set a GOAL to attend VMworld” Think about it this way — you know VMworld is going to happen, so why not add it to your yearly goals? Even if your company doesn’t have goal planning then start a personal list and think about how to achieve this goal. Next, don’t do this alone. Do you have someone who can help support your goal? Maybe it is a fellow employee, VMware account team, VMware TAM, VMUG leader / Users, and most importantly don’t forget about your partners that support the VMware community. Talk with them, tell them about your goals and the reasons why you want to achieve them, see how they can help support you. Finally, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Are other employees successful in going to training, conferences, or events? Clearly, they are successful with their requests, so why not work with them on your goals and find new ways to be successful.

Keep this in mind “We achieve what we focus on the most”. If getting to VMworld was easy for everyone then I wouldn’t be writing this blog post. If you are being turned down year after year, you might consider a change of focus. Your focus should be known but not annoying. In other words, let others know that VMware and getting to VMworld is what you are passionate about. Let them know how VMware technologies help innovate your company, how it reduces downtime, how it makes you all more secure, etc. etc. By letting others know and understand your passion you’ll go from the person asking to go, to your VMware thought leader and soon management will be coming to you telling you to go to VMworld vs. you asking to go.

Getting past the “Cost”

Having your employer pick of the tab can be a challenge. Your plan should include the total cost to attend, how you plan to fund it, and keep in mind this cost can be quite high for some companies on a tight budget. My suggestion is if you are getting the big ‘No’ due to costs then work with your company around the total costs. First find out why it’s a ‘No’ and look for opportunities to overcome this, then use my tips below to enhance your plan. In general, your fist challenges in subsidizing cost maybe your company’s policy around accepting gifts. Understand this policy well, don’t just take someone’s word as there maybe ways to accept gifts under specific circumstances. Read the current policy and ask the policy writers questions to better understand it. Explore your company – Talk with your travel department or even HR/Benefits around funding sources as there maybe programs to help employees with Education and events. Point is, ask and explore you never know what you will find and be able to achieve.

How do I get a free VMworld Pass aka the Golden Ticket?

This can be your biggest challenge. However here are some ways to get your hands on one.

  • Give-a-ways
    • I can’t tell you how many vendors do an annual giveaways contests — hit them early, often, and enter as many as you can find
    • Tips-
      • When you enter, find out who your local vendor contact is and let them know you entered then stay in contact with them all year long and then some
      • Keep in mind not all contests are the same, some are based on random drawing and others are not. This is why I say keep in contact with the vendor.
      • How do I find give-a-ways >> Google ‘VMworld getting there for free’ or ‘VMworld contest’, Look on Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media platforms
  • Get the word out
    • Tell your boss, workmates, vendors, partners, use twitter, linked in etc. and Repeat again and again. By doing this you let others know about your strong interest in getting there, in turn they might get a lead for you.
    • Most importantly, reach out to your local VMUG leader and ask them for tips in your area. They are usually well connected and might have a lead for you as well.
    • Follow Twitter and Linked In – You never know who is going to post up “I have a pass, I cannot go, and need to give it to someone” This is pretty common just before the event and yes you can transfer a pass to someone.
      • New to Twitter, need contacts? It’s simple find the #VMworld hastag, see who is posting to it and start following them. Then look at all their contacts and follow them too, soon you’ll have a gaggle of folks
    • This sounds like work why do all this? Simple, distributed coverage model. The more people who know the more likely they are to help and in turn the more likely you’ll succeed
  • Don’t forgo an Expo-Only or Solutions Exchange Pass
    • If you get offered this pass take it. I can’t tell you how many vendors have these passes and cannot give them away, seriously this is gold but folks don’t know how to leverage them.
    • First off this pass has great value, there is a TON of value here. See the current VMworld Pass features for more information but normally you can get into the larger Sessions and the Solutions Exchange
    • Second this pass can get you on to the Solutions Exchange floor where all the vendors and partners are.
      • Once there start talking to all the vendors, fellow attendees, all those folks you meet on twitter, etc. as you never know who has a full pass they couldn’t get rid of, take it and upgrade yours
    • Third while you are there with an Expo Pass use Twitter and the VMworld hash tags to let folks know you’re here and you are looking for a full pass.
    • Stop by the VMUG booth on the Expo floor, you never know who will be there and you never know users there might be able to help you
  • Vendors and Partners
    • Find out who is sponsoring VMworld this year, and then…
      • Start calling the ones you know well, ask them for support getting there
      • Don’t forget to call the ones you don’t know so well too
      • If you have deal on the table with a vendor coming up, inquire if they can put passes in the deal.

What about Food, Hotel, and Travel Costs?

  • Food
    • There will be free food everywhere, in-fact feel free to give some to the homeless I usually do.
    • If you get a pass then lunch and usually breakfast are included but check the schedule
    • For dinner, find out where the nightly vendor events are as they usually have food
    • Talk with Vendors they might take you out, you never know
  • Hotel
    • Ask a Vendor to pay for just the room or ask them to gift hotel points to you
    • Room Share with someone at the event << Think about it, you won’t be in the room that often and chances are from 7AM till 10PM you’ll be out of your room
    • Use Travel sites to cut down the cost
      • Secret Hotels:
        • San Fran try the Best Western Carriage Inn and The Mosser
        • Las Vegas there are lots of options but try Renaissance Las Vegas Hotel (usually very quiet not a casino) or The Westin Las Vegas Hotel & Spa
    • Use your Hotel or other travel points to book the hotel for free
    • Get a low cost hotel away from the event, but watch your travel costs
  • Travel
    • Airfare
      • Ask a vendor to pay for just the airfare, or maybe they have points they can gift you
      • Use your own travel points to pay for this
    • Rideshare to the event
      • See if one of your connections are driving to the event, offer to split fuel costs
      • You drive someone to the event, and they pick up the hotel or vise versa
    • Local Travel
      • Use the following –
        • VMworld Shuttle
        • Bus
        • Uber
        • BART
      • Once again hit up those vendors, they might have a way to get you around for free

Finally here is a breakdown of how I got to so many events and how/who paid for it….

Year Pass Travel Food Hotel
2008 VMworld Vendor Sponsor – Full Pass Employer Paid Vendor / Event Employer Paid
2009 VMworld VMUG Sponsored – Full Pass Vendor paid for Airfare with Miles Vendor / Event Employer Paid
2010 VMworld VMUG Sponsored – Full Pass Vendor paid for Airfare with Miles Vendor / Event Vendor Sponsored
2011 VMworld Vendor Sponsor – Expo Pass but I got an upgrade to Full by asking others I drove two others and I paid for the fuel Vendor / Event Travel Companion paid for room
2012-2018 Employee Pass Employer Paid Employer Paid Employer Paid

Summing it up…

My take is, if you REALLY want to go you’ll get there but sometimes it takes effort to do so and if you do it right it might not cost you a thing. Don’t let anything stop you and find your way there.

Finally, after you’ve been to the event don’t forget about the folks who got you there and say ‘Thank you’. Then over the next year continue to build these relationship as you never know if you’ll need help again, or you want to help someone else get there.

Best of luck and do reach out with suggestions, comments, or great stories around how you got there!

If you like my ‘no-nonsense’ blog articles that get straight to the point… then post a comment or let me know… Else, I’ll start writing boring blog content.

Limited vCenter Server options with Windows 2016

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If you plan to update your vCenter Server to Windows 2016 then you might want to make sure you do your homework. Recently after reviewing the following KB its apparent that vCenter Server for Windows 2016 is only supported with vCenter Server 6.5. This might be a great time to consider moving to the vCenter Server Appliance (aka VCSA).

Here is the KB around the compatibility – https://kb.vmware.com/s/article/2091273?language=en_US

Home Lab Gen IV – Part IV: Overcoming installation challenges

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One of the joys of working with a home lab is doing something that no one has done before. Sure, your configuration might be similar to others, but in a way your home lab is unique. However, with this uniqueness comes its share of installation challenges. My new lab was no exception, there were a few challenges and one major issue I uncovered while setting up this new environment. In this blog post I am going review the environment I am working on, break down some of the hardware layout placement challenges, fun using the MAC PowerBook to complete the installation, and finally overcoming ESXi installation challenges.

Here is my new environment:

  • Mac Powerbook with macOS Sierra (Used for remote connection into my environment, normally I use a PC)
  • Gigabyte MX31-BS0
  • Intel Xeon E3-1230 v5
  • 32GB DDR4 RAM
  • 1 x Mellanox Connectx InfiniBand HCA
  • 4 x 200GB SSD, 1 x 64GB USB (Boot)
  • 1 x IBM M5210 JBOD SAS Controller
  • 1 x Mini SAS SFF-8643 to (4) 29pin SFF-8482
  • 1 x 64GB USB Boot Stick:

Hardware layout/placement challanges:

32GB of RAM: Pay attention to the placement of the RAM. As Channel 1 for the RAM are the two closest slots to the CPU, channel 2 being the two farthest away. Normally you would place the RAM pairs in like colors however this Mobo is a bit different

Mellanox Connectx InfiniBand HCA: Placed it in the 16x slot right next to the CPU. The HCA requires an 8x slot so this slot should not slow it down. No BIOS changes were required and I could see this HCA in the BIOS.

IBM M5210 JBOD SAS Controller: Placed it in the 8x slot which goes through the C232 chipset on the motherboard. Next, I needed to update the firmware but this proved to be a challenge. Keep in mind the M5210 with NO cache will not allow you to enter its BIOS management page (aka MegaRAID webbios). This means you’ll need to use the command line or other software to update and view its information. Initially, I tried several command line options (UEFI Shell, DOS CLI, etc.) with the MegaRAID CLI but I just could not find the right combination to get it to work. My solution — I simply used an older SSD drive, installed Windows Server 2012 on it, and used the Windows exe to update the firmware. It worked perfectly with no issues.

After the update, I had some issues decoding the M5210 running firmware version vs. the vSAN HCL. As you know when running vSAN in a home lab the closer you are to the HCL and vSAN HCL the better. (NOTE: as I’m sure you know production environments MUST match the HCLs). The published firmware version on the vSAN HCL is 4.660.00-8218. However, when the M5210 boots it shows 24.16.0-0104.

Solution: When you are looking at the boot screen you are seeing the FW Package number not the Firmware of your controller. Simply look at the release notes for the ‘FW Package’ and you’ll find the correct MR FW versions that match the vSAN HCL.

Boot Screen

Release notes

200GB SSD: The Sonata cases I am using are a bit dated but they fully meet my needs so there is no need to replace them. There are 4 x 3.5″ bottom mount disk trays in each case. Bottom mount means you insert your 3.5″ drive into the tray and bolt it to the tray from the bottom. I bought several 3.5″ to 2.5″ converters which will allow me to mount my 2.5″ SSDs. However, the converters didn’t have bottom mount holes that lined up with the standard 3.5″ holes. Fix — I used a hole in the existing tray to secure the converter to the tray. I also made sure I mounted the converter as far back as I could to ensure the SAS cables would not be on the side of the case. This mount position moved the drives back about 1.5″(38mm). The red line in the PIC show where the original mount point was.

Mini SAS SFF-8643 to (4) 29pin SFF-8482: From the PIC above you can see the disk end of the SAS cables. What is nice about them is each one has a disk number labeled and has integrated power and all 4 drives go back to a single connector. The only downside to the cable I bought was they seemed a bit frail, so I’d recommend if you plan to mod your environment frequently look into a better-quality cable. If you interested more in SAS and the associated cables I would recommend this wiki page – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_Attached_SCSI

64GB USB Boot Stick: I decided to use the internal USB port freeing up the rear ports for other items. The USB stick I am using is the SanDisk Ultra Fit 64GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive. ESXi will only take up ~10GB of this stick, so is 64GB overkill? Keep in mind I plan to run vSAN 6.6.x and one of the benefits is the log files now write to RAM and in case of a system failure, they can write these logs to the USB stick. However, the default partition sizes (2.5GB for diags) might not be large enough. The vSAN team as released a nifty script that will estimate and resize you USB partitions. I’ll cover this topic in later posts and show you how to “auto-resize” your USB storage after you have installed vSAN.

Fun with the MAC:

Function Keys: One of the challenges was MAC keyboard mapping into the remote KVM. For some reason, the function keys on a MAC always assume you want to their special function vs. the F# key you are pushing. This proves to be a challenge when you are trying to pass standard function keys. Simple fix: System Preferences > Keyboard > Ensure ‘Use F1, F2, etc. as standard function keys’ is checked.

Another option for F# keys is to create a macro inside of the vKVM Viewer to pass the key. The screenshot below shows where you can setup user defined Macros and in the background is the MeregPoint console for one of my ESXi hosts.

Java: One of the joys of this motherboard is the use of vKVM viewer and VM Media. However, these functions need JAVA installed and up to date to function properly. If your JAVA is behind, trust me just update it’ll save you hours of pain. Here is the remaining gotcha. In the Mergpoint web page, you simply click on the ‘Launch Java vKVM Viewer’ button to start your host remote session. The webpage will download a .jnlp file. If you just click on this file you are presented with an error stating it can’t be opened because it is from an unidentified developer. Solution – After the java app downloads, click on the down arrow next to the file and choose ‘Show in finder’. When finder launches select that file by holding down the control key and right-clicking on it. A pop-up window will appear, release the control key and finally choose open. This allows you to override the ‘unidentified developer’ error and launch the viewer.

ESXi Installation:

Setting up the ESXi hosts had one big challenge – after the install of ESXi I could not see my SAS disks. I am using the ESXi 6.5U1 Rollup.iso to do my installs and my main goal was to install and boot ESXi from the 64GB USB stick and be able to access the 4 x 200GB SSD attached to the IBM M5210

Problem – During the install of ESXi, I booted the host using the ESXi6.5 ISO via virtual media console. The installer program would recognize the IBM M5210 controller, the attached 4 x SAS disks, and the 64GB USB stick. The installation would complete without issue. However, after ESXi booted the SAS disks and the controller would not appear but I could see the 64GB USB stick.

Other observations –

First, in the ESXi Log files I noticed the megasas was having firmware issues:

2017-09-21T10:26:31.310Z cpu5:66065)<6>megasas: Waiting for FW to come to ready state 2017-09-21T10:26:31.310Z cpu5:66065)<7>megasas: FW in FAULT state!!

ESC[7m2017-09-21T10:26:31.310Z cpu5:66065)WARNING: vmklinux: pci_announce_device:1486: PCI: driver megaraid_sas probe failed for device 0000:07:00.0ESC[0m 2017-09-21T10:26:31.310Z cpu5:66065)LinPCI: LinuxPCI_DeviceUnclaimed:257: Device 0000:07:00.0 unclaimed.

And… even though ESXi saw the M5210 as vmhba1, its status was unknown

vmhba1 Avago (LSI) MegaRAID SAS Invader Controller

vmhba1 0000:07:00.0 PCI 0:0:29:0 PCI 0:7:0:0 Slot1 UNKNOWN

Second, I use Partition Wizard bootable ISO to remove all partitions prior to installing ESXi. I noted that sometimes after I booted to it as virtual media it would see the 4 x SAS disks and other times it would not.

Third, Installation of ESXI onto SAS or SATA SSD as the boot disk worked perfectly. After booting I could see the M5210 and SAS disks but my goal of using the 64GB USB stick for the boot device was not achieved.

Fourth, occasionally when I booted the ESXi host to the USB stick it would work okay, but upon reboot would not

Final Solution – The core reason why I could not see the SAS disks with ESXi or Partition Wizard was the boot type was UEFI and not legacy. During boot time the boot order would sometimes change if I had virtual media connected, meaning sometimes it would boot the 64GB USB stick or Partition Wizard as UEFI and other times as legacy. Apparently, UEFI boot was giving the M5210 firmware issues not allowing the SAS disk to come online.

FIX – I went into the BIOS of the motherboard > Advanced > CSM Configuration > changed ‘Boot option filter’ to ‘Legacy Only’ and all my issues went away.

Summary – I spent a lot of after-hours and weekends working out all various installation tweaks but what can I say, this is the joy of setting up a home lab! My hopes are in some way this post helps you move your home lab forward too. In my next post, I’ll be going over how to enable the InfiniBand HCA in ESXi 6.5.

If you like my ‘no-nonsense’ blog articles that get straight to the point… then post a comment or let me know… Else, I’ll start writing boring blog content.

CompTIA Project+ PK0-003 Passed today!

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Part of my current course of study at WGU was to complete the CompTIA Project+ course and exam. I’m happy to report I passed and am now Project+ Certified. If you are new to IT or are part of a project team then this course is a good perspective on how project teams could work in the business world. Though the exam wasn’t particularly difficult I could clearly see its advantages and how it could help an aspiring PM to grow in their field. The course context is more of an introduction and doesn’t get “too” heavy into the PM planning details but this course will give you the “insiders” view of project management and can help you to be more successful. Prior to taking this course, I would not have considered this certification valid in my field. However, after taking the course I can see its clear advantages and would recommend you acquire this certification. Unless you’re a very seasoned PM, you will have to study to pass — but today’s your lucky day, below are some of my tips!

Make sure you understand the following –

  • Know your Organizational Project Teams, benefits, and cross functionality (Functional, ALL of the Matrix, Dedicated, etc) << Many questions on the various Matrix styles (weak, strong, etc)
  • Know your basic formulas and practice them – the questions and answers are written in a way that could have you second guessing, so practice
  • Know your advanced Formulas – Many folks said don’t waste your time on these as there is a 1% chance you’ll see them, well there were 2 on my test
  • Know your acronyms – If you don’t know BAC, ETC, AC, PV, and so on, then you are not ready
  • Understand IPECAC and what are the core tenants are for each phase
  • Conflict resolution
  • Charts and Arrows  (PDM, CPM, ADM, Pert, fishbone, etc)
  • Change Requests IDAACU < better know it well
  • Estimating all types << Analogous, Bottom up, Parametric
  • Work Breakdown Structure (WBS and Dictionary)
  • Know those logs and registers (Issues, risk, change, etc)
  • Be ready for word games << many questions contained similar words to the answer, these are a dead giveaway — look for them on the test

How did I study and pass –

I start with the practice questions supplied in my WGU study guides and develop a plan of study around the problem areas. I continue this pattern until all the study guide questions are making complete sense. As I progress with my studies I start to look for simple slides on the internet to create my study guide. When test day comes I review my slides, practice my formulas, and go through some final questions. It’s a pattern I’ve done for years now and have used to pass many tests.

Below are a few of my sample study slides, if you want the whole set, 52 slides, just reach out.

If you like my ‘no-nonsense’ blog articles that get straight to the point… then post a comment or let me know… Else, I’ll start writing boring blog content.

VMware Home Labs: A definitive guide

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For nearly 10 years, I’ve compiled lots information about my home labs. From time to time I would blog about items I was working. However, readers of my blog were starting to respond with – “We enjoy your blogs around home labs. However, it’s a bit hard contextualize this information from multiple blog posts.” And “where do I start with home labs” Most recently the VMware User Group asked me to co-record a session for home lab vs. HOL Of course, I did the Home Lab side of the recording but it got me thinking more about the listener and how I could really put a focus on Who, what, why, and how around home labs. After the recording, I realized my “Home Lab Generations page” (HLG)was in major need of an overhaul.

This is when I decided to change my Home Lags Guide to “HOME LABS: A DEFINITIVE GUIDE”. It took me a few months to transform the HLG into this new approach as it puts a strong focus on Home Lab design considerations.  From there I used these design considerations to document and measure my 5 Generations of home labs dating back to 2008. In doing this I got a sense this design guide could help others to measure and plan out their home labs too.

Next Steps for the Home Lab Definitive guide:

  • I’ll continue to update it as I progress my home labs
  • I’ll continue to improve it over time but I’d love your feedback too

My hopes are you find this new guide useful and of value. Please post up your suggestions to help its continuous growth!

Also, if you are interested in applying these design practices to your home lab or even if you are just starting out, then reach out to me as I’d love to feature your design here on my blog!

If you like my ‘no-nonsense’ blog articles that get straight to the point… then post a comment or let me know… Else, I’ll start writing boring blog content.

Home Lab: A List of uncommon or niche products

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Part of the joy of building out a home lab or virtualization workstation is finding those one-off items that enable you to build something great, cheap, and unique. Below is a list of some those niche items and distributors I’ve found along the way. I’ll continue to update this post as we go along and I encourage you post up some of your findings too!

Sybausa.com

This place is full of all types of unique adapters and gadgets to make your home lab or workstation PC better. What I like about their product line focus is the support of cards with a PCIe x1 slot. Various server based add on cards (example 2/4 port NIC cards) typically require a PCIe x4 or x8 port. However, most home labs typically have plenty of x1 slots and very little to no support for x4 and x8. Syba seems to make a “plethora” of add on cards that support x1. There only downside poor documentation / support.

Some products I like from them —

  • 2 Port Gbe PCIe x1 card (SY-PEX24028): I own and use several of these, they seem to work quite well. Dislikes – No Jumbo frames and it uses a Realtek 8111e chips set which means you must add these drivers to support ESXi
  • Another cool item they make is a M.2 to 4-port SATA III Adapter. This little RAID controller allows you to plug directly into a M.2 port and allow for 4 mort SATA devices. I think this would be handy for smaller systems (ie. NUC builds)

StarTech.com

StarTech is really becoming a great company with a very diverse and well supported / documented product line. I think they are really starting to give Blackbox a run for their money. I really like their cable and adapter card lines.

I’ve been using their Startech Null Modem DB9 to USB to run the CLI on my Netgear manage Switch since 2012 and have yet to have an issue with it.

William Lam has blogged many times around the use of NUC style home labs with StarTech Single and Dual USB 3.0 network adapters.

 

Winyao

Winyao is a “boutique” distributor specializing in NICs, Fibre adapters, and Transceivers. One item I find of value is their PCIe x1 Dual NIC with Intel or Broadcom chipset. Personally, I don’t know much about this company or own any of their products, but at $40-$60 per brand new adapter I wished I had found them before buying the Syba adapters.

 

Fractal Design

If you are looking for your next server, workstation, media, or top of the line PC case then take a peek at Fractal Design. Founded in 2007 and based out of Sweden they have really started to dominate the custom case design market. Their innovative designs blend elegance with flexibility, which I might add is a hard combination to find. I like their Arc Midi and Arc Mini R2 line of cases for home lab build outs. However, when or if my trusty Antec Sonata from 2003 lets me down, then Fractal will be next on my list. Here is a great blog post from Erik Bussink around his use of Fractal Design for his 2014 Home Lab.

 

 

** 09/06/2017 – Here are some updates to this list **

BitFenix – Cases and products

Came across this interesting case / mod company that builds all kinds of custom cases, cables, etc to mod your PC’s. I like the Prodigy Mini-ITX case, with 2 PCI Slots and a spare slot for Disk or other mods it could be a good fit for a NAS project. However I’m not fond of the excessive top and bottom ornaments.


ASUS

ASUS came out with a great M.2 to U.2
option allowing users to interface with SAS disks. They claim this option will help users to interface with SAS SSD and get extreme performance. There are some contrains around this (cables, disks, chipsets, etc) so read up on this before you buy.


 

If you like my ‘no-nonsense’ blog articles that get straight to the point… then post a comment or let me know… Else, I’ll start writing boring blog content.

 

VMworld 2017: See you in the HCI Zone!

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Will you be going to VMworld 2017? If so stop by the HCI (Hyper Converged Infrastructure) Zone and learn more about the VMware Award Winning Honeywell solution I’ve been working on these past few years. I’ll be at the booth all week talking about how the Honeywell solution has revolutionized the industrial controls market by using the Dell FX2 + vSAN solution. Additionally, there be other Partners, giveaways, Podcasts, and lots of other activities. So, if you are into the HCI Ecosystem or are just interested in learning more, then the HCI Zone is the place to visit!

The HCI Zone will be located at booth #1739 on the Solutions Exchange Floor which is on the right side of the VMware booth. Look for the banner HCI Zone – Powered by vSAN

The HCI Zone hours are as follows:

  • 05:00PM – 7:30PM Sunday, August 27
  • 11:00AM – 06:00PM Monday, August 28
  • 11:00AM – 06:00PM Tuesday, August 29
  • 10:00AM – 05:00PM Wednesday, August 30

Looking forward to seeing you there!

More information around the HCI Zone can be found here — https://blogs.vmware.com/virtualblocks/2017/08/10/hci-zone-discover-possibilities/

Make vmexplorer.com great again!  

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wantIt’s that time of year to vote for your favorite virtualization blog on vSphere-Land.com For those that don’t know.  vSphere-Land is a great resource for VMware virtualization information.  Mainly this site is known for various lists around VMware products and information.  Every year they host a voting session to help promote the VMware blogging community.  Soon after the voting concludes vSphere-Land post the TOP vBLOGs for 2017.  This list helps to support the hard work bloggers do to support VMware community.

Also, new this year voters must pick 12 blogs from the list then rank them.   They also will have a choice to choose in various categories (Top Female blog, best podcast, etc) This task can be a bit overwhelming and if you are struggling to find twelve blogs I would suggest looking at some of the blogs and seeing which ones align better to your goals.  Example — If you’re into scripting I might suggest William Lam’s Blog, or for vSAN maybe Cormac Hogan.

Why Vote for vmexploer.com?  I’ve run this blog since 2010 and have helped countless amounts of IT folks along the way.  If you’ve found any of my blogs useful over these past years then I would appreciate a vote and with 12 to choose from please include vmexplorer in your list.  Vote for vmexplorer as #1 would even be better.  The list of blogs to choose from can be a bit daunting, best way to find mine is to do a page search for my last name or blog name vmexplorer.com

To Vote, simply start by going to this link — http://topvblog2017.questionpro.com/

Voting will close on 06/30

Again, thank you for your support and I’m looking forward to more years of blogging!

vSAN – Working with the vSAN HCL Database

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The vSAN HCL DB is a local file enabling vCenter Server to validate your vSAN hardware deployment.   This local DB file contains information around the supported products on the VMware compatibility guides. Part of the vSAN Health checks is validating the age of the vSAN HCL DB file.  The initial release of the health feature ships with a copy of the vSAN HCL DB, which was current when released. This copy of the database will become outdated over time. The file can be updated via an internet connection or through manual download (See KB’s below). However, if the HCL DB file is not updated and is 90 days past you will see a warning and at 180 days past you’ll receive an error. These alerts in no way will affect your vSAN cluster as they are merely non-impactful alarms.

You can find this check by clicking on your vSAN Cluster > Monitor > Virtual SAN > Health and then expand Hardware compatibility (See the PIC below). Under Hardware compatibility, you will see various checks that validate your installation.   The ‘vSAN HCL DB up to date’ is the check that will alarm when needed.

You might be thinking –

“I validated my vSAN deployment against the HCL & VCL’s when it was initially built, so why do I need to recheck it over and over?” There are a few good reasons why this validation is important. First off – New firmware and drivers are validated on a routine basis, keeping on top of these will help to ensure your vSAN cluster is able to work optimally and is less problematic. Second – Just because a component was listed on the VGC, doesn’t necessarily mean it will stay on the VGC. Allowing vSAN to self-check itself not only will save you time but will identify any potential issues.

“My vSAN cluster doesn’t have an internet connection and I am pretty good about keeping up to date on the VGC. Do I really need these checks, and if not how can I disable them” Frist off I would not recommend disablement but there may be a need for this. It could be very true that your company does a good job of manually checking the VCG but automating these check would only help your efforts and would be more efficient. However, there are some deployments where automated checks may not be desirable. For those cases follow this guidance to disable: Cluster > Manage > Virtual SAN > General > Internet Connectivity > Disable Auto HCL update

For more information around the vSAN HCL DB, including how to disable and update, please see the following KB’s

In this PIC I’m showing where you can locate the vSAN HCL DB Check status.

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 5.14.57 PM

If you like my ‘no-nonsense’ blog articles that get straight to the point… then post a comment or let me know… Else, I’ll start writing boring blog content.