Category Archives: Home Lab

Melbourne VMUG, Stronger Than Ever!

Held this week was the quarterly Melbourne VMUG.  The location was sponsored by Telstra, as it has been for a little while now, in one of their conference facilities in the CBD.  Telstra have shown to be a great supporter of the Melbourne VMUG with the continual use of their facilities.

I’ve been semi regular attendee to the local Melbourne VMUG for quite a number of years.  So it’s a great privilege to have now become a committee member.  I’m still very green to the role and learning the ins and outs.    What I can say so far is that it’s run by a great bunch of guys committed to putting on the best event possible.

The Melbourne VMUG is an awesome event, hands down.  Where as other user groups run very regular meetups (monthly).  The Melbourne VMUG has taken a quality over quantity approach.  We run a large annual UserCon at the beginning of the year plus another three regular meetups throughout the year.  In between the meetups we run vBeers where like minded people can just sit and chat over some drinks (Beer).

We’ve now reach a point in the Melbourne VMUG where we can comfortably run two tracks side by side at our regular meetups.  Our May meetup had some great sponsors and some of the best content I’ve seen -with some great prizes to boot.  Our first session had vendors HP and Runecast presenting.  I sat in on Runecast and was really impressed on what they have to offer.  Our second session was VMware.  We had Chris Garrett talking about everything new in vSphere 6.0 Update 2 and Kevin Gorman talking containers.  I sat in on Kevin’s preso.  Kevin puts on a great talk and is a really great guy to listen to. The last session of the night was allocated to community speakers.  We had the leader of the Melbourne Docker User Group, @benitogriffin, present and an awesome Panel Session on Home Labs.  Okay, I may be a little bias on this last one.  I was one of the four panelists.  That’s me on the far right.

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The night didn’t end there.  We had vendor sponsored vBeers and pizza at Troika Bar.  A cool little bar around the corner covered in what looked like aluminum foil that made you feel like you in a satellite or something.  A great end to the night where everyone could wind-down and talk about that awesome Home Labs panel session that I was in 😛

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Recently on social media there was discussion going around on how to make VMUG great again.  People comparing VMUG of the past to what it is today.  I was a little disappointed to read some of the comments.  VMUG certainly isn’t what it use to be.  That doesn’t make it worse… just different.  Just like in IT things change and we have to adapt and change with it.  If you feel you need to make VMUG great again look no further than the Melbourne VMUG.  Best VMUG  Ever

Links

VMUG Homepage
Melbourne VMUG Workspace

 

Let’s have a Fling

After years of procrastinating, last week I gave my first vMug community talk in Melbourne.  After years of saying I can do that and constantly nodding my head to the Melbourne vMug committee to get more involved, I finally decided to step up.  Now that it’s over I can finally say that it was well worth it!

The decision to finally give a talk came at the end of vBeers in Melbourne a few months back.  After a few beers and some great conversations.  I left with the determination to get up and give that community talk.  There was just one issue though, I had no idea for a topic.  So I spent the next few weeks thinking of an idea and asking friends for suggestions.

In some ways the hardest part of the talk was just coming up with an interesting idea.  Something that not only other people would find interesting but me too.  I finally settled on VMware Flings.  I’ve been interested in VMware Flings for a few years now and this year they’ve really taken off with some really great Flings.  I put together a presentation abstract then reached out to the Melbourne vMug committee with my idea.  The @mvmug committee liked the idea and slotted me in as one of two committee presentations for Melbourne’s final vMug of the year.

Over the next month I put together my talk.  I’m not a big fan of the ‘Death by PowerPoint’.  So I worked on a talk where after I introduced myself I would pull up a web browser using the VMware Flings website as my slide deck.  Then lead into some demos in my home lab.  A format I think worked out really well.  Staring at slide decks can be hard after a long vMug.  So being able to interact with something on the screen keeps the audience engaged.  The biggest curve ball I got thrown was coming down with a virus two weeks prior to the talk.  Over that period I had blocked sinuses, constant coughing, and even a loss of voice for a day.  Disappointingly I was in no position to rehearse my talk over that period.  What was becoming a very exciting time became an extremely frustrating period 🙁

The day before the talk was nothing short of miraculous (either that or the upping of medication).  I woke up feeling like my old self.  It meant that I one good college cram session in the night before to rehearse my talk.  Not ideal but I’d take it 🙂

I felt that the talk went well.  I managed to use the full 45 minutes allocated to my session.  I tried to keep the talk moving along without dwelling on any one area for too long.  A had a short introduction, a brief overview of what VMware Fling are with some examples.  Then moved onto three demos in my home lab.  The ESXi Embedded Host Client, followed by PowerActions for the vSphere Web Client, and finishing up on a slightly less popular and more obscure Fling, the ESXi Google Authenticator.

I learnt quite a lot from the experience with a number of key take aways for the future.  Firstly, don’t rely on the facilities, not even as backups.  If you require Internet access, bring your own, then bring your own backup.  Bring all your own cables and dongles to connect to projectors.  I naively expect HDMI or DVI connectors.  Imagine my surprise when I got VGA.  Fortunately a VEEAM presenter from an earlier session leant me his VGA dongle.  Finally stay relaxed.  If you can interact with the audience, even just a little, it goes a long way in creating a positive atmosphere to present in.

The @mvmug committee have done a fantastic job in recording all of November’s sessions.  My session can be found here!

 

Part 5: Yes, you can have 32GB in your NUC!

Every time I get asked about the Intel NUC the number one question that comes up is, ‘Can I have 32GB in it?’.  Up until recently my response was ‘No’.  My response was like I had shattered a childhood dream or something for the person asking.  Most people I talk to lose interest in the NUC at this point.  It’s quite frustrating because it’s a great little device and the official 16GB limit when combined with multiple NUCs is still a great option for a home lab.  The relatively low price and power consumption is hard to beat, especially compared to something like a Super Micro that seems to be a home lab favourite to achieve 32GB+.

Recently I was put onto I’M Intelligent Memory who specialise in DRAM since 1991.  Going back as far as early 2014 I’M have been producing a 16GB SODIMM module.  I’M currently produce a 16GB SODIMM module which is aimed at 5th Gen Intel Broadwell processors.  They claim that their 16GB SODIMM modules are compatible with notebooks and Intel NUC i3/i5/i7-5xxxU CPUs.

16GB_SODIMM

I’M reference quite a good article on their website written by PCWorld on the 16GB SODIMM module used in an Intel NUC; it’s well worth a read.  PCWorld even approached Intel for their opinion on the module in its NUC.  While Intel would not validate the module for use in the NUC they did say that “technically” there is no reason why it won’t work.

For some time I had always been under the impression that memory was limited by the CPU.  In the case of the Intel NUC, however, it appears this is more an issue of JEDEC SODIMM standards preventing larger than 8GB SODIMM modules.  I’M work around some of the JEDEC standard limits by stacking chips on top of each other.  This allows them to double the density of an SODIMM, but no doubt makes them not standards compliant.

With I’M Intelligent Memory explicitly stating that the modules will work 5th Broadwell CPUs, a thorough write-up from PCWorld demonstrating that the modules do indeed work in 5th Gen NUCs, and Intel stating that technically it’s achievable.  The NUC has just become even more appealing, especially for a virtualization home lab setup.

The one caveat; though, is the price!  I recently purchased 16GB (2x8GB SODIMM modules) for a new 5th Gen NUC for $75 US.  I’M’s 16GB SODIMM have come down recently but are still going for a whooping $285 US (325 Euro), which is approximately three times the cost per a Gig.

For all those people out there that have been dismissing the NUC due to the 16 GB limit they now have to re-evaluate their position.  If 32GB is such an important factor for them, it’s now achievable with price being the new factor in the equation.

References

http://www.intelligentmemory.com/dram-modules/ddr3-so-dimm
http://www.pcworld.com/article/2894509/want-32gb-of-ram-in-your-laptop-or-nuc-you-can-finally-do-it.html

Articles in this series

Part 1: The NUC Arrival
Part 2: ESXi Owning The NUC
Part 3: Powering a NUC Off A Hampster Wheel
Part 4: The NUC for Weight Weenies
Part 5: Yes, you can have 32GB in your NUC

Part 4: The NUC for Weight Weenies

As a cyclist and a self professed weight weenie, if the NUC was a bicycle component it would surely have to be on the wish list of many riders.

My second Intel NUC arrived in the post recently.  For this second NUC I went with the i5 D54250WYK model.  Again I maxed out its memory and went with 16 GB and for the SSD I upped it from the previous 120 GB to the 240 GB Crucial.  Now knowing that I can install a working ESXi image on a NUC.  I felt comfortable purchasing the faster i5 model and increased SSD storage capacity for a home lab.

With the memory and mSATA SSD installed I decided to weight the NUC on my bike kitchen scales.  Clocking in at 504 grams is pretty impressive I think.  Weighing less than a 600 ml bottle of coke.  It’s light enough to stick in your bag and take to work.  One of the marketing angles of the NUC is a media center.  Being able to put a 4K capable media center in your bag and to a friend joint is pretty cool.

 

nuc_weight

Articles in this series

Part 1: The NUC Arrival
Part 2: ESXi Owning The NUC
Part 3: Powering a NUC Off A Hampster Wheel
Part 4: The NUC for Weight Weenies
Part 5: Yes, you can have 32GB in your NUC

Part 3: Powering a NUC off a hamster wheel

I’m pretty impressed by the Intel NUC’s (D34010WYB) power consumption.  When the NUC is powered off the power button LED is illuminated with a very weak green.  You can only really see the green with the lights off in a dark the room.  In this standby state the NUC consumes 0.6 Watts of power.  It’s a modest amount that could probably come down by playing around with the WOL settings in the BIOS.

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Pic1. NUC in stand-by

During boot-up of ESXi from USB the NUC consumed between 14-15 Watts.  Once ESXi booted with no VMs running the NUC consumes a steady 10.9 watts.  I have to be honest and say I’m pretty blown away by that.  That’s soo much better than I imagined!

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Pic2. NUC at idle booted into ESXi

The Test

The 4th Generation NUCs run the Haswell microarchitecture.  A key feature of this architecture is their low power consumption.  So I was curious to see how much power it would draw under a CPU stress test.

My test was by no means scientific.  I ran two VMs with ESXi.

VM1 -- VMware Virtual Center Appliance with 8 GB memory
VM2 -- Windows Server 2012 R2 with 2 GB memory and 4 CPUs

On VM2 I ran a CPU stress test tool called Prime95.  A freeware application that finds Mersenne prime numbers and has become a popular stress testing tool in the overclocking community.  The CPU on VM2 instantly jumped to 100%.  Back over on the ESXi Host the physical CPU also jumped up to it’s maximum 1.7 Ghz.  Looking over at the power meter during this time showed a maximum of 16.5 watts.

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Pic3. NUC under load

The Cost

So at idle the NUC comsumes a steady 10.9 watts an hour.  If I factor that out over the year by the typical cost of electricity in Australia.

10.9 watts x 24 hrs x 365 = 95.484 Kw/h x .26 (AUD) = $24.82 AUD/year

The Verdict

The low power consumption of the NUC was only a small selling point of purchasing it.  It’s nice to now know that it will come with some really savings over time.  I’ll now be gladly retiring the old Lenovo desktops in favour of a few NUCs.

Articles in this series

Part 1: The NUC Arrival
Part 2: ESXi Owning The NUC
Part 3: Powering a NUC Off A Hampster Wheel
Part 4: The NUC for Weight Weenies
Part 5: Yes, you can have 32GB in your NUC

Part 2: ESXi Owning The NUC

The Hardware

With the SDD and memory installed and the NUC re-assembled I was almost ready to power on.  But the last thing I needed to do was replace the North American cable with an Australian plug.  As I have never thrown a cable out since I was 8 this wasn’t an issue.  The system now looked as follows.

Intel NUC Kit D34010WYK
Crucial 16 GB Kit (8GBx2) SODIMM
Crucial M500 120GB mSATA internal SSD

2 x 4 GB USB Thumb Drives
Bluetooth Wireless KB/Mouse

The BIOS

The first thing I wanted to do was see the BIOS and if it required an update to the latest version.  The Bluetooth KB/Mouse plugged into the USB port worked without issue.  F2 on the NUC splash screen gets you into Intel’s VisualBIOS.  It’s all laid out nicely and simply to understand.  Finding the BIOS version is straight forward.  On the Home screen with Basic View you can see the bios version on the top left.  The first part of the version is the Initial Production Version WYLPT10H.86A.  The second part is the actual BIOS version 0027.  Followed by the date and what looks to be a build number 2014.0710.1904.

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Pic1. Booting into the NUC Bios

Getting the latest BIOS version is as simple as heading over the the Intel Download Center and searching for NUC and selecting the model number.  I was on version 0026 (released back in 2013) with the latest being 0027 released only a few months back.  I downloaded the OS Independent .BIO file and copied it onto a USB thumb drive.  I plugged it into the NUC while it was currently sitting on the BIOS screen.  I went to the Wrench icon and selected Updated BIOS.  The NUC then rebooted and flashed the new BIOS.  The most obvious change I saw was the ability to now check and update the BIOS over the Internet.  However, when tried, I receive an ‘Unable to locate Product ID version’ error message.  Something to look into at a later stage.

Installing ESXi

So now the more interesting and fun frustrating part, installing ESXi.    The first thing I did was install a Beta version of ESXi.  Now unfortunately NDA says I can’t talk about this 🙁  How’s that for a tease… All I’ll say on that was that the process was fairly painless to get up and running.

But next I tried ESXi 5.5, and this I can talk about 😉

Booting off ESXi 5.x media should be as simple as mounting the ISO image and copying the files onto a USB thumb drive.  Attempting to boot in this way caused an error during boot with the following.

<3>Command line is empty.
<3>Fatal error: 32 (Syntax)

A VMware KB article solution was to turn off UEFI in the BIOS.  This was only part of the solution as now the error disappear but no boot media could be found.  Some searching lead me to UNetbootin.  A small simple app that would turn an ISO image into bootable media on a USB thumb drive.

Finally I had ESXi 5.5 booting off the USB and starting the install process. The network drivers in ESXi 5.x will not recognize the Intel I218V Ethernet Controller.  This will cause the installation of ESXi to fail.  The I218V  will work off e1000 drivers so the next step was to location an updated version.  I ended up finding net-e1000e-2.3.2.x86_64.vib

There are two way to inject the drivers into the ISO image.  The correct VMware way and the quick way!  The correct VMware way is with PowerCLI and using the add-esxsoftwaredepot commandlet and packaging a new ISO.  Turns out there is a much simpler way using an app called ESXi-Customizer.  Another simple app that will take an original ESXi ISO, extract it, inject a vib file of your choosing, and repackage it, all within 60 seconds.   This tool should be required learning for a VCAP, it’s that simple and it works!

So… I now have a new image.  With updated e1000 network drivers.  I re-run Unetbottin against the new image and create boot media.  And Happy Days!  ESXi 5.5 boots off the USB thumb drive with the new boot image and installs fine with the updated network drivers to the second USB thumb drive I have plugged in.

But why a second USB drive you ask?  Well, read on…

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Pic2. Intel I218V Network Controller detected in ESXi

So I installed ESXi to a second USB thumb drive, as mentioned above, because during the installation the SSD did not detected when selecting a device to install to.  For the time being this isn’t an issue for me.  In my first post (Part 1: The NUC Arrival), my end game was to always boot and run ESXi from USB and use the internal SSD as storage and at some point vSAN.  All I’m doing now is just skipping to that step.

Getting ESXi 5.5 to detect the NUC’s mSATA controller requires creating new SATA driver mappings.  With a little digging around I found what i needed at vibsdepot.v-front.de.  Here you can download a VIB or an offline bundle (if you want to also inject it into the ISO the correct VMware way).  There’s also a link to the authors blog post that explains this process in much more details.

But, summerised below is what I did to get the NUCs mSATA controller to be detected.  I opened up an SSH session to the ESXi host and typed the following.

esxcli software acceptance set --level=CommunitySupported
esxcli network firewall ruleset set -e true -r httpClient
esxcli software vib install -d http://vibsdepot.v-front.de -n sata-xahci

After a reboot the controller detected and the SSD storage was available to create Datastores.

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Pic3. Storage Controller now detected in ESXi

Conclusion

If you don’t want to read this whole post (it’s okay, I don’t blame you) and just want the steps to install ESX 5.5 onto a 4th Gen NUC.

1. Download ESXi 5.5 ISO from VMware.
2. Turn off UEFI in the BIOS of the NUC.
3. Download net-e1000e-2.3.2.x86_64.vib.
4. Download ESXi-Customizer, run it and select the ESXi 5.5 ISO and net-e1000e-2.3.2.x86_64.vib.
5. Download UNetbootin and create a bootable USB drive from the new ISO created above.
6. Boot off the USB thumb drive and install ESXi to a second USB thumb drive.
7. Enable SSH and run the above ESXCLI commands to create new mappings to the mSATA controller.
8. Turn UEFI back on in the BIOS

Conclusion Conclusion

At this point I have a fully working and running ESXi 5.5 host on the NUC.  I am running off a 4GB USB thumb drive.  I have network and detectable SSD storage.  The skies the limit now.

I’ll now be looking at purchasing a second Intel NUC, and while it’s being shipping, I’ll have a couple weeks to play with vSphere on this current NUC.

UPDATE;

At the time I wrote this article ESXi 6.0 was still in Beta so I couldn’t talk about it.  Now that it’s GA I can say that the process to install ESXi 6.0 still requires the msata process to get internal storage to work.  The great news is that networking now works out of the box.

Articles in this series

Part 1: The NUC Arrival
Part 2: ESXi Owning The NUC
Part 3: Powering a NUC Off A Hampster Wheel
Part 4: The NUC for Weight Weenies
Part 5: Yes, you can have 32GB in your NUC

Part 1: The NUC Arrival

I received a nice SMS from Australia Post the other day.  My package from Amazon had arrived and is waiting to be picked up from my Parcel Locker. It was my new Intel NUC!

nuc_01

I’ve been following the Intel NUC since it was first released back in late 2012.  I thought it was a great little box but never had a real reason to get it.  That was until a few weeks back while on a late night train ride home.  I had just started a new job and realised that my current home lab just wasn’t cutting it any more.  My Lenovo desktops with a huge 4 GB of memory were more trouble then they were worth.  So that’s where this NUC comes into play.

I bought the 4th Gen Intel i3 NUC with a 120GB mSATA SSD and 16 GB RAM.  The specs are probably a little high for a trial, but I’m holding high hopes that things will work out.  The plan is to run up the NUC as a VMware ESXi host in a couple different configurations.  To be honest i’m kind of making this up as I go along.  The plan is to try and run ESXi on the SSD and then off on an external USB stick.  Either one of these options and I’m high fiving and well on my way to a new home lab.

Anyway… that’s the plan.

Like a new family member entering the home I took some happy snaps.

Sliding the NUC out of the box, below, plays the Intel Inside theme music (Scared the hell out of me).  There’s a little light sensor and speaker in the corner.

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Inside the box is obviously the NUC, a power pack and North American plug (no use to me in Australia), a mounting bracket (presumably for the back of a TV), a manual, and most important of all the Inside Inside sticker… all worth it now 😉

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First things first, we follow the Ikea instructions and remove the bottom cover to expose the internals.

Pretty impressive.  Where’s the processor 😉

nuc_04   nuc_05

Next we install our two 8 GB SODIMMs.

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Followed by the 120 GB mSATA SSD

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Now we put it all back together and figure out what to do next.

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Over the coming weeks I’ll be posting how I configured the NUC and setup of a new home lab.

Links

Intel NUC Overview site

Articles in this series

Part 1: The NUC Arrival
Part 2: ESXi Owning The NUC
Part 3: Powering a NUC Off A Hampster Wheel
Part 4: The NUC for Weight Weenies
Part 5: Yes, you can have 32GB in your NUC