Small footprint homelab – Lenovo M93p Tiny

Oh hi, it’s me again. I have a few posts pending some final touch-ups that I will release shortly but I have a new-ish exciting project to write about!

My HP ML150 G6 with its dual E5540 and 96GB of memory is a great server but one thing I can’t do with it is cluster it. Why can’t I cluster it? For the simple reason of power consumption and heat generation. Add a spash of fan noise (15 fans total for 3 ML150’s). I have been on the hunt for a low power server to install VMware on and play with some advanced features. I came across VMwares VMUG Advantage license and after some light reading I’m willing to pay the $200.00 USD dollars for it as I know it will benefit me in the long run.

VMUG Advantage membership would allow me to have a few 365 day long licenses of a few VMware platforms, identified in the link here.
I’m after vCenter and vSAN for the time being. I want the abilities of vCenter and to play with many of it’s features, including clustering.

I’ve seen multiple small footprint and low power homelabs posted and many of them utilize the Intel NUCs. As great as they are (Intel NUCs), they cost a premium, especially for the units that some users purchase.

At my place of employment, I work with a large amount of Lenovo systems and one model that has caught my attention is the Lenovo ThinkCentre M93p Tiny.

These little beasts run almost 24×7 without breaking a sweat in our workplace. Our environment sees operations working around the clock and very often many of them hum along for weeks on end until we can reboot them.

So what has caught my eye with these Lenovo M93p Tiny units?

A few things:

  • Small form factor and low power consumption.
  • Decent amount of USB 3 ports.
  • Removable CPU
  • 2 Memory slots. Lenovo states a max of 16GB but I will try to push it and test 32GB (16gb x 2)
  • VGA and HDMI or DisplayPort Out
  • 2.5″ Hard Drive
  • M.2 Slot (I believe)

One of the cons is that the unit has one Ethernet port and no space for an addon cards. Not entirely a con since the Intel NUCs typically have one NIC also and don’t have space for addon cards as well.

With what I want to do, virtualized NICs will work fine and I don’t see this as a big challenge, at least not now.

I received my M93p Tiny units today in the mail. I paid $70.00 CAD for each unit and I purchased 3 of them. Normally they will sell for $140-200 CAD each. The ones I purchased were perfect because I didn’t want the hard drive or the memory. They came as ‘bare bones’. The hard drive in each unit will be an SSD for local storage(ISOs) and the memory will at least be bumped up to 16gb in each M93p. When all said and done with the cluster, I should have 48gb of memory to play with. Plenty for a small homelab.

Upon receiving the units, I tossed in some preliminary hardware, plugged in a Sandisk Cruzer 16gb USB Flash drive (Where ESXi will reside) and began the VMware instillation.

Everything when smoothly and VMware 6.7 is installed and operating on my first Lenovo M93p Tiny. The installation was straightforward and did not present any issues. The only message I received was regarding the disabled VT-x, which I remedied by enabling it in the BIOS.

Navigating around in VMware, the interface is nice and snappy. I haven’t had a chance to create any VMs yet but all in due time.

That’s about it for my first basic configuration. I’m going to spend some time and purchase the VMUG license and setup the other two hosts.

I’m really excited because I think this will be a fantastic option for low cost homelab builds, especially when it comes to power consumption and heat generation.

Stay tuned for more updates!

HP Ml150 G6 – My first datastore

I don’t spend the amount of time on my home server as I’d like to. After a long day of sitting at my desk at work, dealing with production servers and everything super sensitive, I try to unwind a bit and work at a slow pace. My slow pace this week is my esx datastore.

I’ve spent the past couple of days thinking about how I want to setup the datastore that will contain my virtual machines. Initially I had the HP P410 RAID controller connected to two, WD Green drives in a RAID-o array. I was satisfied with that at first because the drives will run at SATA 2 speeds and hopefully RAID-0 will improve the performance ever so slightly.

Then I got thinking, my goal is to setup a ‘corporate’ environment at home. Multiple domain controllers, WSUS, Sophos Firewall, play with SNMP and PRTG monitoring but that made me realize that I don’t want to build a large environment that will go to waste if one drive was to fail. My ultimate goal is to move onto SSDs and use a more complex raid (RAID 6 or 10) for this server, but that’s down the line when I free up funds and more resources.

Last night, I decided to delete the RAID-0 array, pull out the WD Green drives and install two new-to-me 1TB SAS drives and proper cabling (Mini SAS SFF-8087 to SFF-8482+15P). I briefly talked about the cabling in this previous post.

I purchased a few SAS drives from ebay, not knowing exactly which one would be compatible with the HP P410 raid controller. Most of what I can find on the internet, points to the HP P410 controller not being picky with the brand of drives.

Initially I installed a two Seagate 1TB SAS ST1000NM0045 drives but the RAID utility would not want to see the drives. Thinking it’s the cable, I replaced it with a spare but the outcome was still the same. I did a bit of searching around and found a discussion on serverfault.com, regarding HP Proliant not recognizing EMC SAS drives. One user points out that some drives can be formatted in 520-byte sectors vs 512-byte sectors that you would normally get on normal PC/server class drives.

I haven’t tested that theory but I will. With that said, I decided to install two other drives, which surprisingly worked right away.

The drives that are functioning fine with the HP P410 raid controller are:

  • Dell Enterprise Plus MK1001TRKB
  • Seagate Constellation ES.3 ST1000NM0023

Now that I have two drive’s in a RAID-1 array, I loaded into VMware ESXi and proceeded to add a the new VMFS datastore. Adding the datastore gave me some issues, which I’ve documented here.

I have in my possession two SAMSUNG Data Center Series SV843 2.5″ 960GB drives that I purchased about 2 years ago from newegg for a fantastic price. I’ve toyed with using them in this build, but the SSD drives would only work at SATA 2 speeds. Maybe I’ll use them to house my personal data, but I should purchase a few more to do RAID-6 or RAID 1+0.

Regardless of my direction, I am still working out the kinks in my homelab environment.

Ideally, I’d like to find a cheap or reasonably priced NAS that has iSCSI ports. I then would be able create two datastores on the NAS, one for extended VM storage if required and the other for user data.

Thanks for reading.

Adding a vCenter 6.7 license

Hello, it’s me again.

From my recent blog post regarding setting up vCenter, I had difficulties locating the area to apply the vCenter license.  From what I found on the internet, it was referenced that you should go to the Host that contains the vCenter/VCSA VM, click on the VM and click on Configure. Maybe VMware changed it in version 6.7 but I could not find the same area for license registration under the VM itself.

Under the VCSA VM –> Configure –> Settings, I should see a ‘License’ section. I could not find anything of that sort.  I logged in as my admin account and my personal admin account, both that have the license role and that feature was still not available.

Frustrated, I did some looking around within the vSphere client and I found the area to do this.

You need to click on the ‘top’ FQDN vCenter identifier on the left hand side of the window, which houses your Datacenter and the nodes inside.

Once you click on it, you will see the following,

As you see, now selecting the VCSA and going to the Configure section and under Settings, we now see Licensing as an option. Now in my case, I’ve already applied the license but I’m going over where I went to do this.

You would select the Assign License button to proceed with entering your key into vCenter.

Under the Assign License window, you will have two options. To select an existing license or new license. You can import the license from your License section from the admin page or you can type in your license if you haven’t already done so.   I’ve already uploaded my licenses to the Administration License section, which I will show next.

Now what I have done initially was gone into the Administration section –> Licensing –> Licenses and typed in the VMware vCenter Server 6  Essential vCenter license key.  When I did this, the usage of the vCenter license was set to 0 and capacity was set to 1.  This was because I never assigned the license to the vCenter itself.  I did this in the Assign License window as seen above.

The last and final screenshot above shows the Administrator License window which identifies my License(s) and their state and capacity.

To note: When I was in the process of importing each host, the license for those hosts registered automatically here.  I did not have to enter the VMware vSphere 6 Essentials Plus License.  Those just followed with each host/node into vCenter.

My novice attempt are VMware maintenance

I’ll come out and say it, I’m not an expert or a confident user of virtualization and more specifically VMware products.  Over the last bit, I’ve taken on a more senior and technical lead position at my job and that involves more to do with the infrastructure side of things and not as much ‘customer facing’.  I’ve played around with VMware Workstation and Oracle VirtualBox but I haven’t done a hole lot in regards to ESXi, vCenter and the works.

I needed to ‘pull up my big boy pants’ and start learning as much as I can in the short time frame about our production ESXi cluster, trying to understand the configuration and anything that may be wrong with it.

When my department slowly withered away until it was only me, I’ve heard that our vCenter is broken and that management of the cluster is not possible.  Not having VMware support, I was really concerned about this broken system and how it would negatively affect our production and highly critical cluster.  I started doing some reading and came to realize that vCenter (VCSA) is only a central mangement feature.  Rather than using vSphere client to manage each invidivual node/host, vCenter allows you to manage the hosts all together (in a cluster) and enabled a few features, including High Availability (HA) and vMotion (allowing to move VM’s from host to host without downtime).

Knowing this, I spent any downtime I had reading up about vCenter and VCSA.  I looked at different installation methods (Windows vs Linux) the pros and cons of each.  vCenter can be installed on top of a Windows installation or it can be configured on a Linux machine and often referred to VCSA (vCenter Server Appliance).

My first question was regarding what vCenter/VCSA can I use with my cluster?   Luckly, I came across a page on VMware site that helps identify the version of ESXi and what version of vCenter is compatible.

With that sorted, I downloaded the most recent version of vCenter 6.7U1.  I choose to download the Linux installation rather than mess with Windows and use up a license for it.

Now with the .ISO downloaded, I searched high and low to find a good step by step guide on how to complete this install.  I already shut down the old vCenter VM that was previously created by our IT staff, which was having issued and filling it’s storage with logs.  Rather than try to troubleshoot it, I wanted to start with a fresh install.

I came across this fantastic link that helped me tremendously for setting up and installing my VCSA.  The notes and screenshots helped a novice like myself through this process.

As this was a live production setup, I was always fearful of something occurring but unfortunately I don’t have the resources to do it any other way.

Anyways, I felt that I wanted to share this quick post and the link to the site that helped me through this process.  Good articles go a long way in helping others out and that is one thing I want to focus with this blog site.  To provide good information that I discover or come across.

Thanks for reading!