As I had some challenges with my Home Lab due to some hardware failure, I had to revert from using a dedicated storage box (White box + Windows + bunch of disk + StarWind Virtual SAN) as I no longer have the luxury of having that extra machine to use. I have ended up with two ESXi hosts (Specs: White box with i5 + 16GB RAM + 1x SSD + 2x Sata Drivers + 2 NICs). I have though to investigate if I could still come up with a way that would provide me with a reliable storage without having to acquire any extra hardware.
While I have considered to buy another dedicated box to use as storage, converged infrastructure seemed as a great viable alternative. I decided to investigate, which option I had within the popular converged infrastructure offering that I knew of would fit my needs best. I can see quite few small businesses that might fall in the same boat where they have been limited to two lower specs servers to run their small environment. Here are the different options I have considered, and why I could not use them.
Simplivity: I wanted to check them out as they have a very interesting offering especially when it comes to deduplication which could save me a good amount of disk space. Unfortunately, they are only offering their solution on particular Dell and UCS server which are outside of my budget for my home lab. Though there is no technical reason why their software would not work with my white boxes, I still could not test it as I would have required a good amount of investment in their specialized PCI Card. I am hoping they will ease those requirements in the future.
Nautanix: While they have a great Converged Infrastructure, I would had to buy their own hardware with it. It was definitely out of my budget.
VCE: While a great platform with tons of enterprise capabilities, it is way out of my reach.
VMware VSAN: This one was my closest contender and I would love to deploy VMware VSAN in my home lab one day, but again that would have meant I would have to buy a third host which I was trying to avoid in here if possible at all.
StarWind Virtual SAN: To my surprise, the solution was where I never looked. It was already installed in my previous home lab setup, as StarWind Virtual SAN started to offer a Converged Infrastructure solution that was fully software-based without much of specific hardware requirements. This was good news, as it meant I could keep my hardware investment close to zero and as I already had some StarWind Virtual SAN NFR licenses, I didn’t need to invest into that either. I guess while it is not VBlock, it offers a rich set of features for what I needed as well as small businesses with minimal budget might find the software suitable.
I have taken the opportunity to upgrade my environment to vSphere 6.0 as a part of building my Converged Infrastructure using StarWind, which seemed to work flawlessly with their converged infrastructure offering. Below is how my lab setup looks like today, which is exactly as per the StarWind Converged Infrastructure White Paper that can be found at: StarWind Virtual SAN Hyper-Converged 2 Nodes Scenario with VMware vSphere.
The only difference from the above image I have today is that I only have two NICs in each machine, which means my Sync data is going over the same links as my VMs data. While it seems working for now, it can definitely hinder performance in the long run. I guess I can get me another 4 NICs on ebay for less than a $100 bucks. Including this $100, I would have achieved a converged infrastructure in my home lab for less than $2000 in total. Okay, I am not counting the pricing of any licenses in here as I am using NFR licenses for vSphere and StarWind, but even if I to count the licenses, I would believe it would still be the most cost-effective reliable converged infrastructure out there within my mean.
While enterprise customers have many other converged infrastructure solutions that offers more advanced capabilities and whistles, StarWind Hyper-Converged solution still provides a compelling story for home lab and SMB customers, where the following makes it ideal for such use cases:
1- Low barrier of entry. You can start as low as two hosts.
2- Freedom of choice, almost any vSphere supported hardware that you have will work.
3- It does not require any proprietary hardware, so you don’t have to acquire any new specialized expensive hardware
4- It is quite easy to setup and configure
5- While not as rich on features as its enterprise class competitors, it still offers tons of features and whistles that can satisfy a large portion of SMB customers.
If you have any questions about my lab setup or StarWind Virtual SAN feel free to leave me a comment below.